Kill Him in the Shell: Sam Altman as Julius Caesar

2023-12-11 ☼ culturetechnologyblog

A ruler is dispatched — not because he has become a tyrant, but because he represents the possibility of tyranny, perhaps, or wait, no, actually maybe something something corruption. For supporting robbers” is a retrospective justification that Brutus cites a few scenes after murdering Julius Caesar, but never thought to mention at the time. Meditating on the prospect of murder, he had compared Caesar to a snake, a metaphor he quickly revised: the Roman leader was not quite an adder, he decided, but a serpent’s egg / Which hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous”. Better, then, to kill him in the shell”, just to be on the safe side. Having squished this baby snake, he repeatedly postpones the delivery of an explanation, informing Mark Antony he will tell him later, after he has appeased / The multitude, beside themselves with fear”. The reasoning he eventually offers this fearful multitude is a careful arrangement of abstractions, a sheen of rhetoric over an absence of meaning.

The board members who fired Sam Altman from OpenAI also neglected to provide a satisfactory explanation for their actions. There was some speculation that their action was motivated by fear of what a reckless OpenAI under Sam Altman might end up wreaking upon the world (the baby snake argument), but subsequent reporting suggests that the impact of this ideological split had been exaggerated. Officially, the reason was that Altman had not been consistently candid in his communications with the board” (the supporting robbers” angle), but no concrete details were supplied. As P.J. Vogt put it on the Search Engine podcast:

They couldn’t articulate what they thought was wrong. They couldn’t articulate why their revolution would fix it. They never even bothered to try to win over the people in the building with their mission. They thought they saw someone acting like a king, and so they acted imperially themselves.