We're still reeling from the just-breaking news that OpenAI's enigmatic CEO and figurehead Sam Altman has been sacked by the company's board of directors. And make no mistake that we're still intensely curious what went down behind the scenes that led the company to part with Altman during the exact moment when its ascendant tech is driving the nascent AI industry. But as the dust settles, there's another looming question: what's the deal with Mira Murati, the company's interim CEO who's stepping in to lead immediately?
One thing's for sure: she's no lightweight. Here's what Fast Company had to say earlier this year:
ChatGPT and Dall-E might get the lion’s share of the spotlight, but Mira Murati may be the real star of OpenAI.
The story goes on to note that Murati, originally from Albania, is a Tesla veteran who led development of the Model X after starting at the company in 2013 — a potentially dramatic detail, because Tesla boss Elon Musk was a cofounder of OpenAI alongside Altman before flaming out with its leadership and publicly turning on the venture.
Murati's time at Tesla, the story goes on, was where she first became interested in AI, since that's the era when the company was first dabbling in its now-controversial Autopilot feature and making its eventually-troubled inroads toward factory automation as well.
Her resume's not entirely star-studded, though. After Tesla, in 2016 she ended up at Leap Motion, the once-buzzy hand tracking startup that, although it had a great tech demo, never really went anywhere.
And in 2018 she landed at OpenAI, according to Fast Company, where she oversaw the "rollouts of Dall-E and ChatGPT."
As with anyone in the AI space, Murati has had to confront the tech's tumultuous current and future impacts on everything from the job market to the education system — and all the discourse and pressure that goes along it. Like her predecessor Altman, she doesn't always mince words, making it clear that her vision of AI is one with far-reaching effects in the work force and beyond.
"As with other revolutions that we’ve gone through, there will be new jobs and some jobs will be lost," Murati told The Daily Show's then-host Trevor Noah last year, "but I’m optimistic."
Though this role will expose her to new pressures, she's clearly a seasoned communicator for the tech who's charmed the media in the past.
"Somehow, Mira Murati can forthrightly discuss the dangers of AI while making you feel like it’s all going to be OK," Time Magazine wrote early this year.
Sometimes, though, she can sound like she's talking in circles about the importance of a deliberate conversation even as the company continues rolling out waves of disruptive new tech.
"This is a unique moment in time where we do have agency in how it shapes society," she told Time in the same interview. "And it goes both ways: the technology shapes us and we shape it. There are a lot of hard problems to figure out. How do you get the model to do the thing that you want it to do, and how you make sure it’s aligned with human intention and ultimately in service of humanity? There are also a ton of questions around societal impact, and there are a lot of ethical and philosophical questions that we need to consider. And it’s important that we bring in different voices, like philosophers, social scientists, artists, and people from the humanities."
She's also not opposed to regulation of the tech, she's said — though it'll be interesting to see how that plays out in practice, because Altman had a tendency to express support for regulation in the abstract while getting salty when authorities actually stepped in to regulate.
"It’s important for OpenAI and companies like ours to bring this into the public consciousness in a way that’s controlled and responsible," she told Time. "But we’re a small group of people and we need a ton more input in this system and a lot more input that goes beyond the technologies — definitely regulators and governments and everyone else."
And where does she fall on the thorny question of defining artificial general intelligence, or AGI, a hypothetical form of future AI that'll either be around a human level of cleverness or superintelligent, depending who you ask?
"By artificial general intelligence, we usually mean highly autonomous systems that are capable of producing economic output, significant economic output," she told the Associated Press back in April. "In other words, systems that can generalize across different domains. It’s human-level capability. OpenAI’s specific vision around it is to build it safely and figure out how to build it in a way that’s aligned with human intentions, so that the AI systems are doing the things that we want them to do, and that it maximally benefits as many people out there as possible, ideally everyone."
Fair enough. And what are her thoughts on OpenAI's transition from non-profit to for-profit? (For those keeping score, that's one of OpenAI's moves that incensed Musk, who's now building his own for-profit AI over at a company he's dubbed xAI.)
"When I joined OpenAI, it was a nonprofit," she told the AP in the same interview. "I thought this was the most important technology that we will ever build as humanity and I really felt like a company with OpenAI’s mission would be most likely to make sure that it goes well. Over time, we changed our structure because these systems are expensive. They require a lot of funding.
"We made sure to structure the incentives in such a way that we would still serve the nonprofit mission," she continued. "That’s why we have a 'capped profit' structure. People at OpenAI are intrinsically motivated and mission-aligned and that hasn’t changed from the beginning. But over the course of five years, our thinking has evolved a lot when it comes to what’s the best way to deploy, what’s the safest way. That’s probably the starkest difference. I think it’s a good change."
We'll likely be hearing a lot more about Murati in her high-profile new role — and if you know anything, please shoot us an email at email@example.com.
One more detail from that Time piece, by the way: one of Murati's favorite movies is Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," in which a murderous AI turns on the crew of a spacecraft far from Earth, attempting to kill them all.
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