Three OpenAI board members resigned earlier this year within months of each other, but the startup hasn’t found replacements. One of the current members, former Facebook CTO and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, launched an AI chatbot platform, Poe, which leverages – but also competes with – OpenAI products. And two members, Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, have ties to the same ideological philanthropic organization.
These are some of the takeaways from a recent article on Substack by John Loeber, co-founder of digital brokerage firm Limit, who delved into OpenAI’s Internet archives and tax returns to get a idea of OpenAI governance. His timeline paints a picture of a board whose composition changed frequently, often without warning, precipitating the current crisis.
Early in OpenAI’s history — around December 2015 — OpenAI’s board of directors consisted of two people, co-chairs Elon Musk and Sam Altman. As of March 2017, the board numbered four: Musk, Altman, Chris Clark (OpenAI’s first COO), and Holden Karnofksy, founder of the effective altruism research and grantmaking foundation Open Philanthropy .
Greg Brockman, former president of OpenAI, joined the OpenaI board of directors in late 2017 alongside Ilya Sutskever, chief scientist of OpenAI. The board would shrink the following year after Musk’s removal – reportedly due to leadership disagreements – and Clark’s unexpected departure, but would expand again in 2018 and 2019 with the addition of D’Angelo, Google’s director of robotics projects, Sue Yoon (who would only be leaving for a year). later), LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Neuralink director Shivon Zilis.
In 2021, Republican House member Will Hurd and Helen Toner, director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technologies at Georgetown, joined them while Karnofsky resigned. Karnofsky cited a potential conflict of interest because his wife, Daniela Amodei, a former OpenAI employee, helped launch the AI company Anthropic.
Given that Toner previously worked as a senior research analyst at Open Philanthropy, Loeber speculates that Karnofsky might have supported her replacement.
This year, Hoffman resigned from OpenAI’s board of directors, he said, to avoid possible conflicts with other investments. Zilis also resigned, as did Hurd – the latter to focus on the 2024 US presidential campaign.
Then there were six: Altman, Brockman, D’Angelo, Toner, McCauley and Sutskever. As of Friday, four remained on the OpenAI board – the previous six minus Altman and Brockman. So what to think?
Loeber claims that D’Angelo had reason to resign given that Poe arguably competes more directly with OpenAI’s products and services, including the recently announced GPT studio, than even with Hoffman’s investments.
McCauley, meanwhile, is a co-founder of the Center for the Governance of AI (GovAI), which is funded in part by Open Philanthropy – and she, along with Toner, is a member of GovAI’s advisory board. Aside from the fact that Anthropic is partly funded by Open Philanthropy, which has a tinge of corporate conflict, it is not out of the question that McCauley and Toner are closely ideologically aligned and therefore perhaps not as independent of mind within the OpenAI Board of Directors. might appear initially.
Perhaps in the days and weeks to come, we will learn how these potential conflicts and interactions contributed to OpenAI’s undoing – if at all.