It’s not every day that the most talked-about company in the world sets itself on fire. Yet that seems to be what happened Friday, when OpenAI’s board announced that it had terminated its chief executive, Sam Altman, because he had not been “consistently candid in his communications with the board.” In corporate-speak, those are fighting words about as barbed as they come: They insinuated that Altman had been lying.
The sacking set in motion a dizzying sequence of events that kept the tech industry glued to its social feeds all weekend: First, it wiped $48 billion off the valuation of Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest partner. Speculation about malfeasance swirled, but employees, Silicon Valley stalwarts and investors rallied around Altman, and the next day talks were being held to bring him back. Instead of some fiery scandal, reporting indicated that this was at core a dispute over whether Altman was building and selling AI responsibly. By Monday, talks had failed, a majority of OpenAI employees were threatening to resign, and Altman announced he was joining Microsoft.
All the while, something else went up in flames: the fiction that anything other than the profit motive is going to govern how AI gets developed and deployed. Concerns about “AI safety” are going to be steamrolled by the tech giants itching to tap in to a new revenue stream every time.