June 25, 2024

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Who are the OpenAI board members battling Sam Altman?

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A former Facebook executive, an AI researcher, a tech entrepreneur and a computer scientist are the four OpenAI kingmakers who plunged the start-up into crisis last week when they fired its chief executive.

The abrupt decision by board members Adam D’Angelo, Helen Toner, Tasha McCauley and Ilya Sutskever to oust Sam Altman set off a dramatic chain of events and has fuelled speculation about their motives and competency to manage what has become the world’s most high-profile AI start-up.

OpenAI is unconventionally structured as a partnership between a research non-profit and for-profit subsidiary. The board oversees both, but its core mandate is to pursue artificial intelligence “that is safe and benefits all of humanity” rather than to look after the interests of investors.

How the four came to hold the keys to the future direction of the leading AI company remains unclear. Neither investors nor staff could explain how the slimmed-down board, which is half the size it was in 2021, is appointed.

Among OpenAI employees, shock at Altman’s dramatic firing has curdled into frustration, with the board offering no specific reason for their decision beyond saying he had not been “consistently candid”.

Elon Musk, the outspoken X owner and former OpenAI board member who helped launch the start-up in 2015, has called on one of the four to “say something” to explain, while Vinod Khosla, an early investor, said the board had “set back the promise of artificial intelligence”, in an opinion piece in The Information on Monday.

Some people who know the board members said they were intelligent, thoughtful and well-placed to fulfil their mandate to serve humanity. Others have pointed to their relative lack of corporate experience, the poor handling of Friday’s announcement and the subsequent fallout.

One person who worked with D’Angelo at the Quora question-and-answer site he runs as chief executive said he was a poor communicator and that the board’s lack of…

2023-11-22 00:12:50

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