It's not an OpenAI and shutAI case

The sacking of Sam Altman as CEO of OpenAI, and rumours of his possible return, bear some uncanny likeness to Steve Jobs‘ departure from Apple a technological generation ago. Parallels draw on the pace of innovation at the world’s most valued company with and without Jobs. It did make a huge difference to Apple then. However, the world’s second most-valuable company, Apple’s main competitor back then, Microsoft, is today just a few paces behind in market capitalisation. Innovation has a way of feeding off itself that makes innovators important but not irreplaceable. Even if it involves a technological frontier such as ChatGPT, which has companies scurrying to protect profits, governments drawing up fences, courts hearing copyright suits and universities pondering the future of education.

Generative AI has been around for a while before Altman’s company showed the world a better way of interacting with machines, much in the way Jobs popularised the graphical user interface (GUI) in personal computers. He has, thus, come to represent the human face of a zeitgeist technology, particularly the fear of job losses. This makes Altman a powerful evangelist who investors, including Microsoft, would want to hold on to. Irrespective of the outcome of the boardroom battle at OpenAI, work on large language models (LLMs) is unlikely to suffer. AI has powered Big Tech valuations this year to dizzying heights as industrial use cases grew exponentially.

The technology and its advancement is in the hands of a clutch of trillion-dollar companies that should be able to paper over corporate cracks. Think 19th-20th-century electricity technology not being stopped in its tracks after Nikola Tesla got shunted by Thomas Edison. The challenge of AI, as Altman himself pointed out when he compared it to nuclear science, is more about making it responsible, possibly by slowing it down. Altman is a votary of social antibodies to AI, among which is corporate ethics. This should be of the highest order in a company whose products are expected to upend corporate functioning.


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