From time to time, Silicon Valley produces companies that are a source of attention and headlines, startups that, like many others, promise to change society forever but that really seem to have the recipe to achieve it. OpenAI is the most recent. In less than a year it has managed to alter expectations around artificial intelligence thanks to the success of its most popular tool, ChatGPT.
But this weekend something broke. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, once defined Twitter as “a car full of clowns that has crashed into a gold mine.” The brilliant phrase is heard again now, pronounced by the most influential voices in the technology sector and applied to a company that had managed to project an incredible image of seriousness and competence.
Last Friday the board of directors of OpenAI announced the sudden dismissal of its top manager, Sam Altman. In an aggressive and atypical statement he explained that the manager “has not been sincere on a continuous basis“, and that “he has lost confidence” in his ability to run the company.
The news caught everyone by surprise, including Altman himself, who learned of his dismissal only an hour before the publication of the statement. His right-hand man, Greg Brockman, received the warning just five minutes early. Shortly after, he also announced his departure from the company along with other senior officials unhappy with the decision.
As the hours passed, the reasons for such an abrupt maneuver began to leak out. They draw a complicated internal tension fruit of the evolution that OpenAI has had since its creation and that has ended in a coup orchestrated by the company’s head of R&D, Ilya Sutskever, and other members of the board of directors.