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In today’s edition, sources tell us that the reason behind his ouster made it impossible for directo͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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November 29, 2023
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Technology

Technology
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Reed Albergotti
Reed Albergotti

Hi, and welcome back to Semafor Tech.

The world of AI is moving so fast. I’m at the Amazon Web Services conference this week, surrounded by execs and entrepreneurs deep into this universe. Several have remarked that the drama at OpenAI seems like a year ago in AI time. But for employees at the company, it’s not over yet, as you’ll read below. Louise and I have some new details on how workers there view the situation and where several are thinking of going.

What’s clear from talking to dozens of OpenAI’s customers in Las Vegas is that the AI world is fragmenting into a million parts. Most people see that as a good thing. The alternative is that only a few players are able to grab control of the burgeoning industry. The turmoil at OpenAI makes the odds of it remaining the dominant player less likely.

Move Fast/Break Things
Reuters/Paxson Woelber

➚ MOVE FAST: Extending. In a first, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that a longevity drug has a “reasonable expectation of effectiveness.” Biotech startup Loyal developed LOY-001 to extend the lifespan of dogs, but similar drugs could also potentially help do the same for humans in the future.

➘ BREAK THINGS: Ending. Apple and Goldman Sachs will be going their separate ways. The iPhone maker will likely get another credit card partner, but the relationship has been a lesson for the tech giant on the complexities of consumer finance.

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Artificial Flavor

Two of the biggest controversies in the tech world this week are about AI-generated people. The organizer of a software engineering conference was accused of inventing female speakers, while Sports Illustrated was found to be publishing articles written by fabricated authors. These types of AI sock puppet accounts are not entirely new: This Person Does Not Exist, a website that automatically generates fake human faces, has been around since 2019.

What’s different now is that AI can be used to generate both a character’s physical appearance and the work they produce. For example, a synthetic pop star named Anna Indiana released a song and music video last week that her anonymous creator claims were made entirely with automated tools. The reception wasn’t great, but it’s hard to imagine that elaborate AI personas won’t become increasingly common, including in cases where someone is trying to pass them off as real flesh and blood.

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Louise Matsakis and Reed Albergotti

OpenAI staff uneasy after Sam Altman’s return

THE SCENE

A week after Sam Altman resumed his role as OpenAI’s CEO, the most salient explanation for the board’s decision to fire him remains the only one it has publicly given so far, leaving some OpenAI employees feeling uneasy, people familiar with the matter said.

The board said at that time that Altman was “not consistently candid in his communications,” which one of the people said on Wednesday made it impossible for directors to uphold OpenAI’s mission to ensure advanced AI benefits all of humanity.

But the lack of details has been unnerving for some OpenAI workers. A number of them began pursuing job opportunities at competing AI companies even after it was clear Altman would return. For instance, a person familiar with the matter said that Cohere has received several inquiries from OpenAI employees in recent days.

“We are happy that Sam is back but we are still in the dark about a lot of things,” a senior OpenAI staffer told Semafor. “We’ve been told repeatedly that the heart of the board’s dispute with Sam was not over AI safety, but we haven’t been told what that is. So things still feel shaky.”

Reuters/Carlos Barria

As part of the deal to return, Altman agreed for OpenAI’s new nonprofit board of directors to commission an independent investigation into the events surrounding his outster. He and fellow OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman also did not retain their board seats, which they initially pushed to keep, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

The person said that the board did not fire Altman because of risks posed by OpenAI’s technology, nor was it worried about the pace of the company’s AI advancements. The members also never received a letter from staff researchers about a breakthrough called Q* as had been reported earlier by some news outlets.

For now, OpenAI’s research team is back working on their laptops, which had been locked during the five-day saga last week over fears that staff would possibly copy the company’s codebase or other intellectual property, other people familiar with the matter said.

A spokesperson for OpenAI declined to comment.

— Gina Chon contributed to this report

 

Why Reed thinks OpenAI's defensive moat is now more shallow. →

 

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Live Journalism

Dec 5 | Principals Live with Mathias Döpfner | Virtual

Join Semafor’s Founding Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons and Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner for a virtual conversation about the role of trade in autocracies. Döpfner’s latest book, The Trade Trap, argues that free trade has strengthened dictators while undermining a rules-based world order. RSVP to get the link to watch.


Dec 7 | Finding Common Ground on AI: A Bicoastal Exchange | Washington, D.C.

The East and West Coasts are talking about the future differently. In Silicon Valley, AI is viewed as the latest tech invention that will disrupt business and society. On the East Coast, there is fear about the threats it might pose. Next week, we’ll sit down with leading executives and top policymakers to find common ground between their perspectives on AI. RSVP to join us in Washington D.C.


Dec 13 | The State of Made in America | Washington, D.C.

On Dec. 13, Join Semafor’s editors for a convening of the top voices and policymakers across government, labor, business and beyond for a series of critical and timely debates about how manufacturing capacity, supply chain production, and trade policies are changing the U.S. and global economies. RSVP to join us in Washington D.C.

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Semafor Stat

Percentage of time on the app that TikTok users now spend watching videos longer than a minute, according to The Information. The short-form content platform is becoming more like YouTube, which has long incentivized creators to develop lengthier videos with a greater number of ads. But YouTube has recently been pushing its abridged video feature Shorts, making the platform look more like TikTok.

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Enthusiasms

National Cancer Institute

A new study by researchers in China, the U.S., and the Czech Republic showed promising evidence that pancreatic cancer can be more easily detected using deep learning. Called PANDA (Pancreatic Cancer Detection with Artificial Intelligence), the technique performed better than doctors at finding early signs of the cancer, which kills around a half million people a year due, in part, to lack of early detection.

Other studies have shown AI can find breast cancer, heart disease and other ailments. It seems it is more a question of when, rather than if, most disease detection will eventually happen by machine. But humans will remain in the loop until the technology reaches mass adoption.

In the U.S., where many people have disposable income and abysmal healthcare, the technology could catch on quickly, especially when companies like Forward begin offering what are essentially robo doctors. The next step will be deploying the tech in the developing world.

Reed

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