OpenAI Basically Unionizes

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Dust settles from the coup: Early Monday morning, the employees of OpenAI circulated a letter saying they would quit the company, which made ChatGPT, over the board’s unexpected and unexplained dismissal of CEO Sam Altman. Microsoft has offered jobs to all employees who want to leave, as well as Altman and former OpenAI board member/president Greg Brockman, who was pushed out by the board as well. 

As of today, 749 of 770 have signed the letter, threatening to leave unless the board reverses its decision and reinstates Altman. (Disclosure: My husband works at OpenAI and signed the letter.)

Tech world Judas: Possibly the most interesting signatory is Ilya Sutskever, the chief scientist and a board member who had played a major role in the Altman/Brockman ouster. He added his name to the letter and tweeted that he regretted his actions of the last few days, signaling remorse following his betrayal of Altman. The Judas memes, of course, followed.

No additional information has come out about why the board stabbed Altman in the back. Some people have speculated that there must have been quite serious wrongdoing by Altman that hasn’t been made public yet, which is why the board remains dug into their position yet employees remain en masse supportive of Altman. This would not explain Sutskever’s bizarre about-face though, which lends credence to the idea that this is more of a power play by the board or a dispute over the speed of commercialization than something more serious.

No confidence: “The idea of a standoff between 3 board members and 95% an organization’s employees is so unprecedented that it seems almost grammatically ill-formed. I wouldn’t have thought such a thing was even possible,” wrote Y Combinator founder/tech-world doyen Paul Graham on X. “If 95% doesn’t count as a vote of no confidence, what number would?”

OpenAI is run by a nonprofit with a board, which clearly has extraordinary power to dismiss those in charge. The board operates the for-profit subsidiary so that the whole entity “balances commerciality with safety and sustainability, rather than focusing on pure profit-maximization,” per the company. But Open AI employee/Tech Twitter provocateur Roon’s take is perhaps best, that just because something is run by a nonprofit focused on erecting guardrails against sheer profit-pursuit doesn’t mean best outcomes are necessarily achieved:

the update for me and likely for many others is the benevolence of Microsoft aligned via normal capital mechanisms and the total destructive power of a nonprofit board armed with good intentions

— roon (@tszzl) November 21, 2023

Northern front with Lebanon heats up: As Hezbollah strikes have grown more frequent, so too have Israeli attacks in response. Just last night, three people—two of whom were journalists—were killed by Israeli strikes in southern Lebanon.

Situation deteriorates for civilians in Gaza: The World Health Organization now reports that, of the 36 hospitals in Gaza, none are able to perform surgery. Many have been closed due to lack of power or lack of supplies; some have been essentially razed to the ground or so damaged by strikes that they are unusable. The remaining few, in southern Gaza, that have supplies, are so short on critical infrastructure that they essentially operate like community clinics, not hospitals, providing only the basics.

Humanitarian aid workers took 28 premature babies who were in the intensive care unit at Al Shifa Hospital to Egypt so they could receive medical care, per United Nations officials.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesmen say that approximately 1,500 aid trucks have been allowed into Gaza via the Rafah border crossing that the Strip shares with Egypt; Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry reports that this is still not enough. Medical supplies, for example, have been insufficient to restore hospitals to any semblance of their former capacity.

And yesterday at around 2:30 a.m., an Israeli strike hit the Indonesian hospital in Gaza, killing 12 and injuring many more.

Meanwhile, the IDF’s Al Shifa Hospital raid has uncovered more evidence bolstering the theory that Hamas has been using Al Shifa as a shield, hiding in tunnels underneath and using the hospital grounds as an access point. IDF troops exposed a 150-ft-long, 30-ft-deep terror tunnel under Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital, further corroborating the longtime position of American and Israeli intelligence that the hospital complex has long served as a base of operations for Hamas’s terror activities,” read an IDF press release from last night. “The tunnel features military defenses including a blast-proof door and a firing hole, and was uncovered in the area of the hospital underneath a shed next to a vehicle containing RPGs, grenades and Kalashnikov rifles.”

Ceasefire discourse: “As long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, a cease-fire is not peace,” wrote President Joe Biden in a Washington Post op-ed this past weekend. “Even as many Democrats in Congress have called for a cease-fire and questioned the Israeli offensive, Biden has remained adamant that Israel is exercising its right to self-defense and has instead supported humanitarian pauses,” reports Politico.

Scenes from New York

Inside the restaurant economics of Red Hook Lobster Pound, where a lobster roll costs $32.


  • More huge AI news: 

BIG new study: A new AI cancer detection model trained to spot pancreatic malignancies—the most deadly solid cancer— outperformed expert radiologists

— Derek Thompson (@DKThomp) November 20, 2023

  • More on Javier Milei, the world’s first libertarian president, from the Reason Roundtable. And from Reason‘s J.D. Tuccille:

Whatever Milei’s quirks, and the *huge* challenges he faces, his free-market views are a welcome break from the statism that has impoverished Argentina for decades.

— J.D. Tuccille (@JD_Tuccille) November 20, 2023

  • Will you buy your next car on Amazon?
  • Does anyone still do COVID tests?
  • File under “headlines that make me want to scream.”
  • From The Cut, 10 people share how reactions to the October 7 attacks have changed relationships with their friends and family, in ways they didn’t expect.
  • President Joe Biden turned 81 yesterday. Down with gerontocracy!
  • “Markets around the world are caught between sharply higher borrowing costs—likely here to stay—and a shortage of homes that’s keeping prices elevated,” reports Bloomberg. “That’s made housing in many areas even less affordable, while property owners with resetting loans face increasing financial strain.”

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