OpenAI Basically Unionizes
Dust settles from the coup: Early Monday morning, the employees of OpenAI circulated a letter saying they would quit the company, which made ChatGPT, over the board’s unexpected and unexplained dismissal of CEO Sam Altman. Microsoft has offered jobs to all employees who want to leave, as well as Altman and former OpenAI board member/president Greg Brockman, who was pushed out by the board as well.
As of today, 749 of 770 have signed the letter, threatening to leave unless the board reverses its decision and reinstates Altman. (Disclosure: My husband works at OpenAI and signed the letter.)
Tech world Judas: Possibly the most interesting signatory is Ilya Sutskever, the chief scientist and a board member who had played a major role in the Altman/Brockman ouster. He added his name to the letter and tweeted that he regretted his actions of the last few days, signaling remorse following his betrayal of Altman. The Judas memes, of course, followed.
No additional information has come out about why the board stabbed Altman in the back. Some people have speculated that there must have been quite serious wrongdoing by Altman that hasn’t been made public yet, which is why the board remains dug into their position yet employees remain en masse supportive of Altman. This would not explain Sutskever’s bizarre about-face though, which lends credence to the idea that this is more of a power play by the board or a dispute over the speed of commercialization than something more serious.
No confidence: “The idea of a standoff between 3 board members and 95% an organization’s employees is so unprecedented that it seems almost grammatically ill-formed. I wouldn’t have thought such a thing was even possible,” wrote Y Combinator founder/tech-world doyen Paul Graham on X. “If 95% doesn’t count as a vote of no confidence, what number would?”
OpenAI is run by a nonprofit with a board, which clearly has extraordinary power to dismiss those in charge. The board operates the for-profit subsidiary so that the whole entity “balances commerciality with safety and sustainability, rather than focusing on pure profit-maximization,” per the company. But Open AI employee/Tech Twitter provocateur Roon’s take is perhaps best, that just because something is run by a nonprofit focused on erecting guardrails against sheer profit-pursuit doesn’t mean best outcomes are necessarily achieved:
the update for me and likely for many others is the benevolence of Microsoft aligned via normal capital mechanisms and the total destructive power of a nonprofit board armed with good intentions
— roon (@tszzl) November 21, 2023
Northern front with Lebanon heats up: As Hezbollah strikes have grown more frequent, so too have Israeli attacks in response. Just last night, three people—two of whom were journalists—were killed by Israeli strikes in southern Lebanon.
Situation deteriorates for civilians in Gaza: The World Health Organization now reports that, of the 36 hospitals in Gaza, none are able to perform surgery. Many have been closed due to lack of power or lack of supplies; some have been essentially razed to the ground or so damaged by strikes that they are unusable. The remaining few, in southern Gaza, that have supplies,
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