A brief history of OpenAI

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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in news?
  • What is OpenAI?

Why in news?

  • Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, in a post on X, said the company has hired OpenAI co-founders Sam Altman and Greg Brockman to lead a new advanced AI research team.
  • The announcement came just hours after OpenAI’s board of directors said Altman would not be returning to his job.
  • The sudden ouster of Altman blindsided not only OpenAI’s employees but also its biggest investors like Microsoft.


  • The Start
    • OpenAI was set up in December 2015 as a non-profit AI research organisation whose goal was to develop “artificial general intelligence,” or AGI.
      • AGI is essentially software that’s as smart as humans.
    • The organisation said it wanted to ensure that AGI benefits all of humanity and no big tech company, like Google, would master the technology and monopolise its benefits.
  • Founding members
    • Among its founding members were Altman, Brockman, Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, Amazon Web Services, Infosys, rightwing tech billionaire Peter Thiel and Elon Musk.
    • They collectively pledged a whopping $ 1 billion to the venture.
  • The evolution
    • Around two years after its inception, OpenAI released a report titled ‘Improving Language Understanding by Generative Pre-Training.’
    • This introduced the idea of Generative Pre-trained Transformers (GPTs).
    • A GPT is a neural network, or a machine learning model, which functions like a human brain and is trained on input, such as large data sets, to produce outputs, meaning answers to users’ questions.
  • Challenges
    • In order to build on its idea, the organisation had to incur infrastructure and compensation costs, making it a difficult task to run OpenAI as a non-profit.
    • Therefore, in 2019, “OpenAI ‘transitioned’ into two organisations:
      • a ‘capped-profit’ organisation called OpenAI Global LLC (in which the return on any investment was capped at 100 times the original amount); and
      • OpenAI Inc, the non-profit sole controlling shareholder in OpenAI Global LLC.
    • Notably, even after establishing a for-profit subsidiary, OpenAI continued to work towards its core mission: to control the development of AGI to “benefit all humanity”.
      • This meant that all the investors and employees were subject to that mission above anything else, including the for-profit company.
  • The breakout
    • OpenAI made headlines in November last year after it released a free preview of ChatGPT, which was based on the GPT-3.5 architecture.
    • More than a million people signed up for the preview in the first five days, making it a huge success.
  • The crisis
    • The success, however, sparked tensions among OpenAI’s top leadership, i.e., board members.
    • According to a media report, board members were increasingly worried about the potential dangers that the company’s technology posed to society.
    • They also felt that Altman wasn’t focusing enough on these risks and was more concerned about building OpenAI’s business.
    • On November 18, the rift culminated with the ouster of Altman.
      • Unlike other private companies, OpenAI’s board of directors have the power to decide the company’s leadership without the influence of its investors.
    • Recently, more than 500 of OpenAI’s 770 employees signed an open letter calling on the board to resign.
      • The letter accused the board of being incapable of overseeing OpenAI.

Q1) What is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)?

Artificial general intelligence (AGI) is a hypothetical form of artificial intelligence (AI) that can learn and think like a human. AGI can mimic human sensory and motor skills, performance, learning, and intelligence.

Q2) What is GPT-3.5 architecture?

GPT-3.5 is a language model that uses a neural network and deep learning to produce human-like text. It's an advanced version of the GPT-3 model and can perform a variety of language tasks, including: Text completion, Question answering, Language translation, Code generation, Natural language understanding.

Source: A brief history of OpenAI — and what led to Sam Altman’s ouster