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by Mick the Ram
The power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is frightening, and for many people in the industry, having the high-profile Sam Altman in a top position at the influential OpenAI – the company behind the ChatGPT bot – was a comforting reassurance.
That is no longer the case however, after the 38-year-old was removed from his role as CEO, in a move that has completely shocked the tech world.
Only two weeks ago he impressed attending delegates with a speech in the UK, at the world’s first AI safety summit, outlining both opportunities and risks created by the new technology.
The board of directors at the firm announced his dismissal, citing a “loss of confidence” in his leadership.
His co-founded Greg Brockman, has also left the company.
Face behind the company
ChatGPT was launched almost a year ago, with millions signing up. Mr Altman had been the face behind the rise of OpenAI, with the company regarded by those in the know to be pretty much at its peak, with investments flooding in.
He introduced many people to the AI concept for the first time and instilled trust for something that undeniably has some dangerous overtones. As a consequence, he was seen as a kind of go-to spokesperson, with many willing to listen and accept his viewpoint on all things AI.
His removal from OpenAI was sudden and totally unexpected, no more so than by Mr Altman himself. There did not appear to be any issues and all seemed well with the firm. There certainly was no apparent money troubles, as only last week the company was reportedly in talks to sell some of its shares to investors, at a price that would value it at more than $80bn (£64bn).
In a statement released by the board they did the usual by initially expressing their gratitude for Mr Altman’s contributions, which even they would have to reluctantly admit were enormous. However, they went down the path of saying that members believed new leadership was necessary.
That in itself would be hard to fathom, given the seemingly excellent health of OpenAI; but the fact that the board of directors consisted of just six people and two of those were Messrs Altman and Brockman, opened up an obvious interpretation.
It leaves people speculating that there could have been a clash of personalities within, leading to the remaining four ganging up and forcing them out.
Not giving anything away in dismissal statement
The actual wording of the statement issued to explain Mr Altman’s dismissal said: “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to lead OpenAI.” Continuing it accused him of: “Not being consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”
This gives very little away and is so vague yet damning, as to suggest there could be something quite personal in it.
Remaining dignified, Mr Altman wrote on his social media that he had loved his time at the company, saying: “It was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit too.”
Long term colleague quits
Mr Brockman remarked that both men were “shocked, saddened, and still trying to figure out what happened,” before confirming that he had quit the company too, upon hearing of his colleague’s sacking.
He said he was “super proud” of what they built together since starting in his apartment eight years earlier. “We have been through tough and great times together, accomplishing so much despite all the reasons it should have been impossible,” he commented.
All seemed well at summit
At the beginning of November Mr Altman had world leaders at an AI safety summit hanging on his every word, when being honest about his fears that the technology could one day become out of control.
He gave no indication what so ever that anything was impending, and certainly not to an extent where by before the month was done, he would be out of a job.
Elon Musk, who was part of the group who initially set up OpenAI, has been surprisingly quiet on the development, especially for somebody usually so outspoken, prompting inevitable speculation that he could have indirectly influenced decisions.
Ironically, with Mr Altman leaving, his position has been temporarily filled by Mira Murati on an interim basis – an individual who previously worked for the billionaire at his car giant Tesla.
No longer “frozen in time”
ChatGPT is known for its ability to respond to prompts from users with human-like text, images and videos. Hundreds of millions of people have trialled it, with many continuing to use it to help them carry out their work and study.
In September of this year it was confirmed that the chatbot can now browse the internet to provide users with current information, having previously only been able to use data up to September 2021.
It was as if its knowledge base was “frozen in time” unable to give real time facts.
There are ongoing concerns about it generating false information. Indeed, earlier in the year the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a letter to the Microsoft-backed business, requesting information on how it addresses risks to people’s reputations and guards against misuse.
OpenAI have also faced legal action from writers, who claim that the bot has developed its abilities by harvesting their work, which they say violates copyright law.