Making Sense of OpenAI, Sam Altman and the Non-profit Board on Their Hardest Days
The things that went wrong this weekend have been wrong since the very beginning — the rest is fine and always has been
This is my fifth and final article about the recent OpenAI saga (you can read the other four here, here, here, and here). It is a calmer reflection on the significance of the events from Friday (the firing of CEO Sam Altman) to Tuesday (Altman’s return as CEO). It is a defense of OpenAI and Altman but not for the reasons you may think. It is an attempt to understand the board’s actions and why a discrepancy between them and Altman ever existed in the first place. It is unsolicited advice highlighting the aspects I believe OpenAI should improve going forward which, surprisingly, have not much to do with the recent events and all to do with what OpenAI has always been and the mistakes the executive made at the very beginning. OpenAI’s original sin.
The crisis is over. The drama is over. Things are back to normal. Altman is returning. Greg Brockman is returning. The non-profit board has been renewed — both Altman and Brockman are out, as well as three out of four members who executed the coup; Ilya Sutskever, Helen Toner, and Sasha McCauley. Adam D’Angelo stays. The board has added two new members, Bret Taylor and Larry Summers (whether they are good picks I leave you to decide). It will grow over time, up to nine seats, including at least one for Microsoft.
In most aspects (especially business and technology) it’s as if the events of the past five days didn’t happen. OpenAI employees have been shipping through the storm and ChatGPT is up; users and customers can breathe. But there are some loose ends that will require further explanation. For instance, the former board only accepted Altman’s return after he and Brockman gave up their board seats. More importantly, they ensured a more formal investigation would take place to elucidate the exact reasons that prompted their dismissal of Altman in the first place.
So yeah, things are back to normal for employees, customers, and investors, but not exactly for OpenAI and the mission. Not because the company or its values have changed, but because the circumstances have…