Tip Sheets

OpenAI board may have won the battle – but lost the war

Media Contact

Becka Bowyer

Former Twitch leader Emmett Shear is taking over as OpenAI’s interim chief executive following a chaotic weekend of changes at the company. Shear plans to hire an independent investigator to look into what led up to Sam Altman’s ouster late Friday.

Sarah Kreps

Professor of Government

Sarah Kreps, professor of government and director of the Tech Policy Institute at Cornell University, says differences of opinion about OpenAI’s “benefit of humanity” vision became more evident over recent months.

Kreps says:

“The chaotic turn of events was an artifact of the company’s founding combined with the rapid progress of AI in the last year. OpenAI was founded as a non-profit in 2015 to develop AI ‘for the benefit of humanity.’ In 2019, OpenAI became a for-profit entity, but its non-profit board fully controlled the for-profit subsidiary. That governance structure seemed to work fine until more recently when the pace of development accelerated as investment from companies like Microsoft poured in and fueled faster development.

“OpenAI’s most senior leadership, Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, seem to be of the view that accelerating AI can achieve the most good for humanity. The plurality of the Board, however, appears to be of a different view that the pace of advancement is too fast and could compromise safety and trust. The problem is that the board may have won the battle but lost the war. OpenAI’s new CEO admitted that the Board damaged trust, a rich irony since it’s the preservation of trust that motivated the coup. Restoring trust once it’s lost will be a challenge.

“Altman, Brockman and several of OpenAI’s senior leaders have now left to work for a new independent subsidiary of Microsoft, where they will simply exercise their vision somewhere else. OpenAI can wash its hands of any responsibility for any possible future missteps on AI development but can’t stop it from happening and will now be in a compromised position to influence that development. The developments show just how dynamic and high-stakes the AI space has become and that it’s impossible either to stop or contain the progress.”

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