Box CEO on OpenAI: “Don’t have weird corporate structures”


When OpenAI’s board ousted CEO Sam Altman over a reported disagreement, claiming he was “not consistently candid,” it left many onlookers scratching their head. How could such a thing occur to one of the most buzzy startups in Silicon Valley? The surprise firing highlighted the bizarre corporate structure at the $86 billion startup where the nonprofit controls the for-profit subsidiary. This structure has drawn criticism from plenty of tech characters including Box CEO Aaron Levie. From tweets to the stage, Levie doubled down on his stance regarding OpenAI’s unorthodox structure at Fortune‘s Brainstorm AI conference in San Francisco on Monday.

“If you just look at the ratio of the amount of drama to the amount of takeaways, the ratio is way off,” Levie said on stage. “The main takeaway is, don’t have weird corporate structures. It never ends well.”

At the heart of the dispute at OpenAI was a reported clash of perspectives on the trajectory of artificial intelligence growth. On one side stood the effective altruist faction, to which former board member Helen Toner subscribed, that worries about a doomsday-like scenario where AI could destroy the world. On the opposing front there are effective accelerationism (e/acc) enthusiasts, believing in AI’s potential to positively transform our world and advocating for an expedited development. It wasn’t that black and white internally, but that seems to be the layman’s gist of the dispute.

Levie highlighted these two growing factions within Silicon Valley, and while he leans more towards acceleration, he said his biggest takeaway from the philosophies is that we need to “land the plane as an ecosystem on this topic ASAP.” There’s “tens of thousands of products” that rely on OpenAI, giving rise to a community of companies whose own fortunes have become deeply entwined in the success of OpenAI.

Take Khan Academy founder Salman Khan, who described earlier Monday at Brainstorm AI, how his team had to reach out to “the highest levels of contacts” they had at Microsoft to make sure that they wouldn’t have an interruption of service as a result of the boardroom drama.

Levie highlights this dependence as a key reason why so much drama was kicked up, with so many figures rallying behind the success of OpenAI and Altman.

“It was not your classic sort of leadership struggle or dynamic,” Levie said.

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