Sam Altman just faced his Steve Jobs moment when the OpenAI board fired him on Friday.
The balance between too much governance and not enough innovation was the challenge OpenAI faced. This was a very immature board with members who had never built companies, never moved from ideology to commercialization, nor had any pragmatic board experience.
The board's big worries were
- Ownership of training data
- Impact of untested models
- Unwanted bias detection
- Effective altruism
However, OpenAI's biggest challenge is making the economics work. To get to the next level, the team needed to push hard to commercialize and balance ideology with pragmatic solutions. Sam and Greg knew the teams were not moving fast enough.
To put this all in context:
Google has been the most careful and the most innovative
Microsoft has been very careful and the most adaptive despite a lack of compute
Open AI was the most careful and the slowest at concept to commercialization.
The Push To Move Faster Was Met With Board Resistance
Sam's move to accelerate commercialization was the right next steps. A war between the go fast folks and the go right folks led to the ouster. However, the board's childish approach to letting him go was somewhere between borderline negligence to fiduciary responsibility and the undue influence of effective altruism movement, where there is a belief AI will kill us all.
Let's review what's been going on.
Timeline Of A Steve Jobs Moment for Sam Altman
Friday a Day of Hasty Decisions
- Board removes Sam
- Greg Brockman says stay but we’re removing you from the board
- Microsoft gets a 5 minute warning
- AI team protests and supports Sam
Saturday a Day of Regret
- Microsoft is working in the background to get Sam back
- Investors are suggesting new board members
- Speculations that Sam will be back
Sunday Night: The Rise of the Phoenix
- Board steps down
- New board placed with Emmet Shear named Interim Chief
- Microsoft asking for an observer seat
- Negotiation with Sam fails
- Microsoft most negatively impacted and Satya hatches a plan
Monday: Back to Business or Massive Chaos
- Looks like massive chaos without Sam Altman
- Satya Nadella snatches Sam and Greg to lead new AI division at Microsoft
- Microsoft snatches victory from the jaws of defeat and saving the all so important stock price in its quest to be the most valuable company on earth
- Emmett Shear, the co-founder of Twitch, will be named the company’s interim chief, replacing Mira Murati, who was named interim CEO in a management reshuffle Friday
Tuesday: A Day of Reconciliation
- Rumors surface that the board wants Sam Back
- Satya confirms that he's fine if he stays at Microsoft or goes back
Wednesday: Time to Clean House
- Sam Altman is back
- Board is let go and replaced
- Bret Taylor, Larry Summers and Adam D’Angelo join the board. Bret Taylor named Chairman.
Key Questions Remain For Open AI
Who will pick up OpenAI for a much lower valuation?
Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise, and also co-founder of Twitch quits. Is this a coincidence?
Where will all the go fast people go to? Google? Apple? Tesla? Nvidia?
The Bottom Line: Go Fast Acceleration of AI Folks Leave For Commercial Entities As The Go Slow Non-Profit Folks Fall Behind
Founders must build a strong board or face dire consequences. Companies and organizations that can't move fast enough, have inept boards, and fail to maintain trust with customers will perish. In the case of AI the attempt to go slow by OpenAI with an ouster of its founder and CEO has resulted in the opposite effect.The unleashing of massive AI acceleration is about to take place as the go fast folks will end up at commercial entities and leave the non-profit behind. This was not the intention, but the reality is that no one can contain the advancement of technology for too long, especially AI.
Moreover, OpenAI's valuation of $89 billion will probably be cut while MIcrosoft picks up $89 billion in valuation for very little investment poaching Sam and Greg. Kudos to Satya Nadella for saving the market cap of Microsoft and gaining an army of AI Talent.
How will we create an even playing field for capitalism to survive in an age of AI? What risks do you see with AI? Will non-profits such as OpenAI be able to hold their ground? Who will win in the AI Wars?
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