If your head is still spinning, pause for a second to reflect on a few key lessons on the OpenAI boardroom drama. While some aspects may have been avoided or predictable, upon reflection, the following important ideas deserve more attention:
Boards matter: When OpenAI had important decisions to make, it seemed like there were few adults in the room. Or that the decisions were bigger than the board members themselves, or the board did not consult with outside experts or advisors to make careful and deliberate decisions. The back-and-forth nature of the announcements seems to not only reflect a lack of decision-making or leadership but also any advice or thoughtfulness. When deciding to invest, examination of the board members, their experience and their advisors should be a crucial part of any due diligence. Intraboard dynamic is an often-overlooked issue too. Clearly the new OpenAI board is an effort to fix these problems.
Documents matter: Microsoft is reported to have invested over $13 billion but apparently had no say in how OpenAI was run or even notice of Sam Altman's firing as chief executive officer. This could almost seem to be some sort of corporate malfeasance, but perhaps there was an understanding. Careful investing requires careful and explicit documentation of the terms and conditions of the investment. This is especially important when things go wrong. Sure, people can be trusted, but documents can be enforced against entities. Carefully and clearly worded documents are key to enforcing these rights against those entities.
Money matters: Once Sam Altman was fired, he and his team were lured to Microsoft in part because they have the resources and understanding required to immediately duplicate the efforts of a robust global competitive AI company. That is why Altman said he would join Microsoft after he was fired. That is why over 700 OpenAI employees signed a letter to quit and likely follow him over to Microsoft. As the eventual endgame became clear to whatever board was left at OpenAI, they capitulated. Despite any previous disadvantages and mistakes, Microsoft's virtually unlimited money seemed to trump them all.
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