The OpenAI drama just keeps coming, with Microsoft hiring the former CEO Sam Altman to lead its AI team after being sensationally fired last week. On top of that, employees at OpenAI are threatening to resign and join Microsoft unless the board resigns.
The meteoric rise of OpenAI as the creator of ChatGPT has been the tech story of note over the last year. It's spurred new technology, mass layoffs, and generally had a massive impact on the business world as a whole since launching in November 2022.
Now, as is common for outrageously successful tech companies, the wheels are falling off in a very public way, and Microsoft — a meaningful partner of OpenAI — is poised to pick up the scraps.
Sam Altman Heads to Microsoft, Employees Threaten to Follow
It's been a busy weekend for both Microsoft and OpenAI, with the latter firing its CEO and the former hiring him to lead the tech giant's AI team lead.
The move is dramatic to say the least, with Microsoft and OpenAI having a notable partnership that has seen ChatGPT and Microsoft services very much intertwined.
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In response to the public ousting, the majority of OpenAI employees (approximately 500 out of the 700-person workforce) signed an open letter to the board of directors, demanding that they resign.
“The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and company. Your conduct has made it clear you do not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.” – open letter to OpenAI board
Why All the Turmoil at OpenAI?
Before last week, everything seemed to be fine at OpenAI, with the company riding high on a year of groundbreaking advancements in AI technology. Sure, bankruptcy was looming and cyberattacks were crashing ChatGPT, but there wasn't a lot of controversy going around.
As this weekend showed, however, issues have been bubbling under the surface for a while. The board noted that the CEO had not been “consistently candid in his communications with the board,” which led to the firing.
However, while nothing is fully confirmed, other reports have noted that former CEO Sam Altman and the board of OpenAI were at odds in regard to the ethics of AI. More specifically, Sam Altman wanted to live by the old tech industry motto of “move fast and break things,” while the board wanted to take things slow.
AI Ethics vs Innovation
If reports are to be believed, all this insanity at OpenAI is being caused by the most basic of conversations around artificial intelligence: Should we innovate at breakneck speed regardless of the possible consequences, or should we slow down and regulate AI advancement to prevent future problems?
We have plenty of examples of the former being a serious issue. Social media, for example, was innovated with virtually no regulation for years, which has likely led to the swaths of misinformation and hate speech flooding its most popular platforms.
Even ChatGPT has had some serious misfires without proper regulation, including false allegations and deepfake content that have serious, real-world consequences for everyday people.
All that to say, the debate over AI ethics versus innovation is going to be a big part of the discussion during the technology's evolution over time. Unfortunately, those that shirk their responsibility to ethical innovation will likely always have somewhere else to land.