Less than two months ago, on stage at the Code Conference, I asked Helen Toner how she thought about the awesome power that she’d been entrusted with as a board member at OpenAI. Toner has the power under the company’s charter to halt OpenAI’s efforts to build an artificial general intelligence. If the circumstances presented themselves, would she really stop the company’s work and redirect employees to working on other projects?
At the time, Toner demurred. I had worded my question inelegantly, suggesting that she might be able to shut down the company entirely. The moment passed, and I never got my answer — until this weekend, when the board Toner serves on effectively ended OpenAI as we know it. (She declined to comment when I emailed her.)
By now I assume you have caught up on the seismic events of the past three days at OpenAI: the shock firing on Friday of CEO Sam Altman, followed by company president Greg Brockman quitting in solidarity; a weekend spent negotiating their possible returns; ex-Twitch CEO Emmett Shear being installed by the board as OpenAI's new interim CEO; and minority investor Microsoft swooping in to create a new advanced research division for Altman and Brockman to run.