Once again, the mystery deepens.
Mum's The Word
The now-former OpenAI board member who was instrumental in the initial firing of CEO Sam Altman has spoken — but she's still staying mum on why she pushed him out in the first place.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, 31-year-old Georgetown machine learning researcher and erstwhile OpenAI board member Helen Toner was fairly open with her responses about the logistics of the failed coup at the company, but terse when it came to the reasoning behind it.
"Our goal in firing Sam was to strengthen OpenAI and make it more able to achieve its mission," the Australian-born researcher said as her only explanation of the headline-grabbing chain of events.
As the New York Times reported in the midst of the Thanksgiving hubbub, Toner and Altman butted heads the month prior because she published a paper critical of the firm's safety protocols (or lack thereof) and laudatory of those undertaken by Anthropic, which was created by former OpenAI employees who left over similar concerns.
Altman reportedly confronted Toner during their meeting and because he believed, per emails viewed by the NYT, that "any amount of criticism from a board member carries a lot of weight."
After the tense exchange, the CEO brought his concerns about Toner's criticisms up with other board members, which ended up reinforcing those board members' own doubts about his leadership, the WSJ reports. Soon after, Altman himself was on the chopping block over vague allegations of dishonesty — although we still don't know what exactly he was supposedly being dishonest about.
As the company weathered its tumult amid a nearly full-scale revolt from staffers who said they'd leave and follow Altman to Microsoft if he wasn't reinstated, Toner and OpenAI cofounder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever ended up resigning, the report explains, which paved the way for the CEO's return.
In her interview with the WSJ, however, the Georgetown researcher suggested that her resignation was forced by a company attorney.
"[The attorney] was trying to claim that it would be illegal for us not to resign immediately," Toner said, "because if the company fell apart we would be in breach of our fiduciary duties."
With the exit of the Aussie academic and Rand Corporation scientist Tasha McCauley, another of those who voted for Altman's ouster, from the board, there are now no women on OpenAI's governing body — but in this interview at least, Toner was all class.
"I think looking forward," she said, "is the best path from here."
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