The girls were fighting.
Though all appeared well from the outside, there had apparently been major beef between Sam Altman and OpenAI's board of directors behind the scenes.
As the New York Times reports based on accounts from multiple unnamed insiders, the drama that exploded out into the public over the past five days was a long time coming, though one conflict in particular seems to have been the main catalyst.
According to an email viewed by the NYT, the CEO met with Helen Toner, a Georgetown AI security researcher who sat on the board, to discuss an October policy brief she'd co-written that seemed to criticize OpenAI's safety protocols — and, perhaps more succinctly, praised those at its rival Anthropic, which was founded in 2021 by disgruntled ex-OpenAI employees.
In the email, Altman reprimanded Toner and said her paper put OpenAI at risk amid a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the company over a data breach that resulted in personal user information being leaked online.
"I did not feel we’re on the same page on the damage of all this," the now-reinstated CEO wrote. "Any amount of criticism from a board member carries a lot of weight."
Toner, for her part, defended the brief as an academic policy recommendation and nothing more, but Altman seemed unconvinced. And, per people familiar with the situation who spoke to the NYT on condition of anonymity, he even raised the question of whether the AI security expert should be removed from the board.
That argument seems to have been one of the final nails in Altman's blown-open coffin: Toner, along with OpenAI cofounder Ilya Sutskever and fellow board members Tasha McCauley and Adam D'Angelo, the CEO of Quora, voted to oust the CEO over allegations that he had not been "consistently candid in his communications" with the governing body."
It gets even messier from there, somehow.
Per the NYT's sources, Toner held firm in her belief that Altman shouldn't be at the helm of OpenAI after Sutskever reversed course, and said during those initial reinstatement discussions that because the company charter charges its board with creating AI that "benefits all of humanity," it was more consistent with that mission that the company be destroyed in Altman's absence than see him as its chief executive again.
Unsurprisingly, Toner has now been removed from the OpenAI board of directors, along with Sutskever and McCauley, as part of Altman's return.
The NYT's reporting indicates that although tensions had been high at OpenAI since even before ChatGPT was released, they seemed to have reached a boiling point with the conflict between Toner and Altman — and reading between the lines, it seems that for now Altman has won that round.
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