What You’re Feeling Is Shiny Object Syndrome

Q* is a symptom of our addiction to AI

Alberto Romero


This article is a selection from The Algorithmic Bridge, an educational project aimed at bridging the gap between AI and people. Join me to learn how to navigate a future that has already arrived.

Even the best critical thinkers can fall victim to the contagious thrill and excitement caused by the semblance of a scientific paradigm shift. This effect is enhanced if recent history is plagued with unprecedented change. More so if the discipline we’re talking about is one that promises to redefine the world as we know it.

This is happening in AI and one of the clearest examples we can find of this vicious cycle of frenzy is Q*, the supposed AI breakthrough that OpenAI researchers reportedly discovered recently, presumably leading to the eventual boardroom coup that ended in CEO Sam Altman’s firing (only for him to be promptly reinstated afterward).

I write “supposed,” “reportedly,” and “presumably” because we literally only have a name, Q* (pronounced Q-star), and a vague description of its main skill: solving certain math problems. That’s all the information we got last week — enough to spark a wave of wild speculations about Q* and the future of AI. The truth is, we know nothing about Q*. So, why all the fuzz?

What’s the real reason we care about Q*?

Did Q* spook the OpenAI board or did we just need to believe it did?

To quickly put you in context, Reuters reported that a source “familiar with the matter” revealed that Q* was the “AI breakthrough” that caused the boardroom coup at OpenAI after “several staff researchers wrote a letter to the board of directors warning of a powerful artificial intelligence discovery that they said could threaten humanity.” Shortly afterward, The Information reported that Q*, the development resulting from a research breakthrough by Ilya Sutskever, had “​​raised concerns among some staff that the company didn’t have proper safeguards in place to commercialize such advanced AI models.”

Just to make a brief digression, I will say that writing “a source familiar with the matter,” although intended to protect anonymity, is a rather…