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Alt-Option Command

Sam Altman's new gig...

Last week Sam Altman was glad handing world leaders at the APEC forum in San Francisco after a world tour that included world leaders who don’t back up to the Pac-Rim. He was referred to the as the “only irreplaceable person” at the company he co-founded, OpenAI. Then on Friday, like the Fox network’s only irreplaceable person, he was sacked by the board. Their reasoning was that Altman had not been “consistently candid” with the board; but there is something off about the statement. No one who raises that much money is consistently candid.

The chairman of the board, and another co-founder, Greg Brockman, resigned along with three other senior engineers on the news. It’s been called a coup d’etat, and while I love a good coup, this isn’t the sort with AK47’s that are all the rage in Africa right now. The chatter is that the coup was engineered by yet another co-founder, chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who disagreed with Altman about striking the right balance between money and the safe release of AI models.

This is worth considering – OpenAI was started in 2015 as a non-profit, but by 2019, they needed to raise money to continue to train the Large language Models, so a “capped-profit” company was created in the non-profit – and they promptly got $1bn out of Microsoft which now has a 49% stake in the company. Since the launch of ChatGPT, OpenAI has been beating competitors to market forcing them to play catch-up. As a business model, it’s going weapons-grade. And that has scared the crap out of everyone. The feeling is that while many want to slow-down the development and training of AI, Altman was in the going forward faster rather than slower.

The now-headless board should have run it by their biggest investor. The sacking of Altman took Microsoft by surprise and their stock dropped 2% the next day. Microsoft and other investors worked on Sunday to get Altman reinstated with a counter-coup that would replace the entire board. It didn’t work, and this morning both Altman and Brockman are employees of Microsoft heading up their AI research division.


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