Sunday, November 19, 2023

Quote of the Day (Sam Altman, on AI and the Future of Jobs)

“A lot of people working on AI pretend that it's only going to be good; it's only going to be a supplement; no one is ever going to be replaced. Jobs are definitely going to go away, full stop."— OpenAI CEO Sam Altman quoted by Ross Andersen, “Inside the Revolution at OpenAI,” The Atlantic, September 2023

Will someone please tell me what’s going on here?

I’m not talking about AI as such—most of the people I know are at least cautiously concerned about its implications, even its advocates—like Sam Altman, who, in his interview with Ross Andersen, didn’t know exactly where it would lead to except “a new kind of society.”

No, I’m talking about what is going on with Altman himself and the company he turned into a Wall Street darling.

This past Friday, its board of directors explained on a blog post that he had not been “consistently candid in his communications.” It seems that, while fully expecting that other people would be losing their jobs because of the technology he pioneered, he’d be out of his own much sooner.

In the current climate of corporate upheaval, more than a few people reading the board’s cryptic but dangerous-sounding mistake might be forgiven for speculating that Altman had inflated current financial results or projections, or, like so many testosterone-turbocharged executives in recent years, had started a personal relationship with an employee and thus violated norms evolved in the wake of the #MeToo movement. 

Evidently this wasn’t the case—the company’s chief operating officer sent a note to staff on Saturday that no “malfeasance” was involved.

But if those scenarios didn’t lead to Altman’s ouster, what did?

Oh, yes—and about that ouster? That expectation, it turns out, may be slightly premature. 

According to a report airing less than 48 hours later from The New York Times, Altman is talking about staying on as CEO, even if it means a restructuring of the group that forced him out and disrupted a tech industry that can’t stop talking about how it’s going to disrupt everything.

I tell you, I haven’t done such a double-take over news since George Steinbrenner got rid of Billy Martin (the first of five times The Boss canned him or forced him to quit!) as manager of the New York Yankees, only to have him introduced four days later at Old Timers’ Day as the team’s rehired skipper for the 1980 season. (You can read all the details of those doings from The Bronx Zoo in my blog post from a decade ago.)

Altman has vowed, MacArthur-like, to return. But to reconquer what he lost, he’ll have to execute something faster than the general’s island-hopping strategy. Maybe AI has a ready-made plan for him?

(The image accompanying this post, showing Sam Altman during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 at Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, was taken on Oct. 3, 2019 by TechCrunch.)

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