By Meghna Deshraj

November 21, 2023

Sam Altman
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Turmoil at OpenAI: A Tale of AI, Power, and Intrigue

Imagine a script for a science fiction thriller or a plot twist in a hit TV series like “Succession,” you’ll get a sense of the recent drama at OpenAI. The company, a leader in artificial intelligence technology, experienced a whirlwind of events that could easily be mistaken for fiction.

Sam Altman, Open AI
Sam Altman, Open AI pic credit NY Times

The Sudden Leadership Shakeup

In a shocking move, OpenAI’s board dismissed Sam Altman, the CEO, citing reasons that remain unclear. This dismissal was enabled by OpenAI’s unique governance, combining a non-profit with a for-profit arm, allowing such a drastic decision without extensive public rationale.

The Internal Coup and its Aftermath

Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist, led a coup against Altman. Sutskever, along with some board members, prioritizes AI safety over rapid growth, fearing AI’s potential to outpace human control. Altman, while cautious about AI risks, leaned more towards optimistic growth, leading to a clash with the safety-first group.

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Ilya Sutskever Jim Wilson
Ilya Sutskever Jim Wilson/Pic Credit: The New York Times

Following the ousting, the board appointed Emmett Shear, previously of Twitch, as interim CEO, soon after a brief stint by CTO Mira Murati. Microsoft, a key OpenAI partner, then offered Altman and his right-hand man, Greg Brockman, a new venture. This led to an almost unanimous employee threat to leave for Microsoft, demanding the board’s resignation and reinstatement of Altman and Brockman.

In a twist, Sutskever expressed regret over his role in the ousting, joining the call for the board’s reversal.

Why This Matters Beyond OpenAI

This upheaval isn’t just corporate drama. OpenAI, the creator of groundbreaking technologies like ChatGPT, is at the forefront of AI development. This situation underscores a critical global debate: how to manage powerful AI tools and the ethical responsibilities of major tech companies. The event at OpenAI, marked by its ambitions to develop superintelligent AI, highlights these concerns in a high-stakes scenario, combining elements of technological progress, power struggles, and ethical considerations in the rapidly evolving world of AI.

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About the author 

Meghna Deshraj

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