Sam Altman's under pressure amid questions about OpenAI's commitment to safety

  • OpenAI is facing a fresh wave of controversies.

  • Former executives and AI experts have criticized the company's commitment to AI safety.

  • As OpenAI races toward advanced AI, the pressure is starting to mount for Sam Altman.

AI's golden boy, Sam Altman, may be starting to lose his luster.

Under his stewardship, OpenAI is facing a fresh wave of controversy, including the use of tight nondisclosure agreements to silence employees and a public spat with a famous actor.

The company has also been dealing with comments from former executives that its commitment to AI safety leaves much to be desired.

Gretchen Krueger joined those ranks on Wednesday when the policy researcher announced she had parted ways with OpenAI.

Extinction risk

She said her decision to quit came before hearing that the senior executives Jan Leike and Ilya Sutskever had also resigned, but wrote on X that she had "overlapping concerns."

The public complaints from former workers are not a good look for a company at the forefront of developing technology that could have serious consequences for humanity.

Some of the leading experts in the field have long warned that advanced AI could pose an extinction risk to humanity — something Altman himself has noted.

Stuart Russell, a leading AI researcher and a pioneer of the technology, told Business Insider that the race toward advanced AI could trigger anything from an explosion of AI deepfakes to an AI-led economic crash.

The University of California Berkeley professor labeled Altman's attitude toward building artificial general intelligence before figuring out how to make it safe as "completely unacceptable."

"This is why most of the safety people at OpenAI have left," Russell said, adding that tech companies across the board "were undermining every attempt at regulation."

"Even people who are developing the technology say there's a chance of human extinction. What gave them the right to play Russian roulette with everyone's children?"

ScarJo scandal

The criticism around AI safety is the latest blow for Altman, who is fighting battles on multiple fronts.

A recent tussle with the actor Scarlett Johansson over OpenAI's flagship voice for its new GPT-4o model has also hit a nerve with the creative community.

The actor lashed out at the company earlier this week, saying the voice sounded "eerily similar" to her own despite the fact she had turned down an offer from Sam Altman to work on the project.

Scarlett Johansson at the 2024 White House Correspondents' Dinner.
Scarlett Johansson at the 2024 White House Correspondents' Dinner.Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Creatives have long accused AI companies of using their work without permission, and the Johansson debacle drove home the argument that OpenAI is running on an "ask forgiveness, not permission" model.

Amid all the drama, it's hard to overlook the controversy surrounding Altman since his dramatic ouster last November. He was suddenly removed as CEO by OpenAI's board, who cited his less than "candid" communication as part of the reason.

Altman ultimately won the high-stakes struggle — with a little help from Microsoft — and reclaimed the CEO role, as well as a new board and more power than ever.

However, recent reports suggest that under Altman's stewardship, OpenAI may not have been entirely truthful about how it handled NDAs for departing staff or transparent about how much of the company's resources are being directed toward AI safety initiatives. The company has been forced to change its policy on non-disparagement clauses for former employees.

As things continue to spiral for OpenAI, the outlook is looking a little bleak for Altman too.

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