How to talk about the OpenAI drama at Thanksgiving dinner

You have just landed in Dayton, Ohio after a long, overnight journey from SFO. As you wait in Denver on a layover, you check your phone to see the news: after nearly a week of confusion and uncertainty, Sam Altman has been reinstated as CEO of OpenAI.

The good news is that the Slack workspace of the small tech startup you work for will stop flooding with memes, some of which are actually good. Your colleagues may know how to code, but they don’t always have an eye for humor. As content as you are, living your dreams in Silicon Valley, it’s always good to go home and get back to basics.

Mother: “Oh, my only child! I’m so glad you’re home! San Francisco is too far!”

You hug your mom and tell her how great it feels to be back. Your dad does that awkward bro hug thing where you hold hands and then pat each other on the back, because even though it’s normal to say you love your dad — the guy who literally raised you and change your baby diapers. and coaching your Little League team until you realize that computer science is more interesting to you than baseball — you’ve been socialized as a boy, and therefore, you can’t tell your dad you love him.

Dad: “Busy week, huh? I see the Sam Altman guy is back, what’s going on there?

There it is. You don’t really want to talk about it – startup life is hard and tough, and if you love what you’re doing, you want to take a few days away from it all.

“Oh, yes, I’ll tell you later, just let me put my bags!” you say.

You walk upstairs to your childhood bedroom. There is a “Big Bang Theory” poster, which makes you feel very embarrassed, but you were in middle school when you bought it.

You go back downstairs and start chopping some vegetables to help your dad, whose hands are covered in turkey. The doorbell rang, and suddenly, the whole family entered.

Uncle Steve: “Hey! Long time no see! It’s great for us now that you’re working at Facebook?”

You do the bro hug thing again, then make it clear that you don’t work at Facebook, and in fact the company is called Meta now, but you’re actually excited about the B2B SaaS company you work for, and —

Uncle Steve: “Oh yeah, that Elon Musk, he’s something isn’t he? Changing the name of Facebook to Meta?”

You correct him that, in fact, Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Meta, but yes, Elon Musk bought Twitter and changed its name to X, and went really crazy. Your college roommate, Pablo, got laid off last year and was very depressed, and he finally found it, but at one point you even tried to get him a job at your B2B SaaS company. , which works wonders. —

Uncle Steve: “Yeah! That’s the Tesla man! But that AI thing, huh? What happened there?”

Here it comes. The OpenAI conversation.

Mercifully, your aunt intervened.

Aunt Carol: “Oh, Steve, it’s too early to talk! How is life outside? Do you have a girlfriend?”

Somehow, your Aunt Carol found the only topic you wanted to talk about that wasn’t so much OpenAI. Life is very busy at the start, and you’re sure to be your Tinder Elo score low because you hardly ever open the app, and maybe that’s why you don’t get many matches? So, you pivot.

“Yeah, things at OpenAI are really crazy. They just randomly fired the CEO Sam Altman out of nowhere, and nobody knows why, and then the president resigned too. The angry investors, because suddenly this company that was supposed to make them crazy rich is in trouble, and no one knows how long this whole ordeal will take. Microsoft has a huge stake in OpenAI, so they offered Sam and Greg jobs, but almost everyone working at OpenAI said they would quit if Sam wasn’t brought back, so it was a whirlwind… Oh, hey, ‘ game on?”

You took your aunt and uncle into the living room and turned on the TV. You’re not much of a football head, but you know enough to get by. When you first graduated college and worked in consulting, you studied football scores to have something to talk about at networking events, and sure enough, that’s what landed you your current job at this interesting B2B startup. SaaS that actually –

Uncle Steve: “Go Buckeyes!”

Your attention turns to football. As you learned during your summer session at Wharton, the best way to lead a conversation is to ask people about the things they want.

“I saw about some purchase at Texas A&M, what’s going on there?”

Uncle Steve: “So, at halftime, Texas A&M was presented with this huge $165 million check from a donor, and the next day, guess what? They fired their coach, Jimbo Fisher, and gave him and $76 million to buy out his contract! Sounds like something is going to happen in your world, huh? By the way, I still don’t understand the whole OpenAI thing. They made that Chat GTX, right?

Oh no. Like many things you learn in the Wharton summer program, your knowledge comes back.

Your cousin Jennifer tore her eyes away from her phone and spoke for the first time.

Cousin Jennifer: “No, dad, it’s ChatGPT, and Kayla uses it to write her college essays and she still got in.”

You excuse yourself to continue helping your parents prepare Thanksgiving dinner. As you peel the potatoes – being careful to keep the skin away from you, instead of towards you – the doorbell rings again. This is your Aunt Pat, who works for a medical billing company in Cleveland.

As you greet him and walk him into the family room, where the game is, he tries to talk.

Aunt Pat: “Everyone at work is talking about AI! We use that Salesforce Einstein all the time. So, has OpenAI gotten a new CEO?

“Oh, um, Sam Altman is back now, but before that, they appointed Emmett Shear, who founded Twitch. That’s a livestream platform that’s owned by Amazon, a lot of people use it to -stream video games etc. Yes, people like to watch other people play video games.

Cousin Jennifer: “Yes, my boyfriend is a VTuber.”

You hope your aunts and uncles take the obvious bait and ask Jennifer what the hell a VTuber is. That will buy you a few solid minutes of peace. And VTubers are way cooler than AI executives. But no one follows it. You ask if Jennifer’s boyfriend has a mocap setup, if –

Uncle Steve: “Wait, does anyone know what that Sam guy has been up to?”

“We don’t know yet, but the COO Brad Lightcap said that most of the management team had no idea, and that it was definitely not any kind of breach of security or financial standards. It is possible that it all comes from ideology. Some people think that Sam is too aggressive in developing smarter AI as soon as possible, and in theory, OpenAI should build AI responsibly, and maybe he is too fast to be responsible? But there’s this whole faction that thinks we can’t slow down the inevitable, so everyone’s fighting online about it. The official reason given by the board is that he is not transparent with them, but that might mean something! Personally, I’m just glad they got it all sorted out before Thanksgiving, so I am relax and stop thinking about everything. Oh, I need to see if mom needs help with the saucepan.”

They didn’t get the hint.

Aunt Pat: “Don’t be silly, when we arrived, I saw that the saucepan was no longer in the oven. So, what do you think of all this AI stuff? It definitely makes my job easier, but I don’t want it to take over my job, if you know what I mean!”

“It’s hard to say at this point. At the moment, I think it’s difficult for generative AI to copy human creativity, but it can really automate tasks that take longer for humans to complete, which makes sense as to why it can help you at work. By the way, how is work?”

Aunt Pat: “Oh, it’s a holiday, I don’t want to talk about work. So, I heard a lot of layoffs in the Bay, do you think your job is safe?

“Yes, actually, I think what my company is working on is very groundbreaking, and innovation is the best job security. We are a B2B SaaS startup and what makes us different is that –”

Aunt Pat: “Wait, isn’t there something about the board structure that makes this whole thing so confusing? What happened to the OpenAI board again?”

You can smell the unmistakable smell of turkey coming from the oven. You took it, knowing that in a few moments, your interrogation would be over.

“Uh, OpenAI is kind of tax-free packaged by a holding company that has a majority stake in OpenAI? It’s a bit confusing. But it’s kind of trying to be a charity and a for -profit tech giant at the same time, but the nonprofit arm has control over the for-profit arm, which makes it possible to randomly fire the CEO. This is completely different from how companies like Meta operate, because Mark Zuckerberg owns so much of the company that it is impossible for the board to fire him.

Dad: “Dinner is almost here! Start your way to the table!”

Oh boy, it’s dinner! You spend your time bringing every dish to the table, minimizing the time you spend alone with your relatives, who never stop asking you about OpenAI. As everyone eats their plates, the conversation slows down, and finally, you can enjoy the peace of going home.

Uncle Steve kept making “aaah” noises every time he drank his wine. You don’t think there’s anything he can do to piss you off tonight, but hey, it’s family, right? Suddenly, he raised his eyebrows as if he remembered something.

“So,” asked your uncle. “What’s the deal with that CZ fella?”

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