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Former OpenAI Board Member Dishes on Sam Altman’s Ouster Last Year

OpenAI Sam Altman

Sam Altman – Credit Chen Galili

Helen Toner, a former board member at Sam Altman’s OPenAI, has opened up about what really happened when Altman was ousted, for just a few days, as the head of the company he founded. In an appearance on The Ted AI Show podcast, Toner spoke about Sam Altman’s failure to share important decisions with the board.

When ChatGPT was first released there were concerns about how far artificial intelligence would go, yet Sam Altman did consult his own board about it.

“We learned about ChatGPT on Twitter,” Helen Toner said. She added that it was, “very clear to all of us that as soon as Sam had any inkling that we might do something that went against him, he would pull out all the stops, do everything in his power to undermine the board, to prevent us from even getting to the point of being able to fire him.”

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She also spoke about issues that arose concerning Sam Altman’s pre-OpenAI history. Helen Toner mentioned how he was fired from his previous job at Y Combinator, which she said was hushed up at the time.

“And then at, you know, his job before that, which was his only other job in Silicon Valley, his startup Loopt, apparently the management team went to the board there twice and asked the board to fire him for what they called deceptive and chaotic behavior,” added Toner. “If you actually look at his track record, he doesn’t exactly have a glowing trail of references. This wasn’t a problem specific to the personalities on the board, as much as he would love to portray it that way.”

In what was one of the strangest business stories of 2023, Sam Altman was fired by the OpenAI board, only to return just a few days later. At the time, it was reported that Altman’s ouster was spurred by fears that he was not concerned with the dangers involved in the expansion of AI tech. Later, all of the board members who had opposed him left the company.

Another issue was Sam Altman’s relationship with the OpenAI Startup Fund, which he left in April due to conflicts of interest. Appearances are everything, especially in the world of business, so OpenAi was concerned with the fund’s management structure.

On that matter Helen Toner said, “Sam didn’t inform the board that he owned the OpenAI startup fund, even though he constantly was claiming to be an independent board member with no financial interest in the company.”

Launched in 2021, OpenAI Startup Fund is a venture capital firm based in San Francisco, California. The firm seeks to invest in energy, healthcare, education, artificial intelligence, infrastructure & technology sectors.

Helen Toner is the Director of Strategy and Foundational Research Grants at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET). She previously worked as a Senior Research Analyst at Open Philanthropy, where she advised policymakers and grantmakers on AI policy and strategy.

OpenAI is an artificial intelligence (AI) research and implementation organization based in the United States. It was founded in 2015 by Elon Musk, Sam Altman, Ilya Sutskever, Greg Brockman and several others. OpenAI’s mission is to ensure that artificial general intelligence (AGI) benefits all humanity.

Sam Altman has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine and one of the “Best Young Entrepreneurs in Technology” by Businessweek. He is also the founder of the Long Term Future Fund, a venture capital fund that invests in companies working to solve long-term problems like climate change and pandemics.

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