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Sam Altman Comes Home

information technology news Nov 27, 2023

Our wild tech soap opera comes to a close just in time for Thanksgiving


Our long national nightmare is over. The coup plotters have been deposed and the market is celebrating the return of the king. Sam Altman is back as CEO at OpenAI. Let's unpack what went down: 


After the wildest four days in tech we've seen in a while, Sam Altman and former President Greg Brockman are back at the company. This comes after the pair joined Microsoft. Over 90% of OpenAI's staff signed a letter stating they would leave the company and join Altman if the current board did not resign.

While there was no official announcement that the old board had left, OpenAI put out a statement at 1:30am EST that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman were returning to the company. This came with an unofficial naming of a new board that's being chaired by Salesforce's former co-CEO Bret Taylor and will include former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Adam D'Angelo. D'Angelo is now the sole survivor of the previous board. 


We still don't have a true indication about what caused OpenAI's board to fire Sam Altman in the first place, but most of the speculation here surrounds the idea that there was tension between the non-profit and commercial sides of OpenAI's business. Some folks at OpenAI were trying to responsibly create more powerful AI systems with lots of guardrails in place to prevent things from getting out of hand. The commercial side of the business is all about developing as fast as possible to keep ahead of rivals like Alphabet and Anthropic. For now, Microsoft and the full-speed-ahead crowd are fully driving the narrative in AI development. Microsoft is currently working to expand OpenAI's board to potentially 9 people, but for now the company is just trying to put the pieces back together after one of the craziest ruptures in tech history. 


The unambiguous winner here is Microsoft, who basically demonstrated they are fully in control of development at OpenAI and now also doesn't have to completely reinvent the wheel with new models developed by OpenAI staff who defected to MSFT. Microsoft now resumes their inexorable march to replace Apple as the world's most valuable company and it looks like nothing will slow them down. 

The biggest losers here are folks who have concerns that AI development is moving too fast. The past 4 days have highlighted the massive schism in the AI industry about the dangers of developing an Artificial General intelligence too quickly. OpenAI's new models are purported to be exponentially more capable than GPT4, and anyone hoping that we could slow things down and throw some guardrails on this industry before development became truly exponential has been effectively pushed to the curb. Capitalism is extremely good at accelerating things, and now we're going to find out together precisely what full-bore AI development will do to society. For now, Microsoft stock recovered over 1% as the market sees them as the true leader in this space. Step up your game, Alphabet.