2023 has certainly been the year of AI, and OpenAI have led the way with their successes in ChatGPT. Central to all this was their CEO, Sam Altman, who 4 weeks ago was sacked and then quickly reinstated. It was a whirlwind of a saga over 5 days, and I’m sure many of the finer details will never see the light of day. So what do we know happened, and what does this mean for the future of AI as we head into 2024?
The board of OpenAI decided to fire Sam Altman.
Search Engine Hubbub were quick to report that Sam Altman had been sacked by the board at OpenAI, to the surprise of everyone across the world. Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest partner, were also surprised and only informed minutes before the press release. Mira Murati was placed as interim CEO until a permanent solution was found.
The decision was made by the three non-employee board members, Adam D’Angelo, Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner, and a third co-founder and the firm’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever. The reason given for his dismissal was that he failed to be “consistently candid in his communications” with the board members.
OpenAI employees started to revolt.
However, this decision led to a significant backlash, including threats of mass resignations from staff unless he was reinstated. Even the members who voted for Sam to be ousted started to question their actions. Ilya Sutskever signed the staff letter calling on the board to reverse their decision.
I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we've built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.— Ilya Sutskever (@ilyasut) November 20, 2023
Microsoft setup a new advanced AI research team and offered jobs to everyone
Microsoft offered a job to Sam Altman, as well as to any disgruntled former employees of OpenAI, to lead a new advanced AI research team.
Sam Altman returns!
Around 72 hours later, an agreement “in principle” was reached for Altman to return as the CEO of OpenAI. This agreement involved partly reconstituting the board of directors that had dismissed him. Former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor and former US treasury secretary Larry Summers joined the board, alongside current director Adam D’Angelo.
Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, stated that they were encouraged by the changes to the OpenAI board, but that it was a first step in the path to stability at the company.
We are encouraged by the changes to the OpenAI board. We believe this is a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance. Sam, Greg, and I have talked and agreed they have a key role to play along with the OAI leadership team in ensuring… https://t.co/djO6Fuz6t9— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) November 22, 2023
Details behind his original dismissal are blurry!
It’s worth noting that the details surrounding Altman’s dismissal and subsequent reinstatement are complex and not fully disclosed. In their press release, the board outlined that after a deliberative review process, it concluded that Sam was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.
The Washington Post mentioned that they had spoken to anonymous sources, close to the inner workings of the board, who said that the board felt as though they couldn’t oppose Altman due to his connections and the powerful position he held. So perhaps this decision was also a power play.
There were also rumours that OpenAI had made even more developments in their Large Language Models, and this might have freaked out the board.
What is clear is that it was a crazy period in what has been a crazy year for AI.
What's next for OpenAI?
Many have celebrated Altman’s return to OpenAI. He has even been named TIME’s ‘CEO of the Year 2023’. However, some are not so happy, with the fact that this whole ordeal being clouded in mystery will feed the (somewhat justified) paranoia that surrounds AI. Elon Musk called for the board to give some clarity on what exactly led to their decision making. This has yet to happen.
So what’s next for OpenAI?
GPT-5 Development: OpenAI is currently working on GPT-5, the next iteration of their flagship language model. While specific details about GPT-5’s capabilities are not fully disclosed, it is expected to offer more advanced features than the current model, GPT-4. However, it’s technically difficult to predict in exactly what way.
Data Sourcing: To train GPT-5, OpenAI plans to source more data from other organisations and publicly available sources. They have also launched a partner initiative through which companies can contribute training data to their artificial intelligence projects.
Fundraising: OpenAI expects to raise more capital from Microsoft Corp. and other investors to finance its development efforts. Earlier this year, Microsoft reportedly invested $10 billion in OpenAI at a $29 billion valuation.
Mission Alignment: OpenAI’s future plans focus on creating Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) that benefits all of humanity, in alignment with their mission and principles. They are committed to continuous improvements in AI capabilities, openness to cooperation, and ethical AI development.
Democratizing Access to AI: OpenAI has outlined a robust business plan aimed at democratizing access to AI technologies.
What is clear is that 2024 is set to be just as exciting, but hopefully less volatile for OpenAI as an organisation.
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- OpenAI and Sam Altman reunited. What happened and what’s next? - December 17, 2023