Should OpenAI's board have fired Sam Altman?

November 22, 2023

Whether the board of OpenAI was right to remove Altman remains to be seen. At the time of my writing this, the board hasn’t elaborated on its decision, nor has it released details about its internal investigation. Silicon Valley urgently needs more accountability, because too many tech entrepreneurs work at an intersection of risk, hype and boundary-pushing. Silicon Valley tech companies control global communication systems, run private marketplaces and are increasingly offering advanced digital systems that seek to transform how we learn, work and socialise. Khan and others have argued it’s problematic for these companies to have the capacity to globally transform societies with minimal transparency and accountability.

Whether the board of OpenAI was right to remove Altman remains to be seen. At the time of my writing this, the board hasn’t elaborated on its decision, nor has it released details about its internal investigation.

However, regardless of the specifics and the emotional impact Altman’s ousting has had on OpenAI’s employees, this move could represent a victory for corporate accountability.

For every revered founding genius, there are examples of founders who betrayed the trust of their employees and investors. Take the disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, or former WeWork CEO Adam Neumann, or Nikola founder Trevor Milton who was convicted of fraud last year, and Sam Bankman-Fried, the once-lauded FTX founder convicted of fraud more recently.

Silicon Valley urgently needs more accountability, because too many tech entrepreneurs work at an intersection of risk, hype and boundary-pushing.

Meanwhile, the technologies these companies are producing are having profound impacts on our societies. Silicon Valley tech companies control global communication systems, run private marketplaces and are increasingly offering advanced digital systems that seek to transform how we learn, work and socialise.

The power these companies wield has prompted regulator Lina Khan to focus on addressing big tech’s market power during her tenure as chair of the United States Federal Trade Commission.

Khan and others have argued it’s problematic for these companies to have the capacity to globally transform societies with minimal transparency and accountability. Khan’s task is especially urgent since companies such as Microsoft, Meta (previously Facebook) and Amazon have a track record of buying out other innovators who attempt to compete.

We can expect Khan will be paying close attention to the competitive effects of Microsoft potentially poaching some of OpenAI’s main talent.

In an age of AI and big tech, we need far less blind faith in leaders and far more public oversight. From this point of view, one could argue OpenAI’s somewhat odd company structure is something we ought to want more of if our priority is the collective good.

The source of this news is from University of Sydney

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