Sam Altman sure came out a hero
- After OpenAI's board booted CEO Sam Altman, industry peers and colleagues voiced their support.
- The OpenAI board, including chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, has come off looking ridiculous.
For hours, everyone wondered: Was he embezzling? Self-dealing? Did he cover up some horrible misdoings at the company? Was there some personal scandal? Was he secretly writing all the ChatGPT responses himself?
Surely, it must've been something SO terrible and horrible that it would warrant this extreme and highly unusual measure of firing Altman over Google Meet.
Nope! Turns out, the core issue was apparently a disagreement over how commercialized the company — which operates inside a non-profit — should be. That apparently put Altman at odds with the chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who was also on the board.
(Note: There is still a lot we don't know about the Open AI story, and it's still unfolding.)
What IS clear is that Sam Altman has come out of the situation looking like a hero so far. And that's a big difference from Friday, when it looked like a possible scandal could be about to be unveiled.
Over the weekend, high-profile tech industry people like former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky posted messages supporting Altman. Schmidt called him a "hero." And Marissa Mayer, not someone who is usually particularly spicy on Twitter — now X — tweeted disapproval of Altman getting the pink slip.
Even Elon Musk, a co-founder of OpenAI, who has complicated personal relationship with Altman and was openly hostile to him on X earlier this month, posted that the board had made a big mistake.
Sam Altman is a hero of mine. He built a company from nothing to $90 Billion in value, and changed our collective world forever. I can't wait to see what he does next. I, and billions of people, will benefit from his future work- it's going to be simply incredible. Thank you…— Eric Schmidt (@ericschmidt) November 17, 2023
Other OpenAI colleagues, including onetime interim CEO Mira Murati – started tweeting out cryptic heart emojis in support of Altman. After some failed negotiations about returning to OpenAI, Altman is now heading to work at Microsoft.
It also appears very likely that a whole slew of OpenAI employees could leave to follow their former boss. Nearly 500 employees, including Mira Murati, signed an open letter demanding to have Altman reinstated and threatening to quit if he isn't.
Even Sutskever, who was reportedly the one who orchestrated the Open AI coup, signed the letter and has posted on X that he regrets doing it. (Altman replied to this tweet with heart emojis — your guess is as good as mine as to what that means.)
As the dust settles (well, maybe) a narrative has emerged: Sam Altman has come out of this very well. He's beloved by his employees, who are willing to walk away from their jobs in a show of loyalty to him, and he has the admiration of his peers across the industry.
I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we've built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.— Ilya Sutskever (@ilyasut) November 20, 2023
Meanwhile, the OpenAI board and the faction of people who were concerned with AI murdering the human race, look ridiculous, histrionic, and incapable of good decision making. (And in Sutskever's case, deeply regretting it 48 hours later.)
The doomer faction is coming out looking increasingly goofy: The Atlantic reported that at a company retreat, Sutskever commissioned a wooden effigy of "unaligned" AGI — or artificial general intelligence — and set it on fire, and led employees in a chant of "feel the AGI" at a holiday party.
That faction apparently made a hasty decision to boot Altman and wrote up the announcement, which made it look like Altman was guilty of something terrible — and now the company could even be on the verge of dissolving.
If they truly were fearful that commercializing AI research was bad for the future of humanity, they set off a chain of events that could very well move the entire AI operation inside Microsoft. And that's probably not the outcome they wanted.
It's only lunchtime on Monday, so things could take another 180 by the end of the day. But the public perception of the meltdown at OpenAI is already set in stone: The doomers who think AI is going unleash Judgement Day are unserious flakes, and Sam Altman is the hero.
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