What the OpenAI Drama Means for ChatGPT Users

Sam Altman (Credit: Flickr Creative Commons)

All the drama surrounding OpenAI and its now ex-CEO Sam Altman that went on this weekend was the biggest thing to happen in business journalism in a long while. As a former Tech Editor, I must say all the news made me miss the rush you get when you’re on a team of reporters chasing a breaking story.

In case you signed off early on Friday to go hiking or something, here’s a lightning recap: OpenAI’s board fired Altman in a surprise move, saying he was “not consistently candid in his communications.” It appointed CTO Mira Murati as interim CEO and removed President Greg Brockman from the board. Brockman quit, and Microsoft — OpenAI’s primary investor by far — pushed OpenAI to rehire the two of them. Negotiations broke down Sunday night and the result was Altman, Brockman and other OpenAI employees are joining Microsoft. OpenAI appointed a new CEO in Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch. It’s widely expected there will be an exodus of talent from OpenAI.

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In short: OpenAI went from market leader to existentially challenged mess in the space of a weekend.

In this newsletter, I’m more concerned with the practical application of AI, so I don’t typically write about business news or the goings-on of executive boardrooms. But in this case the ramifications are huge because ChatGPT has become an extremely popular product with a reported 100 million weekly users, and the recent announcements at OpenAI’s DevDay (the launch of custom GPTs in particular) seemed poised to make it a part of even more daily workflows.

Now all of that appears to be in jeopardy. As I write this, a huge part of the staff at OpenAI appear poised to walk, but if that doesn’t happen, the new leadership at OpenAI will like come out and make statements over the next few days that they’ve got everything under control and that customers should not be concerned. Indeed, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella tried to reassure everyone that his company remains “committed” to the partnership with OpenAI:

I’m sure that’s true for the time being. Since OpenAI’s tech powers all the Copilot tools Microsoft has been launching at a ridiculous pace, they need to keep that going as long as possible… at least, until Altman, Brockman and the rest of the former OpenAI talent can cook up something better, in-house. That’ll take a while.

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Beyond ChatGPT

For users of ChatGPT, however, what’s happened is a loud wake-up call that it’s time to start diversifying your AI toolkit. The future is long, but there is a very real chance that this is the beginning of a big change in the market. Even if ChatGPT doesn’t go extinct overnight, or at all, competing tools now have a real shot at attracting users worried about OpenAI’s future. After all, Anthropic’s Claude is right there ready for your queries — plus there’s no waiting list, and you can use it to interpret PDFs without paying extra.

The field of AI is so young that even OpenAI’s platform play of custom GPTs isn’t that unique. If you were excited by the prospect of making your own chatbot and making money off it, MindStudio has been doing something similar for months. Just like OpenAI, the company’s YouAi platform lets you create your own specialized AI assistants without writing a line of code.

You get the point. ChatGPT is certainly the most ubiquitous tool in AI, but it’s not the only one. And, in a little while, it might not even be the best one. Just a week ago it looked like OpenAI was running away with the market, and whatever you were doing with AI, it needed to be part of your plan, if not central to it.

Today, the picture is quite different. If you’re a user of ChatGPT or its API, you have to be thinking twice of depending on the tools when you don’t know where they’ll be in a year. Users who had no reason to question their ChatGPT habit — who were essentially locked in — now have every reason to cast their eyes elsewhere. And while everyone races to award the titles of winners and losers to the individuals involved in the boardroom drama, the folks who are really popping the champagne today are OpenAI’s competitors.

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