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Artificial intelligence may be well-known for generating human-like images out of whole cloth, but if the software has a public face it is Sam Altman’s.
The co-founder of OpenAI, which caused a sensation just a year ago with the introduction of ChatGPT, Altman has presented himself as the benevolent wizard behind the curtain of a technology that many say could upend entire industries and even mankind itself.
But on Friday, November 17, it was the earnest Altman who was upended after OpenAI’s board, in a surprise move, stripped him of his CEO title and directorship. He is out.
Directors of the company, now worth about $80 billion, cited a failure to be “consistently candid in his communications.”
Further details of what finally led to the ouster of Altman were not immediately clear Friday.
The company reassured staff that it would be fine without him, but the Silicon Valley superstar, who once ran the best known startup incubator YCombinator, or YC, leaves the company with a big hole to fill in its fundraising efforts: maintaining the software costs some very real money. It also takes talented engineers, who flocked to Altman.
Altman, 38, was plucky to the end of his run at OpenAI. He was seen mingling with attendees briefly at an AI conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, and the next day spoke on a panel with a top Meta executive at the ongoing APEC summit in San Francisco, while the board deliberated on his future.
In a post on AI-rival Elon Musk’s X, he said Friday of OpenAI: “I loved working with such talented people. Will have more to say about what’s next later.”
Altman is credited with almost singlehandedly convincing Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to commit $10 billion to the company and leading the company’s tender offer transactions this year that fueled a nearly three-fold valuation bump from $29 billion to over $80 billion.
His aura also helped attract AI engineering talent in what may be the most competitive market seen in tech circles in years. He successfully recruited from Google, Microsoft and other established tech giants with surer pay packages, promising to let them in on the ground floor of a world-altering technology.
That tech has since fueled concerns of doomsday scenarios where the software takes over the world, steals intellectual property with impunity and makes secondary education a hotbed of cheating or simply unnecessary; but Altman at an event on Thursday said “heavy regulation” wasn’t needed for some time.
“At some point when the model can do like the equivalent output of a whole company, and then a whole country and then the whole world,” such rules would be helpful, he said.
Altman grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and attended Stanford for one year, marking a tradition of sorts among tech titans of dropping out before getting their degrees. In addition to his efforts with OpenAI he started a cryptocurrency firm this year that scans people’s irises for verification.
Altman’s moonshot ethos likely played well among ambitious engineers tired of toiling away for blue chip tech firms.
“As long as you are right, being misunderstood by most people is a strength not a weakness,” wrote Altman in a blog post three years ago. “You and a small group of rebels get the space to solve an important problem that might otherwise not get solved.” – Rappler.com