The Declining Openness of OpenAI

The Declining Openness of OpenAI

OpenAI, once known for its commitment to transparency and openness, is now facing criticism for its lack of transparency and declining openness. WIRED recently requested documents from OpenAI’s IRS filings, but the company’s counsel denied the request and introduced a new policy of withholding those documents. This denial reflects a trend of decreasing openness within the organization, particularly since 2019 when OpenAI created a for-profit subsidiary and secured outside investments. This shift has raised concerns about the company’s commitment to transparency and its financial arrangements.

OpenAI was initially known for its willingness to publish extensive details about its AI inventions. However, in recent years, the company has become more guarded, particularly with regards to its most famous tool, ChatGPT. While OpenAI’s spokesperson claims that the company discloses all the material required by the IRS and California’s attorney general, it is evident that the level of transparency has significantly decreased. This decline in openness has been attributed to the creation of a for-profit subsidiary and OpenAI’s partnership with Microsoft, which has allowed the company to limit the disclosure of technical details and financial information.

OpenAI’s nonprofit organization, as well as its board, retains control over the company’s activities and technology. As a nonprofit, OpenAI is required to share its annual report with the IRS and make it available to the public upon request. However, the disclosure of additional documents such as bylaws or conflict of interest policies is not common practice among nonprofits. OpenAI, nevertheless, indicated in its annual IRS filings for seven consecutive years that these additional documents were available upon request, although it is unclear if anyone ever took up the invitation.

When WIRED recently requested OpenAI’s governing documents, conflict rules, and financial statements, the company was unresponsive. WIRED even visited OpenAI’s headquarters in person to request the documents, but their request was denied. This lack of transparency raises concerns about OpenAI’s commitment to public oversight and accountability. While OpenAI has not been accused of any wrongdoing, their reluctance to provide requested documents and the absence of these reports on their website diminishes their reputation for openness.

According to US tax law, nonprofit organizations are required to make their annual reports (form 990s) available for public inspection on the same day they are requested, either at their offices or on their website. OpenAI does not post its reports on its website, and when WIRED requested the reports in person, they were not provided. This lack of compliance with the tax law further undermines OpenAI’s claim of transparency and public accountability.

OpenAI’s declining openness raises questions about the organization’s direction and its commitment to its original mission. With the creation of a for-profit subsidiary and reliance on outside investments, the company’s priorities may have shifted from challenging tech giants to maximizing profit. This shift in focus undermines the public’s trust in OpenAI and leaves room for skepticism regarding the company’s intentions and activities.

The declining openness of OpenAI is a worrying trend for an organization that was once known for its commitment to transparency. The introduction of a policy to withhold important documents and the failure to provide requested information raises concerns about OpenAI’s accountability and stewardship. As the company moves forward, it is essential for OpenAI to address these concerns and reestablish a commitment to transparency and openness in order to regain the trust of the public and fulfill its original mission.


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