Welcome to a special one-topic issue of the Techtris newsletter, on what must undoubtedly be the most significant s**tshow in big tech of quite some time. OpenAI is the zeitgeist company of the AI movement, and it has gone from apparent triumph to disaster in the course of a week.
A huge product demo “developer day” earlier in the week suggested the company was accelerating the commercialisation and the practical rollout of its tech. But on Friday afternoon, the company’s board announced CEO Sam Altman – perhaps AI’s best-known advocate and chief executive – was departing with immediate effect.
No effort was made to hide this was a sacking, with the official statement including that the board had lost confidence in Altman. Extraordinarily, almost no effort seemed to have been made to include significant stakeholders: shareholders and senior executives were completely out of the loop.
The company now seems to be imploding: senior executives are departing, investors want answers, and the board is reportedly seeking Altman’s return. What has happened looks incomprehensible unless you know the strange history of OpenAI, its philosophy, and how that is now clashing with reality. Let’s try to do the short version (which won’t be that short, but the long version is especially long).