A move that has surprised many, OpenAI yesterday announced the creation of a new for-profit company to balance its huge expenditures into compute and AI talents. Sam Altman, the former president of Y Combinator who stepped down last week, has been named CEO of the new “capped-profit” company, OpenAI LP.
But some worry that this move may result in making the innovative company no different from the other AI startups out there.
With the OpenAI LP their mission is to ensure that artificial general intelligence (AGI) benefits all of humanity, primarily by attempting to build safe AGI and share the benefits with the world.
OpenAI mentions on their blog that “returns for our first round of investors are capped at 100x their investment (commensurate with the risks in front of us), and we expect this multiple to be lower for future rounds as we make further progress.” Any returns beyond the cap amount will revert to OpenAI.
OpenAI LP’s primary obligation is to advance the aims of the OpenAI Charter. All investors and employees sign agreements that OpenAI LP’s obligation to the Charter always comes first, even at the expense of some or all of their financial stake.
But the major reason behind the new for-profit subsidiary can be explicitly put up as OpenAI in need of more money. The company anticipates to spend billions of dollars in building large-scale cloud compute, attracting and retaining talented people, and developing AI supercomputers in the coming years.
The cash burn rate of a top AI research company is staggering. Consider OpenAI’s recent OpenAI Five project — a set of coordinated AI bots trained to compete against human professionals in the video game Dota 2. OpenAI rented 128,000 CPU cores and 256 GPUs at approximately US$2500 per hour for the time-consuming process of training and fine-tuning its OpenAI Five models.
Additionally consider the skyrocketing cost of retaining top AI talents. A New York Times story revealed that OpenAI paid its Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever more than US$1.9 million in 2016. The company currently employs some 100 pricey talents for developing its AI capabilities, safety, and policies.
OpenAI LP will be governed by the original OpenAI Board. Only a few on the Board of Directors are allowed to hold financial stakes, and those who do not will be able to vote on decisions if the financial interests are seen to conflict with OpenAI’s mission.
People have linked the new for-profit company with OpenAI’s recent controversial decision to withhold the code and training dataset for their language model GPT-2, ostensibly due concerns they might be used for malicious purposes such as generating fake news. A tweet from a software engineer suggested an ulterior motive: “I now see why you didn’t release the fully trained model of #gpt2”. OpenAI Chairman and CTO Greg Brockman shot back: “Nope. We aren’t going to commercialize GPT-2.”
OpenAI aims to forge a sustainable path towards long-term AI development. And it also plans to strike a balance between benefiting humanity and turning a profit. A big part of OpenAI’s appeal to top AI talents is it’s not-for-profit character — will OpenAI LP mar that? And can OpenAI really strike a balance between benefiting humanity and turning a profit?
Whether the for-profit shift will accelerate OpenAI’s mission or prove a detrimental detour remains to be seen, but the journey ahead is bound to be challenging.
OpenAI’s new versatile AI model, GPT-2 can efficiently write convincing fake news from just a few words