OpenAI’s Alleged AGI Breakthrough Sparks Controversy and Leadership Ouster

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Sam Altman, former OpenAI CEO. © Sam Altman/ X (Twitter)

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman faced a four-day exile following revelations of a letter from staff researchers warning the board of directors about a potentially groundbreaking artificial intelligence discovery. The letter, which has not been made public, raised concerns about the newfound technology’s potential threat to humanity, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The undisclosed AI algorithm, referred to as Q*, is believed by some within OpenAI to be a significant step forward in the pursuit of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), defined as autonomous systems surpassing human capabilities in economically valuable tasks. The controversy surrounding Q* reportedly played a pivotal role in Altman’s removal from his position.

Sources indicate that over 700 OpenAI employees had contemplated leaving the organization in solidarity with Altman’s termination, considering joining backer Microsoft. The board’s decision to dismiss Altman was reportedly influenced by a range of grievances, including concerns about commercializing advancements without a comprehensive understanding of their potential consequences.

OpenAI, when contacted by Reuters, declined to comment on the letter but internally acknowledged the existence of project Q* and a letter to the board preceding the recent events. An official statement from OpenAI stated that the internal communication alerted staff to media reports without confirming their accuracy.

Q*, or Q-Star, is speculated to be a breakthrough in generative AI development, particularly in the realm of mathematics. While currently operating at the level of grade-school students, the model has demonstrated the ability to solve certain mathematical problems, prompting optimism among researchers about its future success.

Generative AI has excelled in tasks such as writing and language translation, relying on statistical predictions. However, conquering mathematics, where there is a singular correct answer, suggests a leap in reasoning capabilities, resembling human intelligence. This newfound ability could be applied to novel scientific research, according to AI researchers.

The researchers who wrote the letter to the board emphasized AI’s prowess and potential dangers, without specifying the exact safety concerns outlined. Concerns about the dangers posed by highly intelligent machines and their potential decisions, including the destruction of humanity, have long been discussed among computer scientists.

Furthermore, sources have confirmed the existence of an “AI scientist” team within OpenAI, amalgamating the earlier “Code Gen” and “Math Gen” teams. This group is reportedly focused on optimizing existing AI models to enhance reasoning and eventually perform scientific work.

Sam Altman, known for leading efforts to make ChatGPT one of the fastest-growing software applications, drew significant investment and computing resources from Microsoft to advance AGI research. Altman, in a recent summit in San Francisco, hinted at major advances in AI and expressed his excitement about pushing the boundaries of discovery. However, shortly thereafter, Altman was terminated by the board.

The situation at OpenAI raises questions about the delicate balance between AI advancements and ethical considerations, emphasizing the need for transparent communication and responsible development in the rapidly evolving field of artificial intelligence.