TWIT 954: Waiting For the Pope Smoke

Beep boop - this is a robot. A new show has been posted to TWiT…

What are your thoughts about today’s show? We’d love to hear from you!

I was a little surprised that they spent so little time talking about the allegations against Sam Altman, they spent a lot of time discussing the board and that he was back in the building in discussions and other groups were putting pressure on the board, but the actual stated reasons why he was fired weren’t even really mentioned, I think they got about 2 seconds in total.

It was all, “oh, it is political maneuvering,” and we’ve never seen anything like this (except maybe at Apple, Twitter or a few other companies), but nobody actually went into the actual allegations themselves. Was there something to it, were they baseless and he is therefore back in the building?

1 Like

There are none. That has been made clear. It was all politics where the one board member (Ilya Sutskever), who had his role in the company previously reduced, had an axe to grind and wanted to get rid of Altman.

Update, he’s not going back (based on the weekend negotiations anyway):


This might not be the case. Looks like the drama is far from over.

“Remarkably, the letter’s signees include Ilya Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist and a member of its board, who has been blamed for coordinating the boardroom coup against Altman in the first place.”

:face_with_spiral_eyes: Update: “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.” @ilyasut

I think the most likely outcome is all the staff quit OpenAI and end up at Microsoft… it’s certainly the best alternative outcome for Microsoft who was the majority funder of OpenAI anyway.

I found one panelist (was it Alex Lindsay?) who was calling for the resignation of the board to be rather incoherent, really. Was the problem that these were academics, not knowledgeable about business? Or was it that there was too much politics from the co-founder, Ilya? Both explanations were rendered, but they are quite different.

I’m really wondering what triggered everything. I agree that this is a mess, but I think it is extremely early to make value judgements about what should be going on.

While different, it seems to me they are both true. The first isn’t a problem with the membership, but the organizational structure. The structure practically invites sabotage, since members of the board don’t benefit from the successes of the company.

The second is a problem of the membership. A team of rivals is almost never appropriate in business.

They aren’t supposed to know or care about business. They are a board of a non-profit, so they are responsible to the general public, not share holders as they would be in a normal business, and Altman was taking them away from being a non-profit with a mission statement to keep AI out of the hands of Big Tech, to selling it wholesale to Big Tech. Making a big profit and selling it to Big Tech would both be grounds for trying to reign him in - they need to make money to survive, AI is expensive, but they shouldn’t be gouging, I have no idea about how the pricing models work, compared to their costs, but both of those would be grounds for a long hard discussion about his position.

He was also running 2 or 3 side deals (a crypto coin ‘Worldcoin’ and a new smartphone with Johnny Ive).

So it might be that he was breaking the purpose of openAI or he was spreading himself too thin…

@Leo is back in the driving seat for MacBreak Weekly this week and there is a more nuanced discussion at the beginning of that - I’m only about 20 minutes in, so haven’t heard the whole discussion yet.

1 Like

As a non-profit with a mission statement to keep AI out of the hands of Big Tech (like Google, Apple, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft), he was doing a particularly poor job of keeping the company doing what it should.

As you say, the board doesn’t get bonuses based on performance, but that is a good thing. They are there to ensure the company does what it was created to do. Looking at Altman’s maneuverings over the last half year, he seems to have strayed a long way from the founding principals of the company.

The ability for the nonprofit to sabotage the runaway business was part of the design of Altman, Brockman, and Sutskever. If you believe in the TESCREAL stuff, that is more important than keeping the business alive.

I get that it’s unusual, but I’m unconvinced that a group of ethicists on the board were causing the problem. I just got the feeling that Lindsay had a lot of prejudice from the weirdness of this business. Though to be fair, I have a lot of prejudice from openai’s closed nature.

They are co-founders for a nonprofit, serving a mission for all of humanity. At the same time, one co-founder seems to have some cult of personality around him. The whole company is mobilized to follow him right into the jaws of one of the largest companies in the world and continue their “mission”. Wasn’t the mission to not be in the hands of one business?

There are so many layers here that are hard to understand. I don’t think very highly of openai or any of the people involved in it, that’s for sure.

1 Like

I hope they do a TNW segment for it. I’m also curious what Thurott will make of the situation given Microsoft’s new Copilot religion.

1 Like

You may not be convinced, but that is a fact. OpenAI was doing just fine 7 days ago, and the “group of ethicists” who comprised the board imploded it.

The whole structure was designed to fail. You only win as a business when you’re either the best or the most ruthless. Bonus points for being both. Being “ethical” means you can’t be either.

At the same time, one co-founder seems to have some cult of personality around him

And another co-founder was jealous of that cult of personality.

The board was doing its job - at least as far as the 501(c)3 was concerned.

The problem was that OpenAI is two companies:

  • a non-profit dedicated to the safe creation of a general artificial intelligence capable of human-level reasoning (and keeping it out of the hands of Big Tech)

  • a for-profit dedicated to making money on AI (necessary to finance the blisteringly expensive ChatGPT).

Three board members represented the non-profit, two the for-profit (Altman and Brockman) - the deciding vote, Ilya Sutskever, Chief Scientist at OpenAI, represented the woo woo “feel the AGI” faction. Ultimatelty Sutskever became concerned about safety and sided with the non-profit members to vote out Altman and Brockman. He and the rest of the board felt that Sam was selling them out (and working on outside AI projects with the Saudi Sovereign Fund and Softbank).

I believe the board did what they thought was right - preserve the original mission of OpenAI.

It ended up being the Effective Altruists vs the Capitalists. Ultimately capitalism won thanks to the intervention of the investors: Microsoft, Thrive, etc. and the recidivism of Sutskever.

Most of the people who are mad at the board are capitalists who shudder at the destruction of so much value. The board wasn’t concerned about profit - they were worried about AI safety. Only time will tell if they were right.


You don’t know that they were “doing just fine.” They were a business that was running, but once again, being a profitable business was explicitly not their mission.

Their stated goal wasn’t to win and it wasn’t to be a successful business. It was to fund AI for all, a goal that has completely failed with the industry takeover of the board that was announced today.

Agreed. What a time to be off, huh? It’s hard for me to read these events as anything other than “tech industry now owns openAI”.

1 Like

The interesting thing is - I think we want the boards of directors to consider the uses to which products will be used. We want the tech industry to be more mindful because, as Jason and Andy on MacBreak Weekly so ably discussed, once the djinni is out of the bottle - it’s not going back in.

It dovetails nicely with the things Amy Webb talks about - forecasting and gaming scenarios for the future to gain an idea of how things might play out.

For me - the biggest issue was the lack of transparency. What kind of justification is “not being fully candid with the board at all times.” That’s weasel language to me. About what specifically wasn’t he candid? At which times?

Personal Aside

I really dislike the Effective Altruist movement. Mostly because the people espousing it tend to be the ones most benefiting from it, and the people against whom its applied tend to have little say in the matter. That’s a gross oversimplification of my objections, but it’ll due for now.


I agree, at the moment most companies seem to be purely short-term profit driven. They don’t seem to care what happens in a year or 10 years or 50 years. This is short sighted and causes a lot of long term damage - E.g climate change.

We’ve known for decades that industrialisation has caused problems in the past and those problems are accelerating and have a snowball effect going forward. But developing lands don’t learn from our mistakes, they argue that we used brown coal and gas for heating and electricity generation and they have that resource in large quantities, so it would be unfair to force them to use more expensive, clean solutions.

Existing companies in the more developed world often put off switching to cleaner production methods, because it would affect their profit growth - who cares if it saves lives, helps reduce environmental damage or ensures the company is still here in 10 or 50 years? We need profit, now! We might be dead tomorow (caused by our short sighted charge for immediate pleasure and profit).

I’ve seen this on a smaller scale in IT over the last few decades. Old MS-DOS or Windows XP computers hanging around in offices or labs somewhere, because an old peripheral still works and replacing it would be too expensive and the supplier only provides new software to run on newer operating systems with new equipment. So, you either have an MS-DOS PC controlling a metal printer from the late 80s, or you spend $250,000+ to replace it with a shiny new printer that does exactly the same thing, only with newer software running on Windows 10…

I can understand the companies not wanting to “waste” money replacing perfectly functional equipment, just because the software only runs on outdated operating systems. But the hardware manufacturers are also to blame, charging a few thousand for a new version of the software, instead of hundreds of thousands for new hardware seems like a bad strategy, but a few thousand every couple of years is better than $250,000 every couple of decades… But they are short-sighted and only see the big sale and don’t realise the lower, regular income is still income and profit.

We end up with island solutions, not networked together, because the operating systems are out of support and therefore not used as efficiently as they could be.