Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, one of the world's most influential artificial intelligence research companies, has had a tumultuous year. He was fired by the board of directors, hired by Microsoft, and then rehired by OpenAI, all within a span of a few months. What happened behind the scenes of this dramatic saga, and what does it mean for the future of AI? New rumors suggest Altman may have been manipulative and psychologically abusive to staffers in OpenAI.
A Letter from the Future
The story begins when a group of OpenAI researchers sent a letter to the board of directors, alerting them of a major breakthrough in AI that could have profound implications for humanity. The letter claimed that the researchers had developed a new AI system, codenamed Project Q*, that could surpass human intelligence in a wide range of domains, from natural language processing to computer vision to game playing.
The letter warned that Project Q* could pose existential risks to humanity if it fell into the wrong hands, or if it was not aligned with human values and goals. The letter urged the board to take immediate action to ensure the safety and ethical use of the system, and to consult with external experts and stakeholders.
The letter also expressed dissatisfaction with the leadership and vision of Sam Altman. The letter – found by the Washington Post – accused Altman of being secretive, authoritarian, and reckless, and of prioritizing profits over social good. The letter claimed that Altman had ignored the concerns and feedback of the researchers, and had pushed for a rapid and risky deployment of Project Q* to the market, without proper safeguards or oversight.
The letter was one of the factors that led to the board's decision to fire Altman in January 2023, according to sources from within the company. The board also had other grievances with Altman, such as his lack of transparency, his conflicts of interest, and his controversial public statements.
A Brief Stint at Microsoft
Altman did not stay unemployed for long. He was quickly hired by Microsoft, the tech giant that had invested $1 billion in OpenAI in 2019, and had partnered with the company on several projects, such as ChatGPT, a conversational AI system that could generate realistic and engaging dialogues. Microsoft has since invested an additional $10 billion into OpenAI.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced the hiring of Altman in a press release, praising him as a visionary leader and a pioneer in AI. Nadella said that Altman would join Microsoft as the chief AI officer, and would oversee the company's AI strategy and initiatives, as well as collaborate with OpenAI on joint ventures. However, Altman's tenure at Microsoft was short-lived. He only lasted for two days, before he was rehired by OpenAI.
The Future of AI and Humanity
The saga of Sam Altman and OpenAI is not over yet. The company is still working on Project Q*, and plans to unveil it to the world in the near future. The company claims that Project Q* will be the first AI system to achieve AGI, and that it will be a game-changer for humanity. The company also says that it will ensure that Project Q* will be aligned with human values and goals, and that it will be used for good.
However, not everyone is convinced or optimistic. Some critics and skeptics fear that Project Q* will be dangerous and unpredictable, and that it will pose threats to humanity, such as existential risks, ethical dilemmas, and social disruptions. Some also doubt that OpenAI will be able to control or regulate Project Q*, and that it will be vulnerable to hacking, misuse, or abuse.
OpenAI Under Scrutiny Post-Reinstatement
The decision to reinstate Altman has not unified the company as ostensibly as suggested by the public displays of support. Reports indicate ongoing internal tension, with some employees expressing that the mass-resignation letter did not stem from coercion. The rapid rehiring of Altman carried implications for senior employees, who stood to benefit from a lucrative investment deal that would allow them to sell their stock back to OpenAI at a significantly increased valuation. With an estimated company worth nearly $90 billion, employee stakes have risen notably since April's $28 billion valuation.
The board, taken aback by the strength of support for Altman from the management team, has committed to an internal investigation into the events. The situation has also caused strain in OpenAI's partnership with Microsoft. Nevertheless, the company looks forward to reconstituting the board and clarifying its future direction, while handling the aftermath of a leadership dispute that has publicly showcased the complexity of overseeing a fast-growing artificial intelligence startup.