Silicon Valley leaders are calling Sam Altman’s firing the biggest tech scandal since Apple fired Steve Jobs, but a leading theory about the drama at OpenAI tells a different story.


Apple lost its founder, 30-year-old Steve Jobs, in 1985, a famous moment in technology and business history, as the maker of the Macintosh split from the face of personal computing, more than a decade before their ill-fated reunion, iPod, iPhone, trillion-dollar valuation and all. And now AI is having its own “Steve Jobs: Chapter One” moment, as Sam Altman, the 38-year-old face of the AI ​​boom, has been fired by OpenAI’s board for the inexcusable sin of “not always being honest about… “His connections.” A second act is certain to come next, but, just as Jobs was fired from the company he co-founded nearly four decades ago, the exact reasons behind his firing remain shrouded in mystery.

Technology watchers are making the comparison. “What happened at OpenAI today is a boardroom coup the likes of which we have not seen since 1985 when then-apple The board of directors fired Steve Jobs, the legendary angel investor Ron Conway Published on X Late Friday. “It’s shocking; It’s irresponsible; “It’s not done right by Sam & Greg or all the creators at OpenAI,” Conway said.

Bloomberg writer Ashley Vance made the same comparison, to publish“This is like Apple firing Steve Jobs, but they’re doing it after the iPhone became the best-selling computer in history.”

One day after Altman’s shock dismissal, it remains a mystery why the most important company in the AI-driven “Fourth Industrial Revolution” suddenly fired its famous CEO. Altman, who co-founded OpenAI in 2015 after running the prestigious tech incubator Y Combinator, headed up the startup as the popularity of its ChatGPT bot soared. Unusually for a technology founder, Altman had no stake in OpenAI, and thus did not exercise the kind of control that other founders like Mark Zuckerberg are known to exercise; Unlike other technology leaders, Altman’s fame came not from his engineering brilliance but from his ability to raise large sums of money and his bets on ambition. World changing technology.

There are undeniable similarities to the story of Steve Jobs. Jobs founded Apple in 1976 with Steve Wozniak when Jobs was just 21 years old. Four years later, Jobs’ fortune reached $200 million; The following year, he did the cover time.

By the time Jobs was 30, he was running Apple as co-CEO alongside John Sculley, whom he had hired from a marketing position at PepsiCo. But Jobs’s hard-headed personality and zeal for perfection clashed with Scully and Members of Apple’s board of directors. Jobs was “out of control,” according to one of Apple’s early board members; In a later memoir, Scully criticized Jobs as “a fanatic, whose vision was so pure that he could not adapt it to the imperfections of the world.”

Tensions came to a head in 1985 after sales of two of Apple’s products – the Lisa and Macintosh – failed to meet expectations, and Sculley and Jobs took their differences to the board of directors. The board of directors sided with Sculley and Jobs He resigned immediately (Depending on who you ask, others say he was fired.) On the same day, Jobs filed papers to establish Next Computing, which he would run for the next decade. Apple bought the company in 1997, paving the way for Jobs’ triumphant return 12 years to the day After his overthrow.

The exact reason for the messy divorce between Altman and OpenAI remains unclear, but one leading theory points to tensions related to OpenAI’s nonprofit origins and its current status as one of the world’s powerful technology companies — a lineage that overlaps with broader AI. Industry split between “accelerationists” and “defeated.”

That fateful Friday afternoon

Speculation abounds about why Altman’s surprise firing on Friday and President Greg Brockman resigned a few hours later.

“Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today,” Brockman said to publish on X. According to Brockman, OpenAI’s co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever They asked Altman to join a video conference meeting with the board on Friday afternoon, where they informed Altman of his firing. Brockman, who was not part of the meeting, was stripped of his board chair title as part of a leadership overhaul, but the board planned to keep him on staff, according to an OpenAI statement. Since then, three senior scientists have resigned from Ars Technica Reports.

With the departure of Altman and Brockman, Sutskever is the only company founder remaining at OpenAI. (Another co-founder, Tesla CEO Elon Musk backtracked in 2018, citing a conflict of interest between OpenAI and Tesla’s self-driving ambitions, though some reports say it was due to a power struggle).

OpenAI’s Board of Directors includes Sutskever; Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo; Tasha McCauley, a technology entrepreneur and associate senior management scientist at the RAND Corporation, and Helen Toner, director of strategy at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University. (Three other board members – Texas Congressman Will HurdAnd Neuralink CEO Shevon Zillis LinkedIn Founding partner Reid Hoffman– He resigned earlier this year.)

From startup philanthropist to tech juggernaut

like New York times put it When founded in 2015, OpenAI was explicitly created as a non-profit center for artificial intelligence research, with the specific goal of advancing “digital intelligence” for the benefit of humanity. Fast forward eight years to early 2023, and ChatGPT has exploded into mainstream consciousness, becoming the fastest-adopted technology in history after its launch in late 2022, sending shockwaves through Wall Street as it faces its first bear market in decades. OpenAI’s big bang moment was its announcement of… Investing $10 billion from Microsoft In January, the huge payday that elevated Altman as the face of AI and instantly overtook existing AI powerhouses like Google And for her Its subsidiary, DeepMind Company. The benefits of artificial intelligence for humanity have quickly become a major point of discussion.

On the one hand, there are the so-called accelerationists, who see the productivity gains resulting from this almost magical technological breakthrough as the next leap forward for capitalism. Senior technical analysts Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities He called it the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and compared it to the dot-com boom of the mid-1990s, rather than the busting bubble of the late 1990s. Erik Brynjolfsson of MITAn economist specializing in technology and its impact on productivity believes that work efficiency will double over the next decade thanks to artificial intelligence. The venture capital community in Silicon Valley has enthusiastically endorsed this argument, with SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son crying when he described AI-generating “superhumans,” and Marc Andreessen writing an eccentric and much-criticized article “A statement of technological optimism“.

On the other end of the philosophical spectrum are “hackers.” For the vanquished, all the rosy predictions of AI utopia are inseparable from the opposite: that AI has the Terminator-like ability to rebel against its maker and pose an existential threat to humanity. (There is also the near-deadly complaint that the technology will displace millions of workers and fuel greater disinformation and media fragmentation.) Perhaps surprisingly, Elon Musk, co-founder of OpenAI, is among those most affected. he He famously left the nonprofit Because he thought so straying too far from its original missionand has Repeatedly to caution That technology Basically serious to Humanity.

You don’t need to be a pessimist to be concerned about the risks of artificial intelligence. Despite all of ChatGPT’s massive success, its tendency to “hallucinate” answers when asked (i.e. repeat false information) never went away. In reality, “hallucination“It was the word of the year in the Cambridge Dictionary.

As more details about the OpenAI drama emerge from investors, employees and other parties, the philosophical divide within the organization appears to be an important aspect of what led to Altman’s ouster. A person with direct knowledge of the matter said Bloomberg Altman and the board of directors disagreed about the pace of development, the method of marketing products, and how to minimize potential harm. New York times’ Kevin Rose reported Several current and former OpenAI employees have heard that Altman and Brockman “can be too aggressive when it comes to starting new products.” Kara Swisher has Sources say things to a similar effect.

OpenAI’s corporate structure is based on a doom-friendly philosophy: the company maintains its non-profit mission and its board of directors, which oversees a for-profit subsidiary, founded in 2019. OpenAI’s directors are not committed to Milton Friedman-style stakeholder theory, but rather to creating “artificial general intelligence.” Safe and widely useful.” If Altman was fired in a boardroom coup, as some have described, the board’s supposed mission and mindset would likely be relevant to the events.

Altman, who was completely shocked by his dismissal, having publicly represented OpenAI at the APEC summit earlier this week in San Francisco, along with President Joe Biden, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and Google’s Sundar Pichai, spoke about OpenAI’s commercial potential recently. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, Altman said he was “very excited” about artificial intelligence, “which represents the greatest leap forward in any of the major technological revolutions we have seen so far.” While Altman said he understood the concerns of the afflicted, name-checking historian and public intellectual Yuval Harari, he nonetheless asserted himself in the accelerator camp, comparing AI to “artificial intelligence.” Star Trek I always promised the computer and never expected it to happen.

So it’s possible that Altman was fired by his equivalent of idealistic nonprofit managers, who may have thought he was straying too far from OpenAI’s “useful” mission. If that turns out to be the case, regardless of the similarities between Apple and OpenAI, AI’s “Steve Jobs moment” heralds a quite strange next chapter to be written in Silicon Valley’s history.

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