Elon Musk Shares Mysterious Letter About Sam Altman

Elon Musk tweeted a link to a strange letter Tuesday, supposedly written by former OpenAI employees detailing “a disturbing pattern of deceit and manipulation by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman.” Altman and Brockman, OpenAI’s CEO and president, were fired and then rehired in a dramatic failed coup that played out over the last five days. The letter (reprinted below) describes secretive and abusive behavior which, on Altman’s part, was allegedly “motivated by his grudge against Elon following their falling out.”

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As of Tuesday night, Altman has officially resumed his post as OpenAI CEO after being forced out by the company’s board, which has now been largely replaced. Former board members shared almost nothing about their reasoning, aside from describing Altman as “inconsistently candid.” Reportedly, even Microsoft CEO Satya Nadela—who’s wrapped up in a multi-billion dollar deal with the company—couldn’t get an answer about why Altman was fired.

There’s no evidence to suggest the letter shared by Musk is real. The billionaire tweeted that the letter was sent to him and “These seem like concerns worth investigating.” It may well be a hoax. However, it does include oddly specific details.

The letter is addressed to OpenAI’s board. “We are former OpenAI employees who left the company during a period of significant turmoil and upheaval,” it reads. “As you have now witnessed what happens when you dare stand up to Sam Altman, perhaps you can understand why so many of us have remained silent for fear of repercussions.” OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It alleges a pattern of abuse on behalf of Altman and Brockman “driven by their insatiable pursuit of achieving artificial general intelligence (AGI).”

For example, the letter says Altman instructed employees to hide progress on “secret” research initiatives and fired employees who questioned the practice. It claims the CEO directed “investigations” into employees without the knowledge of management, including Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, who was reportedly instrumental in firing Altman.

The letter claims that Brockman, OpenAI’s president, used “discriminatory language against a gender-transitioning team member,” who was “eventually terminated for alleged under-performance.” It suggests the company ignored complaints about the issue to protect Brockman.

Both Altman and the former board members have agreed to an “investigation” into the situation that led to his firing, according to the Verge. It’s unclear what that investigation would entail when, presumably, the members of the board could simply tell the world what the problem was.

The letter was originally shared in a link on Hacker News, which then collapsed under the weight of all the traffic. It was then reposted on GitHub by a person who told Gizmodo they copied it for archival purposes. After Musk shared the GitHub link, his army of fans filled the user’s comments with abuse and harassment. The person told Gizmodo they were forced to take the post down after GitHub’s trust and safety team refused to help. According to the person, the authors of the original letter got in touch to thank them for reposting it. The person told Gizmodo they have no idea if it’s authentic. You can read a copy of the letter at the end of this article.

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The letter must have served as some consolation for Elon Musk, who has a long and troubled history with Altman. Musk was one of the co-founders and largest donors to the company in its early years, but severed ties with the company claiming a conflict of interest over Tesla’s AI-powered self-driving car program. Altman claimed the real reason for Musk’s departure was a failed effort to take control of the company. Earlier this month, X released a new AI called Grok, an anti-woke chatbot that’s tuned to respond in cheesy and sometimes inappropriate dad humor. Musk and Altman traded barbs about their competing chatbots over the ensuing weeks.

Most of the letter focuses on Altman’s efforts to turn OpenAI into a profit-generating enterprise while only pretending to care about the potential safety concerns of charging ahead with the technology. Among the complaints, the letter cites “Sam’s discreet, yet routine exploitation of OpenAI’s non-profit resources to advance his personal goals, particularly motivated by his grudge against Elon following their falling out.”

On Tuesday night, Altman confirmed his return to the company on X, formerly known as Twitter, writing that “everything I’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together.”

Without information from the board members, it’s impossible to say what the conflict was. However, many speculate the problems stemmed from a power struggle. OpenAI was founded to build artificial intelligence with transparent operations that focused on protecting humanity from the potentially catastrophic potential of the technology. Though OpenAI is a non-profit, Altman organized a for-profit wing of the company built around ChatGPT, angering many of the organization’s idealistic employees.

Some of those employees left OpenAI to form a new AI company called Anthropic in 2021, a direct competitor that places a greater emphasis on AI safety issues. According to the Information, OpenAI’s board approached Anthropic about a merger after firing Altman. The New York Times reports Altman tried to have Helen Toner removed from the board in the weeks before his firing after she published an academic paper that criticized OpenAI while praising Anthropic.

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11/21/2023

To the Board of Directors of OpenAI:

We are writing to you today to express our deep concern about the recent events at OpenAI, particularly the allegations of misconduct against Sam Altman.

We are former OpenAI employees who left the company during a period of significant turmoil and upheaval. As you have now witnessed what happens when you dare stand up to Sam Altman, perhaps you can understand why so many of us have remained silent for fear of repercussions. We can no longer stand by silent.

We believe that the Board of Directors has a duty to investigate these allegations thoroughly and take appropriate action. We urge you to:

* Expand the scope of Emmett’s investigation to include an examination of Sam Altman’s actions since August 2018, when OpenAI began transitioning from a non-profit to a for-profit entity.

* Issue an open call for private statements from former OpenAI employees who resigned, were placed on medical leave, or were terminated during this period.

* Protect the identities of those who come forward to ensure that they are not subjected to retaliation or other forms of harm.

We believe that a significant number of OpenAI employees were pushed out of the company to facilitate its transition to a for-profit model. This is evidenced by the fact that OpenAI’s employee attrition rate between January 2018 and July 2020 was in the order of 50%.

Throughout our time at OpenAI, we witnessed a disturbing pattern of deceit and manipulation by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, driven by their
insatiable pursuit of achieving artificial general intelligence (AGI). Their methods, however, have raised serious doubts about their true intentions and the extent to which they genuinely prioritize the benefit of all humanity.

Many of us, initially hopeful about OpenAI’s mission, chose to give Sam and Greg the benefit of the doubt. However, as their actions became increasingly concerning, those who dared to voice their concerns were silenced or pushed out. This systematic silencing of dissent created an environment of fear and intimidation, effectively stifling any meaningful discussion about the ethical implications of OpenAI’s work.

We provide concrete examples of Sam and Greg’s dishonesty & manipulation including:

* Sam’s demand for researchers to delay reporting progress on specific “secret” research initiatives, which were later dismantled for failing to deliver sufficient results quickly enough. Those who questioned this practice were dismissed as “bad culture fits” and even terminated, some just before Thanksgiving 2019.

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* Greg’s use of discriminatory language against a gender-transitioning team member. Despite many promises to address this issue, no meaningful action was taken, except for Greg simply avoiding all communication with the affected individual, effectively creating a hostile work environment. This team member was eventually terminated for alleged under-performance.

* Sam directing IT and Operations staff to conduct investigations into employees, including Ilya, without the knowledge or consent of management.

* Sam’s discreet, yet routine exploitation of OpenAI’s non-profit
resources to advance his personal goals, particularly motivated by his grudge against Elon following their falling out.

* The Operations team’s tacit acceptance of the special rules that applied to Greg, navigating intricate requirements to avoid being blacklisted.

* Brad Lightcap’s unfulfilled promise to make public the documents detailing OpenAI’s capped-profit structure and the profit cap for each investor.

* Sam’s incongruent promises to research projects for compute quotas, causing internal distrust and infighting.

Despite the mounting evidence of Sam and Greg’s transgressions, those who remain at OpenAI continue to blindly follow their leadership, even at significant personal cost. This unwavering loyalty stems from a
combination of fear of retribution and the allure of potential financial gains through OpenAI’s profit participation units.

The governance structure of OpenAI, specifically designed by Sam and Greg, deliberately isolates employees from overseeing the for-profit operations, precisely due to their inherent conflicts of interest. This opaque structure enables Sam and Greg to operate with impunity, shielded from accountability.

We urge the Board of Directors of OpenAI to take a firm stand against these unethical practices and launch an independent investigation into Sam and Greg’s conduct. We believe that OpenAI’s mission is too important to be compromised by the personal agendas of a few individuals.

We implore you, the Board of Directors, to remain steadfast in your commitment to OpenAI’s original mission and not succumb to the pressures of profit-driven interests. The future of artificial intelligence and the well-being of humanity depend on your unwavering commitment to ethical leadership and transparency.

Sincerely,

Concerned Former OpenAI Employees

### Contact
 
We encourage former OpenAI employees to contact us at [email protected].
We personally guarantee everyone’s anonymity in any internal deliberations and public communications.
 
### Further Updates

Updates will be posted at https://board.net/p/r.e6a8f6578787a4cc67d4dc438c6d236e

### Further Reading for the General Public

* https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/02/17/844721/ai-openai-moonshot-elon-musk-sam-altman-greg-brockman-messy-secretive-reality/

* https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2023/11/sam-altman-open-ai-chatgpt-chaos/676050/

*https://twitter.com/geoffreyirving/status/1726754277618491416

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