The OpenAI Saga: Great debate or a hot mess. Is it about Humanity altering AI boom or just Adult toddlers fighting over different ideologies.
From one of the torch bearers of modern AI to series of unfortunate events. OpenAI company of our generation went through some crazy rollercoaster ride. From firing of the CEO, Sam Altman to AGI (artificial general Intelligence), revolting of employees , to Microsoft and everything in between.
Let’s take a complete look at what all happened and try to dive deeper into “Why?”.
OpenAI – The context you need before the Drama
OpenAI’s story began in 2015, founded as a non-profit with a one single goal: To create Drama, pun intended. Actual goal – To achieve artificial general intelligence (AGI) and to ensure that it benefits all of humanity.
Its inception brought together a star-studded list of co-founders including Elon Musk, Sam Altman, Reid Hoffman, Jessica Livingston, Andrej Karpathy, Greg Brockman, and Ilya Sutskever.
Initially, the organization secured $1B in commitments but only received $130m, with Musk as the largest donor contributing over $40m. Musk’s vision was to counterbalance Google’s for-profit AI endeavors.
However, by 2018, Musk parted ways with OpenAI, citing a conflict of interest with Tesla’s AI projects.
The following year marked a significant shift. With Musk’s exit and funding challenges, Altman, stepping in as CEO, transformed OpenAI into a “capped” for-profit entity.
This new structure, a hybrid model, allowed for external investment but capped returns at 100x, channeling excess profits back to the non-profit arm.
The governance structure evolved into a board overseeing this interlinked non-profit and for-profit relationship.
In a major boost, 2019 also saw Microsoft injecting $1B into OpenAI, primarily through cloud computing credits. Notably, Altman didn’t take any equity in this for-profit venture.
Fast forward to November 2022, OpenAI launched ChatGPT, creating a sensation by becoming the fastest consumer software to reach 100 million users.
This success was further bolstered in January 2023 when Microsoft doubled down with an additional investment of over $10B for a 49% stake in the for-profit arm.
As of early November 2023, OpenAI celebrated its inaugural developer day, showcasing a thriving business with an annual run rate exceeding $1B+, marking a dramatic evolution from its non-profit origins to a burgeoning for-profit powerhouse.
The main Characters of the OpenAI Saga
Sam Altman: OpenAI’s CEO, Altman is a visionary leader known for his ambitious goals in AI and his pivotal role in transitioning OpenAI from a non-profit to a capped for-profit model.
Greg Brockman: Co-founder and a key figure in OpenAI. Right hand man of Sam. Brockman is recognized for his deep involvement in the organization’s strategic direction and operational management.
Ilya Sutskever: As a co-founder and Chief Scientist of OpenAI, Sutskever is renowned for his profound contributions to the field of AI, playing a crucial role in the company’s technical advancements.
Mira Murati: Elevated to interim CEO during the saga, Murati is also among the co-founder of OpenAI and early member. She was serving as CTO before the saga. Has a significant impact on the organization’s direction.
Emmett Shear: Brought in as the new interim CEO, Shear is recognized for his entrepreneurial acumen as a co-founder of Twitch and his unexpected yet pivotal role in the OpenAI turmoil.
Helen Toner: As a Director of Strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Toner’s expertise in AI policy and strategy made her a valuable member of OpenAI’s board.
Adam D’Angelo: Founder of Quora and a board member at OpenAI, D’Angelo brings a wealth of experience in tech entrepreneurship and strategic thinking to the organization.
Tasha McCauley: Known as a RAND scientist and a board member of OpenAI, McCauley contributes her deep insights into AI and its societal impacts, enhancing the board’s decision-making process.
Satya Nadella: CEO of Microsoft and a key player in the saga, Nadella’s strategic decisions and investments in OpenAI significantly influenced the organization’s trajectory and governance.
Elon Musk: Initially the largest donor and a co-founder of OpenAI, Musk’s early involvement and subsequent departure for conflict of interest reasons with Tesla’s AI efforts, set the stage for significant changes in OpenAI’s structure and mission.
Friday Nov 17 – The Spark : Firing of OpenAI CEO – Sam Altman
Our story begins with a surprise: the abrupt firing of Sam Altman, OpenAI’s CEO, by the board of OpenAI, a decision that sent shockwaves through the tech world. The sudden and controversial decision was officially released as blog post on website “OpenAI announces leadership transition”
Mira Murati is interim CEO , Greg Brockman Resigns too
CTO Mira Murati is made Interim CEO. The board also demoted the board member and Co-founder Greg Brockman. Following which co-founder Greg Brockman’s resignation added to the unfolding drama.
Tech world & twitter subsequently went crazy with all this sudden happenings.
Sam Altman tweets
Greg Brockman also tweeted revealing the events leading to the current situation.
One funny detail is use of Google meet instead of Microsoft teams for meeting. Provided OpenAI’s close partnership with Microsoft, with Microsoft being major investor in OpenAI as well.
Memes roll all over the internet.
Prominent Tech journalist Kara Swisher reports about misalignment of No-Profit board and for profit product arm as the reason.
The Ideological Divide: Research and Safety vs. Progress
As reported by veteran journalist Kara Swisher. It looks like at the heart of this saga lies a profound ideological conflict. The board, increasingly concerned about the safety implications of AI advancements, clashed with Sam Altman’s side ambitious product-focused vision.
This tension, exacerbated by rapid technological breakthroughs, ultimately led to the dramatic firing of Altman and the ensuing internal strife.
Major investor investor Microsoft and other investors were kept in dark.
Microsoft and other investors like Khosla ventures were only told about the ouster at last minute. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadela and other are not happy with how the events have been unfolded.
Microsoft’s worry being their investment in OpenAI and their AI future may be danger due to all this.
Brad Lightcap, the COO, tries to calm the storm, claiming it’s just a “communication breakdown”.
Saturday, November 18th: CEO Mira and OpenAI team wants Altman and Greg back
But, the crisis deepens with resignation of Three Senior OpenAI Researchers. Research director Jakub Pachocki, AI risk evaluation head Aleksander Madry, and longtime researcher Szymon Sidor
Seems like interim CEO Mira Murati and OpenAI employees along with push from Microsoft and others want the ousted members back.
Interim CEO, Mira discusses with board on possibility of return of Sam and Greg.
The Verge reported shortly after the Forbes report that OpenAI’s board reached out to Altman in an attempt to work out a return to the company.
An agreement was reportedly made on Saturday that brought Altman and Brockman back to the company.
In addition, the current OpenAI board would resign. However, a Saturday night deadline passed, and the deal wasn’t closed.
This all occurred in less than 24 hours after Altman’s firing.
Among all this, Sam posted on X “i love the openai team so much,”
OpenAI employees start tweeting hearts supposedly a signal to the board of who would leave OpenAI to follow Sam Altman if the decision was kept.
As the day ended, OpenAI was assuring its employees that an agreement to bring Altman back was in the works and that the organization “remains optimistic.”
Sunday: Another day of surprise for OpenAI
Microsoft & Satya Nadella lead the charge to negotiate with the board. According to a report from The Information, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella became personally involved in the discussions in order to bring Altman back to the AI company.
Interm CEO Murati also rallied in support for Altman’s return.
But it all seemed to fall apart for good later that day. OpenAI announced it was bringing former Twitch executive Emmett Shear onboard as its new interim CEO.
Shear is a co-founder of streaming service Twitch and was in the same Y Combinator class as Altman in 2005.
The board playing CEO Tinder, also approached a number of other candidates for the job including former Github CEO Nat Friedman and Dario Amodei (CEO of AI firm Anthropic, which was launched by OpenAI defectors in 2021).
At this point, it appeared the saga was over. Altman, the interim CEO, and OpenAI’s moneyed backers tried to negotiate a return and get the board that fired Altman to step down.
The power play seemingly failed. OpenAI seemed poised to move on without Altman and even Murati now.
Sam Altman tweets out a picture of him wearing a guest pass at OpenAI HQ. – – Board negotiation ends with Altman officially being out on Sunday night & employees streaming out of the office.
Monday brings 4-D Chess moves from The Microsoft
As the plot thickened, Sam Altman and Greg, now outside OpenAI, found an unexpected ally in Microsoft.
“We’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team,”
The tech giant, already a key player in AI, deepened its involvement by announcing a partnership focusing on an advanced AI chip unit. This move raised eyebrows and questions alike: Was this a strategic realignment or a reactionary pivot?
Internet goes gaga over Satya Nadela’s excellent leadership at Microsoft.
Also, will the OpenAI employees be told to use Microsoft Teams instead of Google Meet?
Internal Revolt: The Employee Uprising
In an added twist akin to a Games Of Thrones, OpenAI employees, threaten to jump ship. Over 700 of the company’s 750+ employees sign the letter against the OpenAI board and signal that they are ready to join Altman at Microsoft’s new AI unit.
Every OpenAI employee posting “OpenAI is nothing without its people” and ❤️ emojis.
At this point whole X.com is full of ❤️ and OpenAI nothing without its people chant.
In another surprise, even Ilya Sutskevar rallied in the support reversing his previous decision.
Looks like Microsoft acquired OpenAI for dime a dozen
During this entire previous 72-hour period, OpenAI employees are being offered positions by executives from Facebook, Google, Salesforce, Nvidia, xAI and other Big Tech firms. All trying to poach OpenAI employees.
Tuesday – the return and back to normal
All is not lost. Talks are still on. Things are at verge of returning back to normal with Possible return of Sam Altman and Greg Brockman.
The current interim CEO Shear asks the OpenAI board for a written explanation on why it fired Altman and says he will resign if the document isn’t forthcoming.
Amidst this chaos, OpenAI still manages to ship an AI tool and deal with a brief ChatGPT outage.
The Resolution: Restructuring and Reconciliation
In a climactic turn of events, the board underwent a significant restructuring. Notably, the inclusion of Larry Summers and the increased influence of Microsoft marked a new chapter for OpenAI. This reshuffling signaled a move towards resolving the ideological divide, balancing the push for AI advancement with necessary safety considerations.
Greg Brockman tweets –
On Wednesday, November 22nd : Was it about an AI breakthrough called Q*
One day prior to American Thanksgiving, Reuters reported that the OpenAI board may have fired Altman due to disagreements over a new breakthrough called Q*:
Before Sam Altman’s temporary departure, a pivotal moment unfolded at OpenAI. Researchers penned a warning letter to the board about a groundbreaking AI discovery, known internally as “Q*”.
Although OpenAI didn’t publicly comment. An internal message from executive Mira Murati, confirmed the existence of both the project and the letter .
This revelation, acknowledged internally by OpenAI through a message from executive Mira Murati, underscores the delicate balance between AI innovation and safety.
Q*, possibly a stepping stone towards Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), has shown early promise in solving basic mathematical problems.
This success sparked optimism about its capabilities. However, it’s not just about acing arithmetic; the real worry from Board (Lead by Helen Toner) was about Q*’s potential to surpass human abilities in economically valuable tasks.
In simple terms Q* can be explained as form of self learning Algorithm which enables the AI to self analyze and correct itself accordingly paving way superior perfomance by AI.
Methods similar to this has already been used and being used in AI industry , more famously Google Deep mind.
These developments played a crucial role in the events leading to Altman’s brief ouster, underscoring the delicate balance between AI advancement and the imperative for safety.
Side Quests and Theories : Some False, Some True
Was AGI achieved internally? – False
Adam D Angelo was behind firing and conflict – False
Conflict of interest between Sam and board member Helen Toner – Some truth
Some Malicious doing by Sam led firing- False
Sam Altman- manipulative or relentless goal oriented – In between
The Balancing Act: OpenAI or Closed AI
This whole OpenAI saga isn’t just AI Game of Thrones; it tell a tale of the AI industry’s growing pains.
It highlights the tension between rapid commercialization and ethical AI development. OpenAI’s turmoil reflects the broader industry’s struggle to balance profit with purpose, innovation with integrity.
Microsoft’s involvement underscores Big Tech’s increasing influence in AI, raising questions about monopolistic tendencies and the future of open-source AI. The employee revolt is a testament to the power of collective action, a reminder that the heart of any tech company is its people, not just its algorithms.
This saga, while uniquely OpenAI’s, tell one thing for sure: the journey of AI development is not just about technological breakthroughs but also about governance, ethical considerations, and open collaboration.
The OpenAI odyssey reminds us that the future of AI should not be in the hands of a few but should be a collaborative, open-source endeavor, ensuring that the benefits of AI are shared and its risks are collectively managed.
There are still a lot of things unknown in this saga, but it does points in the direction of AI progressing at a fast pace.