Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Three days after OpenAI’s board fired CEO and co-founder Sam Altman, most of the staff has threatened to quit, investors are complaining and customers are canvassing the wide range of alternatives. It’s a good bet this isn’t how the board members thought the Altman firing would play out. Hopefully, though, they’ve learned something. Perhaps next time they decide to fire their CEO, they’ll do some research as to how their key constituencies might react. (It remains possible Altman will return, as even Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella acknowledged on CNBC Monday afternoon).
To be fair, though, it’s not only the OpenAI board members who lacked foresight. Altman and everyone else involved with OpenAI back in 2019—when the nonprofit created a for-profit arm that could raise much-needed capital for computing resources—should have foreseen the potential for conflict between the business side and the nonprofit side. OpenAI was explicit, when it announced the for-profit arm, that its primary mission remained the creation of “safe and beneficial” AI. That’s why the nonprofit controls the for-profit company. It’s also why only board members without a financial stake in OpenAI can vote on decisions where the interests of investors and the nonprofit’s mission may conflict. OpenAI investors who are complaining now have only themselves to blame for getting into this situation. (As we reported on Friday, OpenAI employees disagreed about AI safety).