In a rollercoaster turn of events, Sam Altman, the visionary behind OpenAI, has reclaimed his position as the CEO of the renowned artificial intelligence (AI) company. However, this decision comes after months of discord and internal strife within the OpenAI board, Bloomberg reported.
One person who stood out during the fray is Helen Toner, a board member and Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Director of Strategy.
At one point, Altman attempted to remove Toner due to concerns over a research paper she co-authored, which he believed was critical of OpenAI.
Before Altman’s return, OpenAI faced a mass exodus of employees, with nearly 800 staff members threatening to follow Altman to Microsoft. The board’s inability to agree on board vacancies and the departure of key personnel further exacerbated the crisis, The New York Times reported.
OpenAI’s board issues trace back to its nonprofit origins in 2015 when Sam Altman, Elon Musk, and others founded the organization. Initially, they intended to raise private donor funds to safely and beneficially develop AI. However, due to the significant funding required for their AI research, a for-profit subsidiary was established in 2018, raising billions from investors, including Microsoft. The subsidiary was meant to be controlled by the nonprofit board, with a fiduciary duty to “humanity, not OpenAI investors.”
One pivotal moment leading to Altman’s ouster was his conflict with Toner. Altman expressed concerns that a research paper co-authored by Toner appeared critical of OpenAI’s safety efforts while praising a rival company, Anthropic.
While Toner defended the paper as an academic analysis, Altman considered it detrimental to the company. This conflict led to discussions among senior OpenAI leaders about whether Toner should be removed.
Toner is a 30-something Australian alumna of the University of Melbourne, Crikey. reported.
Her involvement with the Effective Altruism Melbourne group deepened her commitment to effective altruism and AI safety. She led the group in 2014.
According to Harvard Law School, effective altruism is a philosophy and a community focused on answering the question, “How can we best use our resources to help others?”
Effective altruists, including Toner, are concerned about AI safety and its potential to pose existential risks to humanity. She has worked at organizations like GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project. Toner’s expertise in AI policy and AI strategy research led to her appointment to OpenAI’s board.
Altman’s disagreement with Toner remains undisclosed.
OpenAI board member Helen Toner (Image: LinkedIn/OpenAI)