Nov 29, 2023 - Technology

Altman: OpenAI governance changes could include altering non-profit structure

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, speaking to reporters at the company's November 2023 DevDay.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, speaking to reporters at the company's November 2023 DevDay. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Reinstated OpenAI CEO Sam Altman told Axios the "highest priority" for the company's new board is exploring a range of changes to "improve the governance structure" — including whether OpenAI remains controlled by a non-profit entity.

Why it matters: Under the company's current structure, for-profit work by a subsidiary is overseen by a non-profit board whose mission is to ensure that ultra-powerful artificial intelligence "benefits all of humanity."

Improving governance structure, broadly, is a top priority for the board and company, Altman said in an interview shortly after the company announced his official return.

  • "But that takes real time and consideration," Altman told Axios. "We're going to need some patience there."

Already, OpenAI has said that it will seek to diversify its board as it brings on additional new members.

    • The board now consists of former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor as chairman, along with former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Quora CEO Adam D'Angelo.
  • A representative of Microsoft, a key partner and 49% shareholder in OpenAI's for-profit subsidiary, will join the new board as a non-voting observer.

Between the lines: In a telephone interview, Altman and Mira Murati, who is returning to her role as CTO after a brief stint as interim CEO, both stressed that the company's board battle was not sparked by safety concerns or some massive new breakthrough in AI research.

  • However, Altman reiterated he expects AI technology will continue to advance rapidly.
  • "What we have been saying as clearly as we know how all year is that we expect progress to continue," Altman. "We've said that consistently even when people accused us of all sorts of fear-mongering or marketing or regulatory capture."

Altman added that he hopes that the independent review of events that was a condition of his return will shed light on why he was ousted in the first place.

  • "I'd like to understand it better," he said.

The intrigue: Altman said he is not focused on whether he ends up with a seat on the new board himself.

  • "I have a mountain of very important and urgent work in front of me," he said. "I imagine plenty of scenarios where I'm not [on the board], even though I think CEOs usually are."

Altman said it's too soon for him to share what he has learned from his ouster and re-hiring.

  • "I have a bunch of half-formed thoughts but I don't think I'm ready to say… 'Here's my like nice little takeaway' and wrap it up with a bow."

Go deeper: OpenAI formalizes Sam Altman's return, gives Microsoft non-voting board seat

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