The chaos at OpenAI reveals contradictions in the way we think about the technology
At times it felt less like Succession than Fawlty Towers, not so much Shakespearean tragedy as Laurel and Hardy farce. OpenAI is the hottest tech company today thanks to the success of its most famous product, the chatbot ChatGPT. It was inevitable that the mayhem surrounding the sacking, and subsequent rehiring, of Sam Altman as its CEO would play out across global media last week, accompanied by astonishment and bemusement in equal measure.
For some, the farce spoke to the incompetence of the board; for others, to a clash of monstrous egos. In a deeper sense, the turmoil also reflected many of the contradictions at the heart of the tech industry. The contradiction between the self-serving myth of tech entrepreneurs as rebel “disruptors”, and their control of a multibillion-dollar monster of an industry through which they shape all our lives. The tension, too, between the view of AI as a mechanism for transforming human life and the fear that it may be an existential threat to humanity.