Unpacking OpenAI's saga

Plus: Three amazing AI tools

Hey there! Before you dive headfirst into the mountains of stuffing and cranberry sauce tomorrow, I’m serving up a generous helping of AI in today’s special newsletter edition. Today, you’ll get three fun new AI tools (because convincing Uncle Frank that AI is more than “just nerd stuff” is a challenge I’m willing to tackle) and a deep dive into two AI stories that are sure to keep the conversation flowing as smoothly as the gravy.

Wishing you and your family a great Thanksgiving! I, for one, am grateful to have you here as a reader. ;) 

My Take on the OpenAI Fiasco

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Last Friday, OpenAI’s board fired then-CEO Sam Altman. Only five days later—after an epic saga unfolded—Altman did a full 360. As of last night, Altman has returned to his original position as the CEO of OpenAI with a new board. 

If you’re looking for a recap from the very top of the story, check out my video breaking down the biggest story to hit AI in recent memory or last Friday’s newsletter for a quick TL;DR on the initial news. 

A quick recap of the past two days: 

  • On Monday, more than 97% of OpenAI employees signed a joint letter threatening to quit unless the board resigned and reappointed Altman. 

  • As rumors circled that Altman would be reinstated as CEO, the OpenAI board surprised us yet again, appointing former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear as the new interim CEO of OpenAI.

  • News broke on Monday that Microsoft hired Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman to lead a new AI research team—but turns out the move wasn’t a done deal. 

  • On Tuesday, in a dramatic reversal, OpenAI announced that Altman and Brockman would return to the company. Under an “agreement in principle,” Altman will serve as CEO under a new board led by former Salesforce CEO Bret Taylor. Other board directors will include former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and existing board member Adam D’Angelo.

  • Unsurprisingly, Microsoft and Altman now both want seats on the OpenAI board. For the sake of the deal, Altman initially agreed to forgo a seat—but it’s likely that he’ll eventually join the board.

  • Both sides (Microsoft and OpenAI) have agreed to an investigation of this saga—so I’m hopeful that more answers will come soon.

Of course, I’ve been glued to Twitter (fine, X), trying to uncover what’s been going on behind the curtain:

  • Some believe that tensions between board member Helen Toner and Altman led to the failed ouster.

  • Others report that Altman wanted Adam D’Angelo to step down from the board—another possible source of tension leading to the decision.

  • Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky was involved in talks and played a role in finding a solution. Interim OpenAI CEO Emmett Shear also reportedly played a key role in negotiations, claiming he would quit if the board didn’t offer its reasons for firing Altman.

My take: For starters, I truly believe that there are no bad intentions here. I’m convinced that everyone, from Sam Altman to members of the OpenAI board, did what they thought was best for the company—it’s just that the visions for what “is best” are anything but aligned.

From what I gather, there are/were two opposing forces at work:

1) OpenAI’s commercial arm (spearheaded by Altman), which is trying to advance the company’s mission of achieving AGI by raising more capital and bringing AI products to the masses.

2) OpenAI’s non-profit arm (aka the board), which wants to focus on the research endeavors of developing safe and responsible AI—and believes that commercialization is at odds with this goal.

From a leadership standpoint, it’s clear that OpenAI’s board could have handled communications a lot better—both internally and externally. It blows my mind that the board still hasn’t come out with any substantial explanations yet—an explanation of its reasoning behind firing Altman would’ve gone a long way to control the narrative and general chaos. 

I’m curious to see which direction OpenAI takes from here. Does the new board and Altman and Brockman’s return mean OpenAI’s non-profit branch lost its power? How big of a hit (if any) did the company’s reputation take as a result of the whole drama? We’ll have to wait and see…

While it seems like this real-life soap opera could be in its final episode, if we’ve learned one thing this past week, it’s that nothing is certain. I’m real-time tweeting about it all, so follow along if you want to stay in the loop on my armchair detective rumorings. 

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Meta’s Responsible AI Team Is No More

Source: Ascannio / Shutterstock

Meta broke up its Responsible AI division (RAI), the team dedicated to understanding and preventing the potential harms of its AI projects.

The details: The change comes as Meta nears the end of its “year of efficiency,” which has included layoffs and constant reshuffling as the company slashes costs. Most members of the RAI team are being reassigned to building products in Meta’s Generative AI division and AI infrastructure unit, according to an internal company report seen by The Information. They’ll also “continue to support relevant cross-Meta efforts on responsible AI development and use.”

Why does it matter? Meta’s move suggests that its top priority is innovation as the company scrambles to catch up with its AI competitors. It also follows a similar move from Microsoft earlier this year, playing into the growing tensions between AI accelerationists and strong AI-safety proponents.

Food for Thought

If there’s anything to munch on this Thanksgiving, it’s the implications of these two stories. The largest, most public companies in AI are experiencing growing pains. For OpenAI, this looks like (what I believe to be) an internal battle between its nonprofit values and its for-profit focus on accelerated innovation. For Meta, this looks like dissolving its Responsible AI division to pour more manpower into innovation.

As both companies move fast and break things, stories like these remind us of the humanity behind AI innovation: There are livelihoods at stake, ethics in question, and shifting power dynamics. These are the traits that separate humans from the most humanlike technology to date—and they will ultimately determine the fate of that technology. When this week’s news inevitably makes it way into history books (if those still exist), I hope we can, if anything, admire the humanity in it all. 

🛠️ 3 Amazing Future Tools

1. QuizRise: Still looking for games to play when the Thanksgiving food coma hits? This tool lets you create your own custom quizzes using AI.

How it works: QuizRise quickly generates online quizzes and flashcards from any type of content. You can upload PDFs, type in a short text, query for a specific topic, or simply paste a URL that QuizRise’s AI will scrape for information. You can also choose from various types of quiz formats, such as multiple choice, true or false, and fill-in-the-blank.

Once you’ve created your custom quiz, you can easily share it with others via email and edit its questions and answers. And once Thanksgiving break comes to an end, QuizRise can  transform from your game buddy to your personal study companion. (Pricing: freemium)

2. Touring: No matter where you are in the world, this AI-powered travel guide lets you explore new cities at your own pace. So even if you’re stuck at home this holiday, you can make your travel dreams come (kind of) true. 

How it works: Touring leverages geolocation, 3D maps, and human-curated travel content to create real-time audio guides tailored to your specific interests (a pasta-themed tour of Rome, anyone?). You can pick your own voice to narrate the tour (highly recommend the David Attenborough option) and ask the AI about anything you encounter on your trip—just like you would a human tour guide. (Pricing: free—still in beta)

3. AI Apparel: Anyone can be a fashion designer with this fun AI tool. 

How it works: AI Apparel lets you generate creative t-shirt designs using text or image prompts. Once you’ve created the perfect design (or picked one of the highlighted designs made by other users of the platform), you can order your t-shirt directly on-site. For all the Turkey Trot families out there: Here’s your chance to design next year’s race day shirt while you’re feeling inspired. 

Not just t-shirts: Apparel categories range from classic hoodies and tank tops to swimwear, sweatpants, and aprons. You can even customize mouse pads, towels, and pillow covers. Last minute gifts, covered. (Pricing: paid)

And that’s a wrap! I’ll be back to the usual newsletter format next week when we’ve all recovered from our food coma—so see you back here on Wednesday. In the meantime, have a great Thanksgiving!

—Matt (FutureTools.io)

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You rock! See ya next week. :)

P.S. This newsletter is 100% written by a human. Okay, maybe 96%.