It’s been one heckuva yAIr–er, year, if you’re in any world that’s impacted by tech. Which, means, of course, if you’re currently a citizen of Earth, and are an actual human being.
If references to those kind of qualifiers seem either alarmist or simplistic, well, chalk it up to my relative naivity in all manners related to AI. I freely admit I don’t know anywhere near as much as those who work with it, or certainly the leadership of companies like Open AI. Names of people we all now know about as well as any those of any Hollywood or Silicon Valley moguls’, especially that of its co-founder Sam Altman.
And if you thought you crammed an awful lot of activity into your last few days leading up to your Thanksgiving holiday, I’m willing to wager yours was nothing like that of what Altman and many of his colleagues experienced. ABC NEWS’ website provides a handy recap and timeline for us simpletons:
Friday, November 17 – Altman stepped down from his role as CEO of OpenAI, the company announced, following a review undertaken by the company’s board of directors. “Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities,” OpenAI said in a statement. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.” The company appointed chief technology officer Mira Murati as interim CEO. Following Altman’s departure, OpenAI president and co-founder Greg Brockman announced that he quit “based on today’s news.”
Sunday, November 19 – OpenAI hired former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear as its. interim CEO, replacing Murati just two days after appointing her to the role. Shear confirmed the move in a post on X early the following morning. Meanwhile, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced they’d hired Altman to lead a new artificial intelligence department, alongside Brockman and several other recently departed OpenAI employees.
Monday, November 20 – Nearly all 800 employees at OpenAI signed a letter calling for the resignation of the company’s board and the return of Altman as CEO.The employees threatened to quit and join the newly announced AI department at Microsoft if their demands were not met, according to a copy of the letter obtained by ABC News. Included among the signees were OpenAI board member Ilya Sutskever, as well as Murati.
Tuesday, November 21 – Altman reached an agreement in principle to return as CEO of OpenAI, the company announced in a post on X.The announcement includes a condition for OpenAI to reconfigure its board of directors. The new board will include former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, the lone holdover from the previous board, OpenAI said.
So that’s four different CEOs in five days, counting Altman’s two different stints. Boy, that’s even worse than CNN.
There are clear winners, and there are also clear losers. Take the story of now former board member Helen Toner, whose “hometown” business website CRIKEY described for those of us who were curious:
(A) 30-something University of Melbourne alumna whose background in AI and effective altruism has placed her in the middle of a fight over AI safety that is threatening to tear Silicon Valley apart. After finishing her VCE, Toner achieved the top possible university admission score of 99.95 and was recognised with a scholarship to the University of Melbourne. One activity she was involved in during her time at university was United Nations Youth Australia (UNYA). A fellow participant remembers Toner as being “nice, sweet and smart”. It was during her time there that Toner was introduced to effective altruism, a 21st-century philosophical movement that became influential (and increasingly controversial) in tech circles for its evidence-based approach to philanthropy. Among a handful of obsessions, effective altruists are keenly interested in AI safety as they view the future development of artificial intelligence (most specifically, the as-yet-unachieved idea of an “artificial general intelligence” [AGI] — best understood as an AI bot that becomes smarter and more capable than humans) as a major risk to the human race. Specifically, they fear that an AGI could bring about an apocalypse that would destroy humanity. As a result, effective altruists have preached the need to be cautious about the development of artificial intelligence and encourage the building of safeguards.
Perhaps there’s room in some worlds for someone with Toner’s morals and ethics. To me, she sounds an awful lot like this young lady, who already has a TIME Magazine Person of the Year accolade on her resume. There’s probably room for someone like Toner on her team, and she’d no doubt be welcomed in Scandanavia.
But Silicon Valley? And the rest of a world where in the last couple of days we’ve also seen alt-right “populist” governments elected in Argentina and the Netherlands? Let alone the ranting lunatic who we’re on track to bring back for his own second term?
Nope, Sam Altman is the man for that job and that world.
As TECH CRUNCH’s Kyle Wiggers offers, the immediate future of Open AI isn’t without its more practical challenges:
(A)fter several breathless, hair-pulling days, some form of resolution’s been reached. Altman — along with Brockman, who resigned on Friday in protest over the board’s decision — is back, albeit subject to a background investigation into the concerns that precipitated his removal. OpenAI has a new transitionary board, satisfying one of Altman’s demands. And OpenAI will reportedly retain its structure, with investors’ profits capped and the board free to make decisions that aren’t revenue-driven.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff posted on X that “the good guys” won. But that might be premature to say.
Especially when one comes across a tidbit like this from THE GUARDIAN:
OpenAI was reportedly working on an advanced system before Sam Altman’s sacking that was so powerful it caused safety concerns among staff at the company. The model, called Q* – and pronounced as “Q-Star” – was able to solve basic maths problems it had not seen before, according to the tech news site the Information, which added that the pace of development behind the system had alarmed some safety researchers. The ability to solve maths problems would be viewed as a significant development in AI.
And even from my relatively cursory perch, I kinda got that is very much work in progress.
A year ago, I knew not a damn thing about AI. I also can’t draw. But you know that I know regularly jazz up this site with what I hope will be clickbait-worthy graphics where I try to make a point or an impact. Our Netflix Teddy, for example, is the proud by-product of my creativity and AI’s current limitations. And when it dawned on me that, lo and behold, we have a Sam that currently lives not that far from Yosemite, I asked for its attempt to draw a new model of my favorite snarkgraph. Here’s Yosemite Sam 2.0:
Loses a little in translation, no?
And I also asked Bing’s AI to come up with an elevator pitch for what will no doubt eventually be a movie or miniseries about the antics of this past weekend, one that I strongly suspect is already in quick turnaround at a tech-savvy studio like Apple, Amazon or perhaps even MAX, since they’ve already done similar series about startups like WeWork, Uber and Theranos. And those didn’t have as happy an ending as this one has–for now.
Here’s what it spit back when I asked for a “ripped-from-the-headlines” slant:
Inventor’s Revenge: A brilliant but ruthless software inventor, Alex, is fired from his own tech company after a scandal involving his unethical experiments. He vows to take revenge on the board of directors who betrayed him and plots to hack into their systems and expose their secrets. However, he faces resistance from his former colleague and friend, Mia, who is now the CEO of the company and tries to stop him from destroying everything they built. As the stakes get higher, Alex and Mia engage in a cat-and-mouse game that will determine the fate of the company and their own lives.
If that’s what artificial intelligence is producing, perhaps, at least for now, we shouldn’t be so worried. Perhaps someone like Justine Bateman might be able to take some solace in this, though based on her most recent set of interviews she’s not far off from the conclusions of Helen Toner.
My somewhat less emotional reactions is based on the fact that Bing and AI missed the real point of why all of this drama has unfolded in the first place. BUSINESS INSIDER’s Samantha Stokes didn’t:
OpenAI staffers who threatened to quit this week over CEO Sam Altman’s firing are making up to $800,000 per year, according to Bloomberg. The tech industry is known for high salaries, with many employees at firms including Meta, Google, and Amazon pulling in well over six figures annually. Tech firm engineers who focus specifically on artificial intelligence, however, can make 8% to 12.5% more than other engineers, according to compensation data platform Levels.fyi, per Bloomberg.
And per a story that dropped earlier this morning from THE INFORMATION’s Jing Yang:
An OpenAI employee share sale that values the firm at $86 billion is back on track following Sam Altman’s reinstatement as CEO late Tuesday night, The Information reported.
The deal, which is led by Thrive Capital, would buy up to $1 billion of stock or more from employees and other investors. It is expected to close next month.
Other investors that were expected to participate, at least before the Altman saga, included Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, which had committed about $100 million to the tender offer.
The tender is significant because employee share sales are the easiest way for outside investors to buy into OpenAI. The $86 billion valuation tripled the price of a previous tender in April, reflecting how much OpenAI’s business has exploded this year, since its release of ChatGPT in late 2022.
Hmmm. The braintrust behind PUNK’D is involved? I have a hunch a better elevator pitch than artificial intelligence produced is imminent.
And one other thing has evolved since a year ago besides our familiarity with this topic. They’re not being paid in etherium all that much anymore, either. Cuz we know it was that OTHER Sam that kinda screwed all that up.
So I’m more curious than I am panicked. Call me naive. Call me underinformed.
But hey, Ashton, or anyone else that might have a lane to get even a sliver of that cache. Just freakin’ call ME.
Until next time…