The drama around OpenAI, its board, and Sam Altman has been a fascinating story that raises a number of ethical leadership issues. What are the responsibilities that OpenAI’s board, Sam Altman, and Microsoft held during these quickly moving events? Whose interests should have held priority during this saga and why? Let’s start with the board. We still don’t know in what way Altman was not straightforward with his board. We do know nonprofit boards–and OpenAI is, by design, governed by a nonprofit board–have a special duty to ensure the organization is meeting its mission. If they feel the CEO is not fulfilling that mission, they have cause to act. According to OpenAI’s website, its mission is “to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.” That’s a tall order–and words are important. The distinction of artificial general intelligence from artificial intelligence may be part of the story if the company was close to meeting its own definition of artificial general intelligence and felt it was about to do so in a way that did not benefit humanity. In an interview with the podcast Hard Fork days before he was fired, when asked to define artificial general intelligence, Altman said it’s a “ridiculous and meaningless term,” and redefined it as “really smart AI.” Perhaps his board felt the term and its definition was more important. One issue may be that OpenAI’s mission statement reads more like a vision statement which can be more aspirational and forward-looking than a corporation’s mission statement, which usually captures the organization’s purpose. The real issue here, however, is not whether it is a vision or mission statement: The ethical issue is that the board is obligated to take actions that ensure it is fulfilled. Moving slowly and not accelerating AI progress may not be a compelling pitch to investors–but perhaps there are investors who want to invest in precisely that.
About OODA Analyst
OODA is comprised of a unique team of international experts capable of providing advanced intelligence and analysis, strategy and planning support, risk and threat management, training, decision support, crisis response, and security services to global corporations and governments.