Silicon Valley is located between two major mountain ranges in the San Francisco Bay Area. To the west is Santa Cruz, or in Spanish Holy Cross. In the east, this mountain range is called Mount Diablo, or Devil’s Mountain.
It is not lost on many that Silicon Valley sits between geographic good and evil and that the technology it creates can be used for both purposes.
Over decades of technology creation, many companies have struggled to balance the impact of their technology for positive, practical purposes and its potential for bad actors to use it for nefarious reasons.
One of the most important issues between good and evil was illustrated by the role of technology in the creation of the atomic bomb. Although its impact ended the war with Japan in 1945, it did so at the cost of the deaths of nearly 200,000 people in 1945. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A few years ago, while I was in Hiroshima, I visited its memorial park and museum and saw photos of the horrific consequences of the impact of nuclear bombs on that region.
Today we are at a crossroads in creating a new generation of technology that sits between good and evil. While AI holds great promise for good, it also has great potential for evil.
This issue is being debated at the highest levels by government officials, academics and AI companies using AI in applications and services today.
This particular conflict was an issue that arose from the recent OpenAI shakeup. The role of its board of directors was to guide OpenAI’s need to operate its goals and ambitions within the bounds of altruism. On the other side was the for-profit side of the business, which plodded along with less thought about how AI could be used for nefarious purposes.
Many articles have been written recently about the OpenAI drama and the firing and rehiring of Sam Altman as CEO. What became apparent over the last week was the weakness of his board structure and the way he governed the company.
Now that Sam Altman is back at OpenAI, the board is being reorganized and we will likely see a Microsoft executive join that board eventually to protect his 49% stake in the company. New board members now include former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor and Larry Summers, former Treasury secretary and president of Harvard University.
Sam Altman and Microsoft, in general, will benefit the most from this new restructuring, and the for-profit division will become more essential to the company. However, Altman and the board must keep in mind the need to do everything possible to responsibly create new AI technology.
Two board members who left the board, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, director of strategy and basic research grants at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technologies, were altruistic guard dogs. But their departure leaves a void among the company’s champions of good versus evil.
It is too early to say what impact this restructuring will have on the future of OpenAI, although it seems that it is on better footing. Yet it must keep in mind the need to exercise restraint to ensure that what OpenAI creates and delivers, ultimately, keeps an eye on the need to consider altruistic guidelines in all its strategies of products.