Who is Emmett Shear, the new CEO of OpenAI?

By Chicago 10 Min Read


A sudden and seismic leadership crisis at OpenAI has led to a revolving door of CEOs at the artificial intelligence company, with tech entrepreneur Emmett Shear becoming the latest to take the helm on Monday.

A few days earlier, OpenAI’s board suddenly made a decision ousted then-CEO Sam Altmaninstalling the Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati as interim CEO. As the “Game of Thrones”-style drama unfolded over the weekend, questions swirled about Altman’s fate. But by Monday morning Altman had accepted a I work at Microsoft, the technology giant with a sizable investment in OpenAI; Shear was named interim CEO; AND hundreds of OpenAI employees – including Murati – called for the resignation of the board and threatened to follow Altman to Microsoft.

The extraordinary events of the last 60 hours raise profound questions about the future of OpenAI, the company, with its unusual hybrid structure between non-profit and for-profit, which first brought ChatGPT to the world and kicked off a global debate on the promises of generative artificial intelligence. and danger.

Now, picking up the pieces of OpenAI will be Shear, the 40-year-old co-founder of video game live streaming company Twitch. Monday, Shear announced he had accepted the role of interim CEO because he believes that OpenAI “is one of the most important companies currently in existence”.

Whether it can stay that way depends on what Shear does next.

After leaving Twitch earlier this year to care for his newborn son, Shear takes the reins of a hollowed-out company that has lost key cofounders and senior employees and is in danger of losing many more. He will have to deal with a potentially moribund board of directors who voted to trigger the crisis and who would have seen the hypothetical collapse of OpenAI as a positive outcome that it would serve the very mission of the company.

As Shear works to investigate the events that led to Altman’s firing, she must not only refocus a core team and save the company’s position as a leading AI developer – in an industry that changes dramatically with Altman’s departure – but also redefine what OpenAI represents in a vast global debate about the risks and benefits of artificial intelligence and how to regulate it.

“When the board shared the situation and asked me to take on the role, I did not make the decision lightly,” Shear said in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “In the end I felt I had a duty to help if I could.”

Although he was known for launching a social media company acquired by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million, Shear has become an increasingly outspoken commentator on artificial intelligence, and some of his earlier writings and remarks offer a window into his management style and philosophy on the risks of artificial intelligence.

Shear’s first company, a calendar startup called Kiko, graduated from the Y Combinator program in 2005, part of an initial group of companies that also included Reddit and Loopt, a location-based social network founded by Altman.

The Yale-educated computer scientist, entrepreneur and investor describes himself as a regular advisor. He spent years leading fledgling tech companies as a part-time partner at Y Combinator, the startup accelerator once led by Altman. He has a penchant for dispensing nuggets of entrepreneurial wisdom about X, scattered throughout other posts about video games and science fiction books.

In a 2021 row reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Twitch’s launch, Shear posted 23 tweets distilling what he learned into pithy management lessons, such as that “for Internet companies, growth is more important than profit.” He also wrote “there are only five growth strategies and your product probably only meets one of them.”

Most recently podcasts appearancesShear combined his passion for high-level abstract thinking with a tendency toward colorful analogies to chess, Star Trek, and early human evolution to articulate his views on artificial intelligence, particularly artificial general intelligence, a technology advance that remains years away but which many researchers in the field of artificial intelligence believe could be the final result of their work.

Shear said he resembles many of his Silicon Valley colleagues in generally favoring limited regulation of technology or regulations that can better unlock the promise of innovation. But he also argued that, in the specific case of artificial intelligence, future improvements in the technology are likely to happen so quickly, and ultimately independent of any human intervention, that they could easily overwhelm its creators.

“You’ll be able to point to itself what we’ve built … that circuit will get tighter and tighter and tighter, and faster and faster, and faster, until it can completely self-improve,” Shear said in June , outlining his concerns. “This kind of intelligence is just an inherently very dangerous thing, because intelligence is power.”

Originally from Seattle, Washington, Shear was one of the four co-founders of Justin.tv, an early precursor to Twitch built to stream the life of Justin KanShear’s childhood friend and classmate.

While Kan’s experiment with live streaming one’s life over the Internet was short-lived, Justin.tv has expanded to allow virtually anyone to stream real-time video over the web. It organized its content into verticals like sports and entertainment, but Shear and his co-founders soon saw immense potential in video game content.

“People plugged in their Xbox and started streaming. We had never even thought about it,” Shear he told Forbes in 2013.

In 2011, Justin.tv’s gaming vertical was spun off to become Twitch, the platform now owned by Amazon and favored by tens of millions of people for watching and sharing video in real time. Gaming is a central focus of the site, but it also promotes podcasts and has categories for art, cooking, and other activities. Some politicians they used Twitch to connect with voters, in particular during the pandemic.

But by taking the reins of OpenAI, Shear is now helping to lead an industry with potentially even greater economic and political impact. And in September, Shear gave his take on a heated debate in AI circles: whether the development of AI should “stop” because of its potentially existential risks to human society.

“The way to safely cross a dangerous jungle at night is not to rush forward at full speed, nor to refuse to proceed. Proceed with caution,” he She said, adding: “If we are at a speed of 10 right now, a pause reduces to 0. I think we should aim for a 1-2 instead.”

Even if AI didn’t become smarter than humans, Shear argued, it could still wreak havoc in the same way people can.

“Imagine 100,000 of the smartest people you know, all running at 100 times the speed of real time and able to communicate with each other instantly via, for example, telepathy,” he said in September. “Those 100,000 people can credibly conquer the world. They don’t have to be smarter than a human.

These views appear to coincide with AI safety concerns that reportedly may have been a factor in Altman’s firing by OpenAI’s board of directors, although Shear disputed on Sunday that Altman’s firing was ” for any specific disagreements about safety” and that “their reasoning was completely different.” from that.”

However, Shear’s outlook sets the stage for OpenAI to take a more cautious approach in its post-Altman future as Altman heads towards Microsoft. And that raises a number of questions about how Shear might handle OpenAI’s relationship with Microsoft. Each reaffirmed its commitment to the other, as part of a deal that saw OpenAI’s technology integrated into the Bing search engine and Microsoft investing billions in OpenAI.

But with Altman and his allies working internally at Microsoft, Shear – and whoever succeeds him as OpenAI’s permanent CEO – may be forever overshadowed.

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