What this weekend means for AI builders.
11.20.2023 | By: Ashu Garg
This weekend was one to remember for those actively invested in the future of AI. In this special edition of B2BaCEO, I’ll summarize what unfolded (as of Monday, November 20 at 5 pm PT). I’ll offer perspective on the future of OpenAI and its diminished status as the public face of generative AI. I’ll also build on my recent editorial about the opportunities for startups, together with what this all means for other model providers like Google and Anthropic, the open-source community, and more.
This remains an extremely fluid situation. This morning, OpenAI’s Chief Scientist Ilya Susketver sent a Tweet that opens the door to the clock being reversed. But for now, here’s what I’m thinking.
To recap, on Friday, OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman was suddenly let go by the board, citing vague concerns over the candor of his communications. Soon after, OpenAI President Greg Brockman voluntarily resigned to join forces with Altman.
In response to a mounting employee backlash, the OpenAI board briefly seemed to be reconsidering reinstating Altman. But, within 48 hours, they surprised many by appointing former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear as interim CEO, replacing the former interim CEO Mira Murati.
Amid the chaos, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was initially working behind the scenes to get Altman and likely Brockman reinstated. Yet, after further negotiation, Nadella ended up recruiting both to join Microsoft to lead its new advanced AI research efforts. Suffice it to say, Nadella surely didn’t get much sleep this weekend (especially after India lost to Australia in the Cricket World Cup on Saturday night!). His deft leadership, which has never failed to impress me, was fully on display.
Given OpenAI’s impact on democratizing AI, and Altman’s status as an icon of the generative AI revolution, these events led to much unrest about how the shakeup will affect the broader AI ecosystem.
Before we unpack the implications, it’s important to remember that OpenAI is structured as a non-profit, not a traditional tech company, and that its mission is to benefit humanity by achieving AGI. Altman repeatedly stated that he viewed consumerizing ChatGPT as a step in this direction. Today, however, it seems that ChatGPT may go the same way as Netscape—which, despite early momentum as the first user-friendly web browser, was outpaced by competitors like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and was eventually acquired and shut down.
This weekend’s events mark a major inflection point in AI, with big implications for incumbents and startups alike. The history of the tech industry is filled with turning events like these, with many drawing an analogy to the ouster of Steve Jobs from Apple. That costly blunder led to strategic drift and stagnation, nearly bankrupting Apple until Jobs returned to revive it.
A few final thoughts:
My biggest takeaway is just how quickly the AI space is evolving. Even giants like OpenAI can see their fortunes change overnight. So to all you AI builders: get out there, make your mark, and don’t give up. With execution and persistence, anyone can have an impact.
A big thanks to my teammates—Priyal, Jaya, Vinay, and Courtney—for their research, writing, and patience as we analyzed these events.
Published on 11.20.2023
Written by Ashu Garg