It's been a chaotic and largely unprecedented couple of weeks that have shaken ChatGPT maker OpenAI to its core.
At the core of the drama surrounding OpenAI's disastrous November is the company's nonprofit board, which was created to oversee the company's Altman-led "capped profit" entity.
Before Altman's dismissal, the board was made up of Altman himself, long-time collaborator Greg Brockman, chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, Quora CEO Adam D'Angelo, entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Georgetown University Center for Security and Emerging Technology's Helen Toner.
But following the coup — reportedly spearheaded by the eccentric Sutskever — and Altman's reinstatement, the board looks noticeably different, as detailed in a new statement issued by the company. The new board's chair is former Salesforce CEO Bret Taylor, former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers, and Adam D'Angelo, the only returning member.
That means the board is now exclusively made up of men, with Toner and McCauley both resigned — a noticeable shift in the governing structure of one of the fastest-growing and influential AI companies in the world.
That lack of diversity especially doesn't bode well considering the very real risks of introducing biases during the development and deployment of tools like ChatGPT.
And despite OpenAI having plenty of time to clear the air, we're still none the wiser as to why the former board decided to boot Altman in the first place, kicking off one of the most confusing and difficult-to-reconcile episodes in recent corporate history.
Some have speculated that the board got spooked by Altman's insistence on driving the tech forward at an accelerated pace without sufficiently considering all the risks. Others pointed at a secretive new project the company has been working on dubbed Q*, pronounced Q star, that could represent a significant milestone for the company.
In reality, it likely was an explosive mix of personal disagreements over the direction of the company and the rapidly developing capabilities of its tech, facilitated by the unusual governing structure that seemingly caused more confusion than providing level-headed leadership.
"To be clear: our decision was about the board's ability to effectively supervise the company, which was our role and responsibility," Toner wrote in a statement on X, announcing her departure (it's unclear if she was fired or left on her own accord). "Though there has been speculation, we were not motivated by a desire to slow down OpenAI’s work."
Toner stopped short of burning any bridges.
"I have enormous respect for the OpenAI team, and wish them and the incoming board of Adam, Bret and Larry all the best," she added. "I’ll be continuing my work focused on AI policy, safety, and security, so I know our paths will cross many times in the coming years."
That's despite Toner reportedly butting heads with Altman over a paper she published in October, which according to the CEO was critical of the company.
Others were left appalled after finding out OpenAI let go of the only two women on the board, only to replace them with some questionable men.
"OpenAI fires women on the board — board chair who oversaw fuck up stays," Emily Bell, a founding director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, tweeted last week. "Joining board is *Larry Summers* who once said women don’t have the same ‘intrinsic aptitude’ for STEM, and associated with Jeffrey Epstein even after he was convicted of sex offences."
The news also highlights a clear gender divide in the burgeoning AI industry.
"What this underscores is that there aren’t enough women in the mix to begin with," Margaret O’Mara, a University of Washington history professor, told Wired.
"AI is very imbalanced in terms of gender," Sasha Luccioni, an AI ethics researcher at HuggingFace, added. "It’s not a very welcoming field for women."
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