OpenAI Board ‘Not Aware Of ChatGPT Launch’

OpenAI’s former board of directors was not aware that the company’s for-profit subsidiary was planning to launch ChatGPT until after the event, former board member Helen Toner has said.

Toner gave the incident as an example of why she and other board members voted to oust chief executive Sam Altman in a surprise move last November, saying the board felt it had no effective oversight of the company.

“When ChatGPT came out November 2022, the board was not informed in advance. We learned about ChatGPT on Twitter,” Toner said on the podcast The TED AI Show.

At the time the board said only that Altman had not been “consistently candid” with the board.

Sam Altman. Image credit: OpenAI

Safety concerns

Altman was reinstated a few days later, while Toner and others left the board.

Altman failed to disclose to the board that he owned the OpenAI Startup Fund and gave inaccurate information on the company’s safety processes “on multiple occasions”, Toner said.

As a result it was “basically impossible for the board to know how well those safety processes were working or what might need to change”, she said.

Safety – referring to processes designed to prevent super-intelligent AI systems from becoming a danger to humanity – has been a turbulent issue for OpenAI as it has transitioned to a for-profit company, with the company disbanding its “superalignment” safety team earlier this month after less than a year, and forming a new safety and security committee this week.

Image credit: Levart Photographer/Unsplash

‘Psychological abuse’

Toner said she was personally targeted by Altman after she published a research paper that angered him, and said two executives spoke to the board accusing Altman of “psychological abuse” and providing evidence of Altman “lying and being manipulative in different situations”.

Toner said board members felt they had to make a surprise move or Altman “would pull out all the stops, do everything in his power to undermine the board, to prevent us from even getting to the point of being able to fire him”.

She said employees overwhelmingly supported Altman’s reinstatement because they were presented with the destruction of the company as the only alternative.

The former board member said Altman was “actually fired from his previous job at Y Combinator” and that at his job before that at start-up Loopt the management team twice asked the board to fire Altman “for what they called deceptive and chaotic behaviour”.

“This wasn’t a problem specific to the personalities on the board, as much as he would love to portray it that way,” she said.

‘Disappointed’

After years of similar events “all four of us came to the conclusion that we just couldn’t believe things that Sam was telling us”, Toner said.

Current OpenAI board chair Bret Taylor said the company was “disappointed that Ms. Toner continues to revisit these issues”.

He added that an independent review of Altman’s sacking found that the board’s decision was not based on “concerns regarding product safety or security, the pace of development, OpenAI’s finances, or its statements to investors, customers, or business partners” and that more than 95 percent of employees asked for Altman’s reinstatement.

“Our focus remains on moving forward and pursuing OpenAI’s mission to ensure AGI benefits all of humanity,” Taylor said.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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