(Bloomberg) -- What if Apple had waited until 2008 to fire Steve Jobs, a year after he unveiled the very first iPhone? That’s the comparison making the rounds when it comes to the sudden termination of Sam Altman, chief executive of artificial intelligence pioneer OpenAI Inc.
The release almost exactly a year ago of OpenAI’s ChatGPT sounded the starting gun for generative AI. Since then, Altman has become the face of an industry that may transform the world. So when on Nov. 17 OpenAI’s board fired him, all hell broke loose. In the mini-documentary Inside the Battle for OpenAI’s Soul, Bloomberg Originals exposes the hidden tensions that led to Altman’s ouster—and his triumphant return.
The shocking announcement that Altman was out triggered a firestorm in Silicon Valley and beyond. It also revealed the profound ideological clashes inside the company—clashes representative of the broader debate swirling around AI. On one side is a group that wants to slow the pace of development to address safety concerns, fearing AI might accelerate misinformation or even one day turn on its masters. On the other are engineers who want to turbocharge innovation—and corporations seeking immense profit.
Microsoft Corp., the tech giant that’s backed OpenAI to the tune of $13 billion, has been a critical player in this drama. Despite the potential for massive return on its investment, the company and its chief executive, Satya Nadella, have had no direct influence on how the San Francisco-based startup is run. Until now, that is.
What happened when the vast sums of capital required to develop a new technology appeared to be at odds with ethical concerns about its hazards? As is so often the case, the money won. At least for now, anyway. It’s early days, and the consequences of the battle for OpenAI’s soul—and whether it will shape the trajectory of the AI industry—have yet to play out fully.
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