The chaotic dismissal of the boss of OpenAI

On Friday evening, the announcement of the dismissal of Sam Altman as CEO of the company OpenAI surprised not only most analysts and observers, but also the same people who work within the startup and in its main partner companies like Microsoft. As the company’s co-founder and CEO, Altman was the most prominent figure in the now-popular field of artificial intelligence (AI) companies, including last year’s success with ChatGPT, the system developed by OpenAI. . Such a sudden departure was difficult to predict and brought some confusion within the company, in which there are enormous economic interests, to the point of raising some doubts within the board of directors who made the decision .

Altman learned Friday that he had been removed from his position shortly after he was invited to a videoconference meeting with the board. Ilya Sutskever, one of the co-founders of OpenAI, read a short statement to Altman informing him that he no longer had the trust of the board because he had not been clear and sincere on certain initiatives, “undermining the capacity” of the council itself to play its role. This rather vague statement and unsupported in the following hours by other official details led several newspapers, such as New York Timeshas to consult some internal sources at OpenAI to understand the real reasons for such a drastic decision implemented at a time of great potential for visibility and development for the startup.

OpenAI was founded in 2015 by Altman, Sutskever, Greg Brockman and Elon Musk as a non-profit initiative for the research and development of artificial intelligence systems, geared towards creating general AI, i.e. that is, capable of performing virtually any task. . In 2018, Altman joined the nonprofit with a real company, also called OpenAI, and negotiated with Microsoft, securing $1 billion in funding. The investment was very significant to develop the first versions of ChatGPT and above all to have the necessary IT infrastructure to do so. Given the promising results obtained, Microsoft then invested an additional $12 billion.

The new business entity would still be under the control of the nonprofit’s board of directors. Revenue generated by the company is shared with investors like Microsoft, but only up to a certain limit. Anything above this limit is donated to the association to support its activities. The organization is quite complex and, according to some observers, it has contributed to complicating relationships between managers.

Sutskever had, for example, formed a working group within OpenAI with the mission of verifying that the various developments of ChatGPT did not constitute a danger for the company. Sutskever has previously raised concerns about the implications and effects of increasingly sophisticated intelligence systems. Altman had shown some interest in the topic, but at the same time he wanted to leverage as much as possible the high visibility OpenAI gained last year to attract new investment and expand. It was for this reason that at the end of the summer he traveled to the Middle East and established contacts with SoftBank, the large and wealthy Japanese company specializing in investments in the technology sector, for a potential investment of a billion dollars to be used primarily for development. new devices based on ChatGPT.

In the meantime, Sutskever continued to express his doubts, particularly about the consequences of using artificial intelligence systems without limitations or particular controls. At the same time, he saw his role in the company diminished, after Altman decided to promote Jakub Pachocki to director of research: until then Pachocki had been under Sutskever, while from then on he was on the same level as him.

Sutskever could, however, count on the support of other board members, such as Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, who had recently actively participated in the debate on the potential negative and destructive effects of AI on humanity. A scenario in which artificial intelligence causes the destruction of the human species is unlikely, if not impossible, with current technologies, but according to activists who are calling for more controls and rules, things could change quickly given rapid progress.

After the announcement of the CEO’s removal, Brockman left the company along with several others close to Altman, including Pachocki, while the role of CEO was temporarily assumed by Mira Murati, until then Chief Technology Officer, c ‘that is to say the person who takes care of decisions on technological aspects. As the news spread, many of the roughly 700 employees struggled to understand what the motivations for such a sudden decision were and what OpenAI’s prospects might be, without one of its most prominent figures. most eminent and best known. The subsequent resignations of other key figures in the development of ChatGPT and close to Altman had further exacerbated these concerns and not only within the company.

According to the news site Axiosfor example, Microsoft he learned of the decision to remove Altman just minutes before it was made public by OpenAI in a press release. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella later posted his own communicated to reiterate the importance of the investment in the startup, but according to various sources, Altman’s withdrawal had caused some nervousness within Microsoft, particularly because of the way in which it was carried out.

On Saturday, Microsoft began pushing for the return of Altman and Brockman to their respective positions within OpenAI, but due to the way the nonprofit and the company itself are structured , investors have no say in the matter, even though Microsoft can still make its investments amount to $13 billion.

According to some sources to consult from the technological site The edge, the board would negotiate the return of Altman and Brockman: it appeared an agreement had been reached late Saturday afternoon, but negotiations would then stop. Altman is also considering founding a new company according to other reports collection of New York Timeswhich could bring together many people from OpenAI disappointed by Altman’s departure.

Source: ilpost


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