Why does it feel like everybody at OpenAI has lost their mind?
In what's arguably turning into the hottest AI story of the year, former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was ousted by the rest of the company's nonprofit board on Friday, leading to a seemingly endless drama cycle that's included hundreds of staffers threatening to quit en masse if the board doesn't reinstate him.
A key character in the spectacle has been OpenAI chief scientist and board member Ilya Sutskever — who, according to The Atlantic, likes to burn effigies and lead ritualistic chants at the company — and appears to have been one of the main drivers behind Altman's ousting.
But clearly, he almost immediately regretted his decision in a bizarre attempt to save face just days later.
"I never intended to harm OpenAI," he tweeted Monday morning, not long after Microsoft, which owns a 49 percent stake in the company, offered Altman a CEO position. "I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions."
The entire situation is baffling. OpenAI, which is quickly approaching a $90 billion valuation, has been thrown into a deepening crisis by its overarching non-profit arm.
In the meantime, we're getting a closer than ever peek at what makes OpenAI's power players tick. Case in point, Sutskever has established himself as an esoteric "spiritual leader" at the company, per The Atlantic, cheering on the company's efforts to realize artificial general intelligence (AGI), a hazy and ill-defined state when AI models have become as or more capable than humans — or maybe, according to some, even godlike. (His frenemy Altman has long championed attaining AGI as OpenAI's number one goal, despite warning about the possibility of an evil AI outsmarting humans and taking over the world for many years.)
Still, the Atlantic's new details are bizarre, even by the standards of tech industry wackadoos.
"Feel the AGI! Feel the AGI!" employees reportedly chanted, per The Atlantic, a refrain that was led by Sutskever himself.
The chief scientist even commissioned a wooden effigy to represent an "unaligned" AI that works against the interest of humanity, only to set it on fire.
In short, instead of focusing on meaningfully advancing AI tech in a scientifically sound way, some board members sound like they're engaging in weird spiritual claims.
Sutskever's strange behavior may also help explain at least some of this weekend's chaos.
At the time of writing, we still don't know exactly where OpenAI and Microsoft stand. In a Monday afternoon tweet, Altman argued that "Satya and my top priority remains to ensure OpenAI continues to thrive," referring to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, a vague statement that can be interpreted in several different ways.
For now, we can only sit and watch as the chaos unfurls. Given the rollercoaster over the last couple of days, it's more than likely we'll see a shuffle of OpenAI's non-profit board — if the company even lives to tell the tale, that is.
There's a good chance that the board members who united to boot Altman last week drank just a little too much of the AGI Koolaid and got spooked by the possibility that humanity was hurtling toward the singularity (or heck, maybe they were right to think that!)
Or was it just plain-old locker room hostility and internal rivalries, with colleagues failing to see eye to eye?
It's a perplexing and riveting story that seemingly has even more twists and turns than HBO's hit TV drama "Succession."
And we're here for it.
More on OpenAI: 700 OpenAI Staffers Demand Board Reinstate Sam Altman
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