Why this Sam Altman/OpenAI drama is just getting started

OpenAI’s boardroom drama is the kind of thing TV writers would draft up, then pare back because it feels like it’s a little much.

This year’s CEO darling, Sam Altman, was ousted from this year’s darling company, OpenAI, on Friday afternoon and the tech world is shook.

A photograph of Sam Altman against an orange and yellow background.

Like, “everyone immediately invoked Steve Jobs’ 1985 removal from Apple” levels of shook.

It’s an apt comparison — or at least it was at the time of this writing.

  • It took Jobs 12 years to return to Apple; by the time you read this, Altman may already be back, with the board members who engineered his exit gone instead.

Then again, this being a total shitstorm, we may not gain satisfying answers about OpenAI’s future anytime too soon.

No matter how the week starts, it won’t be short on intrigue. Here are a few other storylines we’re following…

Will this debacle help make AI safer?

Reports have identified the company’s speed of development as one source of the rift between the board (believing OpenAI’s moving too fast) and Altman (believing OpenAI’s moving too slow).

This checks out; as OpenAI shifted from nonprofit to an $80B company flush with VC cash and the world’s hottest product in ChatGPT, its trajectory made a hard shift. Satisfying investors has a way of trampling humble, mission-driven beginnings.

  • If anything can force other growth-obsessed AI companies to re-evaluate their own rate of progress and the safeguards needed along the way, it’s a theatrical, destabilizing boardroom disaster at the industry leader.

Did the “slow things down” board move too fast?

The shock among OpenAI employees suggests the upper ranks hid its rancor well — until, suddenly, it really didn’t.

But another smoking gun suggests the board — which wanted to pump the brakes on Altman’s rapid expansion — would’ve been helped by heeding its own advice: Microsoft, OpenAI’s most critical partner with $13B+ invested in, was blindsided by Friday’s move.

  • Changing executive leadership is a high-wire act even when there’s clear cause. Making a rash move like this Altman ouster wasn’t just playing with fire; it was cannonballing into a volcano.

Can we protect our nation’s business professors?

Listen, they’ve been awake since Friday, mainlining info about OpenAI’s abnormal board structure and prepping lessons about the importance of internal alignment, and they’re not gonna stop talking about this story until they fall over.

  • If you see a prof about to finally peter out, maybe put some cushions down to break their tumble?
Topics: Ai

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