Gebru expresses her strong disapproval stating, “It’s repulsive to me. I honestly think there’s more of a chance that I would go back to Google—I mean, they won’t have me and I won’t have them—than me going to OpenAI.”
The absence of women in the AI field has been a persistent issue; in 2018, WIRED estimated that only 12 percent of leading machine learning researchers were women. In 2020, the World Economic Forum found that only 26 percent of data and AI positions in the workforce are held by women. Sasha Luccioni, an AI ethics researcher at HuggingFace, remarks, “AI is very imbalanced in terms of gender. It’s not a very welcoming field for women.”
One area where women are thriving within the AI industry is in the realm of ethics and safety, which Luccioni sees as relatively inclusive. She also notes the significance of the ousted board members reportedly clashing with Altman over OpenAI’s mission. According to The New York Times, Toner and Altman had bickered over a research paper she published with coauthors in October that Altman interpreted as critical of the company. Luccioni believes that this incident not only highlights gender disparities but also demonstrates how voices advocating for ethical considerations are being silenced.
“I don’t think they got fired because they’re women,” says Luccioni. “I think they got fired because they highlighted an issue.” (Technically, both women agreed to leave the board.)
Regardless of the actual cause of the conflict at OpenAI, the resolution, with Altman reinstated and his dissenters ousted, has reinforced a narrative: Altman emerges as the victor, surrounded by loyalists and supporters. The board now comprises men keen to commercialize OpenAI’s products, rather than restrain its technological ambition. (One recent headline capturing this perspective: “AI Belongs to the Capitalists Now.”) Caution advocated by female leadership appears to have been disregarded at least.
O’Mara views the all-male OpenAI board as indicative of a shift in cultural attitudes. Just as some Silicon Valley tech companies have been addressing their poor track records in diversity and environmental impact, others have reacted against “wokism” in various forms, instead embracing firm beliefs about work culture.
“It’s this sentiment around, ‘OK, we’re done being touchy-feely,’” she says. “Whether it’s Elon Musk’s ‘extremely hardcore’ demands or Marc Andreessen’s recent manifesto, the idea is that if you’re calling for people to take a pause and consider potential harms or complaining about the lack of representation, that is orthogonal to their business.”
OpenAI is reportedly planning to expand the board soon, and speculation is rife about who will join. Its conspicuously all-male and all-white composition certainly did not go unnoticed, and OpenAI is already considering prospects who might appease some critics. According to a Bloomberg report, philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were all considered but not selected.