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Home / Technology / OpenAI's struggles uncover tensions between profit and purpose

OpenAI's struggles uncover tensions between profit and purpose




OpenAI's efforts to build an AGI that benefits humanity deserve much praise and press coverage, but they have also further exposed the limits of techno-utopianism.

M IT Technology Review's Karen Hao published an article this week about the lab that portrays a company that is buckling under the weight of its ambition.

Over three days in the OpenAI office, Hao discovered "A misalignment between what the company publicly represents and the way it works behind closed doors."

Changes to OpenAI

OpenAI was founded in 2015 as a nonprofit, but was restructured last year as a "capped profit" company.

The laboratory claimed this would attract the revenue it needed to fund its research, while remaining true to his mission. However, maintaining this balance has proven difficult.

[Read: Remember that scary AI text-generator that was too dangerous to release? It’s out now]

In 2018, OpenAI published a charter detailing the reoriented vision:

We will try to build a secure and beneficial AGI directly, but will also consider our mission accomplished if our work helps others achieve this result.

The charter seems to have taken on an almost biblical quality. Hao's work contains numerous religious references to the document. The text is "so sacred that employee pay depends on how well they stick to it," and CTO Greg Brockman recites it "like scripture".

OpenAIs Charter tries to give the work of the laboratory a deeper meaning. But like other religious texts, it can also be twisted to fit a new narrative – in the case of OpenAI, the need to generate revenue.

Hao suggests that OpenAI "is obsessed with maintaining secrecy, protecting its image, and maintaining the loyalty of its employees," but stops firing its humanitarian mission.

The entire piece is worth reading, as Hao's observations reflect broader concerns about balancing profit and purpose. Find it here on MIT Technology Review.


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Published on February 18, 2020 – 17:45 UTC


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