OpenAI’s refreshed board needs women fast

As Sam Altman returns to the CEO post at OpenAI following one of the most high-profile oustings in tech history, the shakeup also sees an all-male board replacing the previous board.

The only two board members to go this week were the two women, including Australian Helen Toner, who specialises in AI safety.

There are suggestions the previous board was split between “accelerants” of AI — those who want to see it developed and deployed quickly — and “decelerationists”, which include those who believe AI should be more slowly developed and with stronger safety mechanisms in place.

The “decelerationists” in this scenario are now gone from the board. Altman is back at the helm, with the board currently falling strongly into the accellerant camp.

Helen Toner had been on the OpenAI board for two years until this Wednesday. Still in her thirties, she is a University of Melbourne graduate who has made a career studying AI and is the director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. When initially appointed to the board, Altman described her as bringing an “understanding of the global AI landscape with an emphasis on safety, which is critical for our efforts and mission.” Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that a paper Toner co-authored with CSET and published in October had been a point of discussion between Altman and Toner, with the paper criticising OpenAI for releasing ChatGPT at the end of 2022 for sparking a predicted tech race of sorts, and leading competitors to “accelerate or circumvent internal safety and ethics review processes.”

Getting women on the board of OpenAI to support its future will be essential, along with getting more diversity generally involved. And it must happen fast, given how quickly AI is evolving, especially thanks to OpenAI.

The underrepresentation of women in AI remains a key concern internationally, given rapid advances in AI over the past two years and how quickly the tech is and will continue to disrupt industries and those who work within them. Plenty of examples also show the consequences of bias being embedded in AI, which may have been reduced if there had been more — or at least some — diversity in the teams developing the tech.

Currently, just 12 per cent of AI researchers globally are women, according to stats from the United Nations, while just 20 per cent of employees in technical roles in machine learning companies are female. One area where women do dominate in AI is the ethics space.

On Thursday, news emerged from Reuters of a letter from OpenAI staff researchers to their previous board warning about an AI discovery they believed could threaten humanity. The letter was provided days before Altman was fired.

Source: OpenAI’s refreshed board needs women fast

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