A company's primary obligation is to its shareholders, and in the case of OpenAI, Microsoft is a significant shareholder. Microsoft invested $13 billion in OpenAI to advance Bing, Office, Windows, and Azure. However, the firing of CEO Altman, a move not communicated to Microsoft until just before the public announcement, led to a decline in Microsoft's stock.
The lack of prior notification also affected employees and key figures like Greg Brockman, OpenAI's co-founder. The subsequent resignation of Altman loyalists and reports of a potential new venture threatened the company's stability. In a surprising twist, the board attempted to bring Altman back a day later, reflecting an unexpected and embarrassing reversal.
The unique board structure of OpenAI, with a nonprofit and a for-profit entity (OpenAI LP), added complexity. While the nonprofit wing controlled the majority, the for-profit entity, led by Altman, significantly contributed to OpenAI's valuation. Balancing the goals of a nonprofit and the expectations of major backers like Microsoft and Thrive Capital proved challenging.
The board's concern reportedly stemmed from Altman's push for faster innovation and the announcement at a recent developer conference that tools for creating ChatGPT-like versions would be open to the public. This move raised apprehensions about the responsible development and deployment of AI, especially in generating realistic content.
Altman's commitment to prioritizing safety, even at the cost of profit, was outlined in OpenAI LP's charter. He advocated for regulatory limits on AI to prevent unintended consequences and potential misuse.
The perceived risks associated with rapid innovation and the potential impact of AI on jobs and disinformation likely contributed to the board's decision to part ways with Altman. However, the handling of the situation, including lack of transparency, triggered a crisis that could have been managed differently.
The fallout from Altman's ouster includes the possibility of Microsoft gaining a board seat, a potential return of Altman, and the risk of a cultural shift or competition if Altman starts a new venture. The incident highlights the delicate balance between innovation, responsible AI development, and stakeholder expectations in the rapidly evolving field of artificial intelligence.
Goldman, D. (2023) Analysis: How openai so royally screwed up the Sam Altman firing | CNN business, CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2023/11/19/tech/sam-altman-open-ai-firing-board/index.html (Accessed: 20 November 2023).