What Sam Altman’s firing means for the future of OpenAI

Altman’s downfall shows that the organization that sought to align superintelligent AI with humanity is not even aligning the values ​​of its own board members and leadership. Adding a for-profit component to the nonprofit project turned it into an AI powerhouse. Product launches should not only bring profits, but also provide an opportunity to learn how to better control and develop useful AI. Now it is unclear whether the current leadership believes this is possible without breaking the project’s original promise to create AGI safely.

Murati faces the challenge of convincing OpenAI’s employees and supporters that it still has a viable philosophy for developing AI. It also needs to satisfy the company’s hunger for money to run the extensive infrastructure behind projects like ChatGPT. At the time of his firing, Altman was reportedly seeking billions in new investments in a funding round led by Thrive Capital. The company is undoubtedly less attractive to investors than it was 24 hours ago. (Thrives CEO Joshua Kushner did not respond to an email.)

Additionally, anyone whose CEO nametag says “Interim” will face additional hurdles in everything they do. The sooner OpenAI appoints a permanent leader, the better.

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Whoever OpenAI’s new leader is, he is expected to inherit a team divided over whether it sides with current leaders Sutskever and Murati or departed bosses Altman and Brockman. One of the three researchers who reportedly quit because of the coup was research director Jakub Pachocki, retired Co-inventor of GPT-4– a decisive loss, and we can expect further consequences.

In the fierce race for AI talent, OpenAI could now be at a significant disadvantage. Top researchers are backed by multimillion-dollar payment packages, but for the most passionate researchers, money is secondary to how to develop and deploy more powerful AI. If OpenAI is seen as a place riddled with palace intrigue that distracts from deciding how best to create and distribute humanity’s most consequential invention, top talent will be reluctant to get involved. Elite researchers could instead turn to Anthropic, an AI developer founded in 2021 by former OpenAI employees — or perhaps another new project Altman and Brockman are launching.

Altman’s career so far has been a classic hero’s journey in the spirit of Joseph Campbell. From the moment I first met him, when he walked into my Newsweek office in 2007 as CEO of a startup called Loopt, he exuded a burning passion for tackling technology’s biggest challenges and also a remarkable personal humility. When I accompanied him in London this year on his whirlwind tour to promote “people-positive” AI – while also recommending that it be regulated to prevent catastrophe – I saw him addressing crowds, posing for selfies and even encouraged a few protesters to make their concerns heard. But I also sensed that the task was stressful and might trigger one of his periodic migraine headaches like the one he battled during his Senate testimony.

Just last week, Altman appeared to have overcome the daunting challenges that came with his new power and prominence. At the OpenAI Developer Day on November 6, he confidently and carefully rehearsed introduced a series of new products and laid claim to the technosphere’s ultimate peacock seat: a showman unveiling dazzling advances in the style of Steve Jobs. It seemed that Altman was finally feeling at home in the spotlight. But then the lights went out. Sam Altman needs to create AGI somewhere else. OpenAI may still be in the hunt – but only after it has picked up the pieces.


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