Home » Be it cricket or AI, never underestimate the strategic value of grace

Be it cricket or AI, never underestimate the strategic value of grace

Does grace matter? In a strategic sense, that is, defined as an outcome shaper of significance. Cricket fans got a case study in India’s Sunday World Cup loss to Australia. A pall of gloom seemed to descend on a once-roaring stadium rather early in the match, an audible loss of confidence in Indian chances of victory. Arguably, had spectators kept clapping now and then for the crisp strokes hit by Australian batters and shown cheerier appreciation for Travis Head’s century, a sullen mood in the stands would’ve had less of a chance to reach our players on the field and dampen morale. While the silence was explainable, gracious applause here and there for the other side might have masked its dismal message and kept up spirits. The second case is even more debatable: the ouster of Sam Altman from OpenAI for inconsistent candour, as cited by its board while forcing out the co-founder and CEO of this artificial intelligence (AI) hot-house famous for ChatGPT. So graceless was Altman’s ejection that the shock of it threw the company into tumult, with colleagues, clients and investors ready to rally around him. Efforts were reportedly made by investors to get him back, but OpenAI being left worse off was made likelier as an eventuality by the shock firing of a CEO who’d almost become the AI industry’s voice. Now Emmett Shear of Twitch will take that job as Altman heads for Microsoft.

The sacking that Altman said he learnt of only minutes in advance was enabled by OpenAI’s peculiar structure as a non-profit startup. It began in 2015 as an AI researcher committed to ensure that general AI “benefits all humanity,” with a board that assured scientists and others control over capitalists by insisting that at no point could a majority of its members have a financial stake in it. It was meant to be a board of thinkers. Altman had no equity either. Once OpenAI created a “capped profit” subsidiary in 2019 with a 49% stake taken by Microsoft, however, he openly turned market oriented like any other startup boss, striking success last year with ChatGPT, watching its valuation boom and going about the task of taking tech’s ‘next big thing’ to its next orbit. It was a window of opportunity that AI rivals with deep pockets would rush to close, so he had to move fast. Did he also break things? The board’s statement on his exit affirms a will to uphold its original promise, even as whispers have swirled of a rift over Altman’s other pursuits and interests (such as WorldCoin) as well as what thinker-directors may have seen as reckless AI expansion in the context of its myriad dangers. As AI-gone-wrong could spell doom for civilization (even if only as a tail-end risk), placing caution ahead of commerce is a sensible mantra. Risky expansion at ‘genie’ moments such as this, if that’s what this is about, does need oversight that’s free of profit as a motive. Yet, the optics of it went in favour of Altman as onlookers drew parallels with Apple and its epic tale of Steve Jobs’ ouster and return. Had OpenAI shown more tact and given its chief space to explain, fewer associates and would-be investors—it was headed for $90 billion in value—would likely have been put off, leaving its prospects brighter.

Perhaps a snap-off at OpenAI was inevitable after its business aims began to hog executive attention, but the hope was that humanity and profit could both be served together. Similarly, maybe Sunday’s cricket match was beyond India’s rescue. Yet, let’s admit that grace could have made a difference in both cases.