Editorial: Geriatric politicians; new-wave tech gods


Sometimes, even as young people who attempt to appear politically engaged, doing so can be quite difficult. 

We know how important it is to pay attention. But generational divides, unbeknownst jargon and distance from control contribute to an ebbing interest in government affairs. Despite this, anyone in our newsroom could tell you how technology has shaped our lives in intimate and grand ways in recent years — especially when it comes to thoughts regarding the inundation of artificial intelligence.

And we’re willing to bet many of you have paid more attention to the scandals at OpenAI — the parent company of ChatGPT — than you have to the state-wide elections earlier last month. 

Our point? Tech elites are just politicians — but without the checks and balances that are supposed to come with elected officials. Therefore, it’s essential that we dutifully hold those in power accountable. 

In case you’re not in the loop, here’s our summary: On Nov. 16, Sam Altman, the co-founder and CEO of OpenAI was abruptly fired. In the following five days, chaos ensued. Greg Brockman, the sitting president of OpenAI, resigned along with other senior executives. Alman left for Microsoft, and 500 of about 750 employees threatened to leave as well. And the board weighed the risks of Altman’s return. On Nov. 21, Altman was reinstated as CEO. 

But things are quite different now.

Altman is a well-liked guy. He’s charming in a geeky way, confidently wears sports jeans and a t-shirt, and is always friendly with the press. Opposing him is another initial board member of OpenAI — Elon Musk. And for one reason or another, Musk is controversial. Whether it be his almost cult-like fan base commentating on his every move, radical business decisions like buying Twitter (now X) or using numbers in the names of his kids. 

If we weren’t already aware of the pedestal that fame shines on politicians, we can certainly see how uncalled for it is with emerging tech leaders. Musk is equally as much an ideological leader as the presidents of our country have been. Instead of classifying your belief on whether or not you’re a Democrat or Republican, you’re either with him or you’re not. 

In the case of Altman, things appear less extreme. The word “appear” is key here. Altman’s professionalism and attitude paint him in a good light, but that doesn’t mean he should get a free pass. There are reasons his own board couped him out of the company. There are things the public doesn’t always get to see. 

OpenAI was founded as a nonprofit that was concerned with AI safety above all else. With the public release of generative AI products and a for-profit arm of the company, Altman has reprioritized their initiatives. The board that fired, and days later re-hired, has since been friendlier to Altman. 

So who’s keeping him accountable for the societal consequences of his business and ideology? 

Regulations come to the tech industry slowly. It’s become a joke how out of touch Washington’s elites are when it comes to the basic functions of the websites and software they seek to inquire about. No wonder it’s hard for us to take them seriously. 

Several tech leaders, including Musk, have even called on the government to regulate emerging technologies. For us mere mortals, it’s nauseating how quickly technology is changing before us. And perhaps, with younger people leading those efforts, it’s easier to follow them.

New leaders will use tech as the stepping stone of their political influence. Their businesses will earn them the wealth required to gain political clout that can get channeled back toward their businesses. That’s just the prophecy of business, technology business is no different 

Just as journalism has served as the fourth estate over politics, the same must be done for the state of tech. That’s one place where our industry will come in to develop new responsibilities.

The media at large is littered with fear-mongering and celebrity-gossip coverage of Silicon Valley. But, as we’ve just learned in the strange happenings at OpenAI, reporters need to shine a light on the dangers lurking behind Altman’s infectious smile. 

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