Sam Altman participates in a discussion during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in San Francisco. File / AP
On Friday, the OpenAI, which had launched the gamechanger AI app, ChatGPT, had sacked CEO Sam Altman who had emerged as the mind behind ChatGPT and who had pleaded before US Congress that there is need to regulate AI and that it poses dangers if left unregulated۔
The decision of the board came suddenly and out of the blue as it were, and soon after OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman quit. The explanation that the board gave in its social media message was that Altman was not communicative enough with the board and this created a gap for the board to discharge its functions responsibly.
Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati has been appointed interim CEO, and the board said that it would launch a formal search for a CEO. Altman in his statement did not express any shock at the news of his sacking. All that he said was that he enjoyed working with the talented team at OpenAI.
The question that cropped up in the aftermath of the Altman sacking was whether it would affect the market value of OpenAI, which Altman raised from around $29 billion to $90 billion, and he got Microsoft into joining the venture as the main funder. Microsoft has said that it will continue to support OpenAI. It is being argued that Altman was not the only person behind ChatGPT, and that his exit would not affect the further development of ChatGPT or AI in general. It is however acknowledged that Altman has been a successful fundraiser, and it was he who brought in Microsoft.
It is pointed out that this is not the first time that OpenAI, a 2015 non-profit tech start-up, had gone through drastic changes. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, quit OpenAI as its chairman in 2018. It is also interesting that of the four board members, three were independent directors, who had no equity shares in the company. So, the decisions of the board are based on efficiency factors and much less to do with biases of a personal kind though these are not to be ruled out immediately.
The launch of ChatGPT last November caused ripples all across the world, with people like former diplomat Henry Kissinger lauding its radical potential, while educationists and others have pointed to the dangers of its use and misuse. It has raised public awareness about its dangers. It is recognised that the genie cannot be put back into the bottle, and that the issue is now that of regulating it. US President Joe Biden has issued an executive order directing that systems be set up to test the standards of AI apps. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had convened an international meeting of experts to discuss the pros and cons of AI.
The emergence of ChatGPT has set off a race between tech giants Microsoft and Google, with Microsoft grabbing the opportunity of funding further developnent of ChatGPT. It is however clear that ChatGPT is not the final word in AI apps, and that it is only the beginning. AI is already embedded in many of the processes, and it is its expansion that is the exciting part. And it is also the cause of much apprehension.
What is interesting about the developments at OpenAI is the fact that there is no AI at work to make the decisions for the tech start-up. The board members will have to fall back on their own instincts and reasons to make big decisions about the sacking of a CEO or finding a new one. The huge data base which is behind AI is not going to be of much help. And those like Microsoft which are funding the project have to base their decision on their own analysis and assessment. There is also the distinct possibility of the AI software developing glitches and viruses. And that sets off its own set of challenges.
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