After a tumultuous time for OpenAI, you would be forgiven for not knowing who is at the helm of one the most notable names in artificial intelligence (AI) right now. As the dust begins to settle from the Sam Altman firing and rehiring saga, we reach out to the industry to find out what the future of AI holds.
Amassing over 1.4 billion site visits in August 2023 alone, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has emerged as one of the most recognisable names in the industry. In fact, a survey conducted by Statista Consumer Insights revealed that 20.9 per cent of 18 to 64-year-old US citizens have tried the tool, with 89 per cent stating they would use it again.
A popular product like this usually has a figurehead associated with it. Tesla has Elon Musk and Meta (previously Facebook) has Mark Zuckerberg. In OpenAI and ChatGPT’s case, the figurehead is Sam Altman.
In 2015, Altman helped co-found OpenAI as a non-profit. Four years later, a for-profit branch was launched, although it had a cap; Microsoft invested $1billion in the venture.
However, in November 2023, the board of directors, consisting of chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, independent directors Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Helen Toner, announced that Sam Altman would depart as the company’s CEO and leave the board of directors. Mira Murati, chief technology officer, OpenAI would serve as interim CEO.
This was a result of poor communication between Altman and the board. In the announcement, OpenAI said: “He [Altman] was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
Co-founder, president and chair of the board at the company, Greg Brockman stepped down from his role as chair of the board. He later announced that he had left the company in solidarity with Altman
Though it has not been explicitly explained what Altman wasn’t candid about, there have been a variety of rumours. Eyal Moldovan, CEO and co-founder of 40Seas, the cross-border trade finance firm, said: “There has been rife speculation that a breakthrough AI discovery had been made that, if mishandled, could have serious implications for humanity. If true, disclosure of this discovery should be made so the rest of the industry has a true gauge on the state of play in the AI arena.”
Although many people may not be aware of it, AI has largely already been integrated into our lives says Stephen Johnson, CEO and founder of the quality engineering consultancy Roq. Explaining how the move could impact fears surrounding the tech, he said: “Current AI overhype and speculation fuels public scepticism of an already embedded technology. Whilst the true advancements are unknown, like all great inventions, you can either embrace or resist it.”
While a certain proportion of consumers may reject the idea of AI innovation, the employees at OpenAI certainly don’t. Following Altman’s departure, Evan Morikawa, an engineering manager at OpenAI revealed on X that 743 employees out of roughly 750 had signed a letter of discontent, accusing the board of undermining the company’s work. Even board member (now ex-board member), Sutskever, chief scientist at OpenAI signed the letter.
743 now. >95% of the company https://t.co/7MMUvWaTWq
— Evan Morikawa (@E0M) November 20, 2023
Murati tweeted on X, along with a multitude of colleagues, that “OpenAI is nothing without its people”. This show of solidarity with Altman resulted in her being replaced as interim CEO by Emmett Shear.
During this time, Microsoft showed its support of Altman, offering both him and Brockman roles in its AI research team.
However, within 48 hours of the letter being signed, Altman was reinstated as the company’s CEO, with nearly the entire board being replaced. In a company blog, Altman said: “I am returning to OpenAI as CEO. Mira [Murati] will return to her role as CTO. The new initial board will consist of Bret Taylor (chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo.”
D’Angelo is the only remaining member from the previous board.
Impact on fintech
Research from Moody’s Analytics has revealed that fintech is the leading sector for AI adoption and readiness in risk and compliance. Eighteen per cent of fintech respondents said they actively use AI. This is double the percentage of respondents across all surveyed sectors (nine per cent).
Seeing how intertwined AI is in the fintech industry, we wanted to find out the outcome of OpenAI’s hectic week might impact the ecosystem.
Fintech bond is strong
According to mobile banking app myTU‘s CTO and co-founder, Tomas Navickas, it would take a lot more than a change at the helm to impact the development of AI within the fintech sphere: “The bonds with AI are strong but not so fragile as to be impacted by transient events in one company, even one as influential as OpenAI.
“The real excitement lies in the future of AI competition – that’s what will truly drive innovation and growth in both AI and fintech sectors. In short, the AI industry is too big, too important to collapse, and its stability ensures that fintech will continue to thrive alongside it.”
A messy situation
However, not everyone was as optimistic. Chris Heard, CEO and co-founder at Olive Technologies, the AI evaluation platform, shared some concerns surrounding the technology’s reliability. Looking at how the executives’ actions reflect on the technology, he said: “The lack of a unified approach to AI, as seen by OpenAI’s messy firing and rehiring of Altman, raises immediate questions about the reliability of the technology and its creators.
“After OpenAI’s actions last week, we can anticipate a slowdown in the continued adoption of AI by fintech organisations — at least until a more structured approach to AI development and deployment emerges.
“Just as the financial sector hesitated to embrace novel technologies like cryptocurrency, it will exercise even greater caution when considering the balance between AI innovation and risk management. Fintech tends to stray away from risk, and this situation just raised a lot of red flags.”
Public challenges could sway adoption
Sharing concerns, Kevin Bobowski, CMO at Aware HQ, the AI data platform said: “Last week’s events obviously call into question the stability of OpenAI and its governance going forward. In particular, it drew attention to its unusual company structure and asked if there weren’t fundamental contradictions in how the company functions. For customers, this adds to ongoing concerns about data security and privacy within OpenAI’s flagship products like ChatGPT and DALL·E.
These are concerns that highly regulated industries, such as the financial sector, must address before deploying OpenAI products, especially ChatGPT. While the potential of generative AI to accelerate workflows by enhancing employee onboarding, building chatbots, and performing data analysis is enticing, it cannot come at the expense of increased risk for the company and its customer data.
Large language models (LLMs) like GPT-4 will not escape data privacy concerns anytime soon, as their very nature requires billions of tokens to train. This means the data they use – and the outputs they create – are almost impossible to trace or audit, a feature paramount to the fintech industry. Instead, the financial sector is already turning from LLMs in favour of targeted language models built for their specific use cases.
The very public challenges faced by OpenAI will accelerate the move away from LLMs such as ChatGPT as companies wake up to the immense value of the data they hold and the risks of feeding it into massive AI models. Instead, industries like fintech will start to increase the pursuit and adoption of targeted languages models purpose-built and trained on their own proprietary data to produce accurate and nuanced results, far surpassing the generic use cases solved for by most LLMs.
Underlying optimism for new technologies
Others in the industry saw the news as an opportunity to stoke the fire in the innovation furnace, believing it could accelerate the development of new technologies. Henry Lindemann, COO and co-founder of BlueFlame AI, the generative AI platform for alternative investment managers, said: Now that the dust has settled, we expect to see OpenAI focus on releasing the new tools and capabilities announced in November at DevDay 2023.
“Considering the turmoil, OpenAI is likely to accelerate development, which could have a significant impact on the fintech industry as AI deployments sharply increase and the market moves toward ‘productionising’ AI in 2024.
“The fintech industry should view these events as an impetus to accelerate their own AI initiatives with solutions tailored for the space that focus on integrating AI into day-to-day activities and existing workflows to complement and elevate human decision-making. This is a great opportunity for fintechs to map out their AI journey, define new use cases and implement novel strategies for the sector.
“A few things we think everyone should consider: Being LLM agnostic, ensuring you have a business resiliency plan in case your preferred provider is unavailable for any reason, and having client communications and contingency planning ready to go so that you can ensure that your operations – and more importantly, your client’s operations – are minimally impacted.”