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Altman Alternative Facts

Former OpenAI Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman speaks during an event at Keio University on June 12, 2023, in Tokyo.
The story of Sam Altman is not only a business story but a larger, more meaningful plot point in a high-minded debate that has riven ethicists and technologists for the last few years about the speed of artificial intelligence development. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
November 21, 2023

There are already multiple books being written about Sam Altman and OpenAI, and even more in the market this week, for good reason: On Friday, his board of directors, out of nowhere, forced him out; he staged a tremendously impressive counter-coup by mobilizing hundreds of his employees (including, incredibly, the original coup leader); and won the support of all his investors, including Microsoft, against the company, itself. Then, Altman promised to take his talents to Redmond, though that’s probably a head fake. In the process, much of the $86 billion valuation of OpenAI was temporarily vanquished.

This is not only a business story but also a larger, more meaningful plot point in a high-minded debate that has riven ethicists and technologists for the last few years about the speed of artificial intelligence development, the most epic technology that we’ve seen in years. There’s plenty we don’t know—events are still unfolding rapidly, with Altman allegedly joining Microsoft, OpenAI employees threatening to resign en masse, and discussions underway as we speak to potentially reinstate Altman as C.E.O. (OpenAI announced late Tuesday night that the company had reached an agreement “in principle” for Altman to return.) In the meantime, I’ve been talking with plugged-in sources across Silicon Valley to compile a more textured view.