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We Learnt About ChatGPT Launch on X: Ex-OpenAI Board Member Helen Toner also shared how Sam Altman made it difficult for the board to do their job

By Paromita Gupta

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Since November 2022, Sam Altman has been in the news for various reasons; good, bad, and ugly. This includes his oust and eventual return to OpenAI in November 2023, with a new board in tow. The matter created a lot of talk in the technology space worldwide, with one question lingering in everyone's mind: Why was he fired?

While a lot of speculations went around, nothing was declared as a solid reason. Six months later, Helen Toner, the former board member of OpenAI, revealed the tension that went on behind the scenes.

On a podcast show called "The Ted AI Show" by Bilawal Sidhu, Toner spoke about how Altman's reluctance made it difficult for the board to do their job. "OpenAI board was not a normal board, it was not a normal company. The board is a non-profit board that was set up explicitly to make sure that the company's public good mission is primarily first over profits, investor interest, and other things. But for years, Sam made it really difficult for the board to do that job, by withholding information, misrepresenting things that were happening at the company, in some cases outright lying to the board."

Read more: Sam Altman to Return as OpenAI CEO With a New Board in Tow

Case in point, she reveals how the board, which comprised Altman; Greg Brockman; Ilya Sutskever; Adam D'Angelo; Tasha McCauley; and Toner, was not aware of ChatGPT's public announcement. "When ChatGPT came out, in November 2022, the board was not informed in advance. We learned about ChatGPT on Twitter (now X)," she shared.

She further added how Altman never told them that he was also the owner of the OpenAI Startup Fund. He always claimed that he was an independent member with no financial interest in the startup.

Broken work environment

OpenAI's new board comprised of Adam D'Angelo; Larry Summers; Bret Taylor; Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann; Nicole Seligman; Fidji Simo; and Altman.

Toner and the-then fellow board members worked to set up structures and processes to improve the issues the board was facing. "Mostly in October last year, we had conversations with two executives where they started telling us their experiences with Sam which they hadn't felt comfortable sharing before. They couldn't trust him and about the toxic atmosphere," she shared.

Toner went on to share how the two used the term 'psychological abuse' and that they didn't feel he was the right person to lead OpenAI to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

Read more: Artificial General Intelligence: The Next Frontier In Technology

"They had no belief that he could or would change; no point in giving him feedback, no point in trying to work through those issues." Toner claims that the board was sent evidence in the form of screenshots and documentation to back their all allegations.

In response to Toner's claims and allegations, Taylor provided a statement to the podcast that said, "We are disappointed that Miss Toner continues to revisit these issues…The review concluded that the prior board's decision was not based on concerns regarding product safety or security, the pace of development, OpenAI's finances, or its statements to investors, customers, or business partners."

Paromita Gupta

Features Writer with Entrepreneur India

Covering news and trends in AI and Metaverse segments. An avid book reader running her personal blog on the side. You may reach me at paromita@entrepreneurindia.com. 
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