This Subtle but Fundamental Conflict Made OpenAI Break Up With Sam Altman

It’s not a clash between doomers and accelerationists — both Altman and Sutskever are pro-safety and AI-optimists. So, what happened?

Alberto Romero


Let’s try to further elucidate, with the available information, what’s happened to OpenAI, which resulted yesterday in the unexpected ousting of CEO Sam Altman and Chairman Greg Brockman.

I’ve seen people framing the internal clash as a conflict between AI doomers — those who think safety is the most important aspect of AI because a rogue superintelligence could kill us all if we are not careful — and techno-optimists and accelerationists — those who think the harm of not developing AI sooner is what we should be wary of. To them, every day that we don’t have powerful superintelligence to help us is a day of unnecessary suffering.

I think the reasons for the schism are subtler. The closest that I’ve seen someone come to my own interpretation of the events is this take by David Pfau:

No idea if the “doomer vs e/acc” framing will turn out to be what really happened, but if it is then I guess I’m on the side of… neither? I think the people rushing towards AGI are chasing a mirage, and the people trying to stop it are being frightened by shadows.

If it’s more a matter of “research vs. product” though, and people thought Sam was just turning the place into The ChatGPT Company and wasn’t supporting basic research? Well, that’s a different matter.

I think, as Pfau does, that the real discrepancy, although related to “doomer vs e/acc,” is less sensationalist and less extreme — something that shouldn’t, at first glance, prompt such drastic measures.

If we accept that everyone at the company wants (wanted) to create AGI to benefit everyone (regardless of whether they could actually do that), which is a reasonable assumption, then the differences can be narrowed to a matter of methodology. From this, we can draw a line that separates two distinct groups.

One thinks AGI is better achieved by deploying products iteratively, raising money, and building more powerful computers — what we could call the industrial/business…