Sam Altman’s ouster and the age-old tension between doing good and making money

The OpenAI mess and the cleanup we inherit

On Monday of last week, I joined women from around the world in at the Reykjavík Global Forum in Iceland, to talk democracy, technology, and artificial intelligence, among other topics. Four days later, Sam Altman was suddenly fired from his role as CEO of OpenAI, and I religiously followed the twists and turnsbravado, and infighting that unfolded over the weekend.

The bookends of the week form a bit of a metanarrative around how to save or support innovation that creates massive societal upheaval. After Altman’s dismissal from the nonprofit behind ChatGPT, we are left pondering who should be in charge of these new technologies that spare no industry or institution.

OpenAI’s six-member board fired Altman, vaguely alluding to lies in his communications with them. The organization operates as a partnership between its nonprofit and for-profit arms, whereby the latter raised money from investors and promised that profits above a certain level would be donated to the former. As The Atlantic explained: “The company’s charter bluntly states that OpenAI’s ‘primary fiduciary duty is to humanity,’ not to investors or even employees.”

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