If they had been the plot of a science fiction movie, or an episode of “Succession,” the events at OpenAI last weekend would have seemed a little over-the-top. A secret board coup! Fears of killer A.I.! A star C.E.O., betrayed by his chief scientist! A middle-of-the-night staff revolt that threatens to change the balance of global tech power! If you haven’t been paying attention to all the twists and turns in the saga, that’s OK. It’s been a confusing ride, with lots of complex jargon and hard-to-follow details. But it’s an important story, even if you’re not particularly interested in A.I. If you’ve ever used ChatGPT or drawn a picture with DALL-E 3, or if you care about whether powerful A.I. systems might someday threaten human survival, all of that is wrapped up in the drama at OpenAI, the country’s most prominent maker of artificial intelligence. OpenAI’s board fired its chief executive, Sam Altman, in a surprise on Friday. The board’s explanation — that Altman had not been completely candid with them — was vague and opaque. We still don’t know exactly what happened between Altman and the board. But OpenAI’s unusual governance structure — it is run by a nonprofit board that controls a for-profit subsidiary and can vote to replace its leaders — allowed the board to fire Altman without explaining itself. The coup was led by Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist, who had butted heads with Altman. Sutskever wants the company to prioritize safety and was worried that Altman was more focused on growth.
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