Sam Altman was forced out of his position as the CEO of OpenAI on Friday.
The announcement kicked off a weekend of chaos involving Altman, Microsoft, and the firm behind ChatGPT.
Here's why you should care, even if you aren't in the tech world.
On Friday afternoon, the tech world reverberated with news that Sam Altman was being pushed out as the CEO of OpenAI, the artificial intelligence firm behind ChatGPT.
Throughout the weekend, phones pinged, tweets were fired out, and group texts lit up as more news came: OpenAI's president Greg Brockman quit; the firm tried to bring back Altman; and in the wee hours of Monday morning, Microsoft announced that it had hired both Altman and Brockman.
Now, nearly every single employee at OpenAI has signed a letter saying they will quit if Altman and Brockman are not brought back. Some outlets have reported that the pressure campaign to reinstate Altman may be working.
So what's the big deal? Why should you care so much about the chaos happening at a company you may not have heard of one year ago? Why is it so important that OpenAI and Microsoft figure it all out?
Beyond the existential fears of OpenAI developing potentially dangerous technology, the events of this weekend amounted to more than corporate mishegoss: The fate of ChatGPT — the AI chatbot that more than 100 million people use on the job, at school, and at home — is on the line.
Just look at Microsoft's stock over the past few days, or Altman's recent post on X, which reveals how important ChatGPT and OpenAI's other AI tools are to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and a whole host of other constituents.
"Satya and my top priority remains to ensure openai continues to thrive," Altman wrote on Monday. "We are committed to fully providing continuity of operations to our partners and customers the openai/microsoft partnership makes this very doable."
To back up: Since 2019, Microsoft and OpenAI, which was founded as a nonprofit dedicated to artificial intelligence research, have worked together. Microsoft invested $1 billion that year, wrote another check in 2021, and this year upped the ante, committing $10 billion to OpenAI.
But the deal was about more than just cash. OpenAI relies on Microsoft's cloud computing infrastructure and Azure data centers to run its large language models and AI tools such as GPT-4, ChatGPT and DALL-E 3. The startup probably spends most of the money it got from Microsoft on cloud services from its main benefactor, in a kind of circular deal.
Without Microsoft's supercomputers, OpenAI is basically a really well-made, technologically advanced boat without a paddle. While Microsoft is working on its own in-house large language model, it doesn't have one yet; without OpenAI's, the tech giant has some great paddles, but no boat.
The two work symbiotically. If nearly everyone at OpenAI jumps ship and heads to Microsoft, what can they bring with them? Likely not ChatGPT and the large language model behind it. So that could require Altman, Brockman, and whoever else joins Microsoft to develop their own AI models from scratch, which would take at least several months and whole new pile of money.
In that scenario, would Microsoft keep supporting OpenAI with all that expensive cloud infrastructure? If not, where would OpenAI go to get the chips, servers, networking and data centers to deliver ChatGPT and its other services to the masses?
Even if you don't use ChatGPT as a homework helper or personal assistant, the shockwaves could be significant.
There are hundreds of AI startups that have, with OpenAI's blessing, built themselves around ChatGPT. Major firms like Canva and JetBlue have integrated its AI enterprise software into their businesses.
However this chaos gets resolved, the episode has done serious damage to OpenAI and has put a question mark over the future of its incredibly popular services.
If this all continues to goes south, get ready to learn about Claude, Google Bard, and other rival AI offerings.
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