For those of you who may have missed the drama at OpenAI, the startup at the forefront of Artificial Intelligence or AI becoming mainstream:
“On November 17th the board of the maker of ChatGPT suddenly booted out its chief executive (Sam Altman). On the 19th it looked as if Mr Altman would move to Microsoft, Openai’s largest investor. But employees at the startup rose up in revolt, with almost all of them, including one of the board’s original conspirators, threatening to leave were Mr Altman not reinstated. Between frantic meetings, the top brass tweeted heart emojis and fond messages to each other. By the 21st, things had come full circle.”
Indeed, Altman was reinstated the CEO with a new revamped board, all in five days. But this piece in the Economist says why this episode raises some serious concerns:
“One is the sheer power of ai talent. As the employees threatened to quit, the message “Openai is nothing without its people” rang out on social media. Ever since Chatgpt’s launch a year ago, demand for ai boffins has been white-hot. As chaos reigned, both Microsoft and other tech firms stood ready to welcome disgruntled staff with open arms. That gave both Mr Altman and Openai’s programmers huge bargaining power and fatally undermined the board’s attempts to exert control.
The episode also shines a light on the unusual structure of Openai. It was founded in 2015 as a non-profit research lab aimed at safely developing artificial general intelligence (agi), which can equal or surpass humans in all types of thinking. But it soon became clear that this would require vast amounts of expensive processing power, if it were possible at all. To pay for it, a profit-making subsidiary was set up to sell ai tools, such as Chatgpt. And Microsoft invested $13bn in return for a 49% stake.
On paper, the power remained with the non-profit’s board, whose aim is to ensure that agi benefits everyone, and whose responsibility is accordingly not to shareholders but to “humanity”. That illusion was shattered as the employees demanded Mr Altman’s return, and as the prospect loomed of a rival firm housed within profit-maximising Microsoft.”
The article reckons corporate structures are inherently incapable of protecting the cause of humanity or regulating technology:
“Fortunately for humanity, there are bodies that have a much more convincing claim to represent its interests: elected governments. By drafting regulation, they can set the boundaries within which companies like Openai must operate. And, as a flurry of activity in the past month shows, they are paying attention to ai. That is just as well. ai technology is too important to be left to the latest corporate intrigue.”
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