Dispatches from the Empire

The Unsettling Lesson of the OpenAI Mess

I don’t know whether the board was right to fire Altman. It certainly has not made a public case that would justify the decision. But the nonprofit board was at the center of OpenAI’s structure for a reason. It was supposed to be able to push the off button. But there is no off button. The for-profit proved it can just reconstitute itself elsewhere. And don’t forget: There’s still Google’s A.I. division and Meta’s A.I. division and Anthropic and Inflection and many others who’ve built large language models similar to GPT-4 and are yoking them to business models similar to OpenAI’s. Capitalism is itself a kind of artificial intelligence, and it’s far further along than anything the computer scientists have yet coded. In that sense, it copied OpenAI’s code long ago.

…if the capabilities of these systems continue to rise exponentially, as many inside the industry believe they will, then nothing I’ve seen in recent weeks makes me think we’ll be able to shut the systems down if they begin to slip out of our control. There is no off switch.