OpenAI in crisis, artificial intelligence in need of response


We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam to return to OpenAI as CEO." "We're working on the details. Thank you for your patience during this time." Is it the end of the crisis in Silicon Valley or the beginning of a major clean-up in the artificial intelligence sector? OpenAI, the flagship of the field, has experienced turbulent days that are likely to have a lasting impact on future progress in artificial intelligence.

Sam Altman, founder of OpenAI. Dismissed and then reinstated. REUTERS - CARLOS BARRIA

By: Thomas Bourdeau Follow


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But what happened to the leadership of OpenAI, the promising start-up creator of ChatGPT and Dall-E? On Friday, November 17, its board of directors announced that it had decided to fire its charismatic founder, Sam Altman. The reasons for the sudden dismissal are still unclear. Generative Artificial Intelligence makes it possible to produce texts, images and sounds on a simple query in everyday language. It is considered a revolution comparable to the advent of the internet. OpenAI, of which Sam Altman is one of the founders, is the market leader with Microsoft as the largest multi-billion dollar investor. Was he getting too enthusiastic or cumbersome? A few days before his layoff, during the presentation of his company's latest innovations, he said: "We will be able to do more, create more and have more. As artificial intelligence is integrated everywhere, we will all have superpowers on demand.


Did the founder's ambition, as well as the progress in the field of AI, deserve to be curbed? The surprise ouster was reminiscent of the 1985 firing of Steve Jobs by Apple — which he took over years later. Negotiations over the weekend to finalize the dismissal highlighted the dilemma for such a company to leave its technology in the hands of "mere" developers or under the hegemony of a charismatic leader à la Elon Musk. AI is based on undeniable technologies, but also thanks to powerful marketing levers. Could OpenAI do without Sam?

Poker game between tech companies

Throughout the weekend, negotiations began to consider his return or arrival at another tech company. It was a show on social networks based on selfies, questioning to the limit of indiscretion... A game of poker between tech companies with piles of dollars almost visible on the table. Is this indecency or a challenge for the future of the artificial intelligence sector, which is not immune to a crisis of ego and power? All the big names in the field have given their opinion on the subject: the boss of Microsoft of course, Elon Musk in conspiracy or truth-seeking mode, and many worried employees in Silicon Valley. Whether it was a sincere debate or a crisis of ego, the question was being asked by the experts.

first and last time i ever wear one of these

— Sam Altman (@sama) November 19, 2023

The financial stakes ahead are colossal

Monday, November 20: Microsoft announces the arrival of Sam Altman in its fold. At the same time, OpenAI's employees (more than 500 out of 700) are rebelling and threatening to leave with their long-time boss. Sam Altman is such a true embodiment of the company and the promising beginnings of AI that almost all of the company's employees plan to follow him to Microsoft. OpenAI's "new" management, meanwhile, seems to be looking for a way out of the competition. For Sam Altman, Microsoft and OpenAI's executive committee, the financial stakes ahead are colossal. The business model of this company, which had started as a non-profit, is shaken by the huge promises of money it causes, to the point of faltering. The future of ChatGPT like Dall-E depends on it.

Chaos will leave deep scars

Tuesday, November 21: Sam Altman, with the support of Satya Nadella, the boss of Microsoft, announces: "With the new board of directors and the support of Satya, I look forward to returning to OpenAI and building a strong partnership" with Microsoft. His colleague Greg Brockman, the former chairman of the board who had followed him to Microsoft, also announced his return.

OpenAI was founded in 2015 as a non-profit association. Since then, the start-up has partnered with Microsoft, which has invested billions of dollars and given it access to its IT infrastructure to enable it to develop ever more powerful AI models. The tech giant is also a minority shareholder - at an undisclosed level - in OpenAI's private arm, which is controlled by the original foundation. "Microsoft won it all with a gamble that will go down in legend. Microsoft is in an even stronger position than before in AI," said Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives.

Satya Narayana Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. REUTERS - Lucas Jackson

And Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, drove the point home at the time of Sam Altman's return to OpenAI: "There is no OpenAI without the massive support of Microsoft. We love their independence, but... We have all the property rights. If, tomorrow, OpenAI disappears, none of our customers need to worry, we have all the rights to continue the innovations and not just distribute them. The chaos of the past few days will leave deep scars. In recent months, OpenAI seemed to be calling for regulation in the field of AI, but it is also a little too well placed for negotiations, as it is a leader in the field. A leader whose leadership is no longer unanimous. The upcoming regulations in AI remain an important issue for all its players and users.

OpenAI is nothing without its people

— OpenAI (@OpenAI) November 22, 2023

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