OpenAI said in a statement that it’s seeking a replacement and that CTO Mira Murati will manage the team on an interim basis. “We thank Dave for his valuable contributions to OpenAI,” it said. The full statement is below.
His departure is coming at a critical time for the world of AI.
Alongside all the excitement about the capabilities of generative AI platforms — based on large language or other foundational models and are lighting-fast at producing freely-generated text, images, music and more based on simple prompts from users — there has been a growing list of questions. How best to regulate activity and companies in this brave new world? How best to mitigate any harmful impacts across a whole spectrum of issues? Trust and safety are foundational parts of those conversations.
Willner doesn’t make any reference to any of that specifically in his LinkedIn post. Instead, he keeps it high-level, noting that the demands of his OpenAI job shifted into a “high-intensity phase” after the launch of ChatGPT.
Willner has been in his OpenAI post for just 1.5 years, but he comes from a long career in the field that includes leading trust and safety teams at Facebook and Airbnb.
The Facebook work is especially interesting. There, he was an early employee who helped spell out the company’s first community standards position, which is still used as the basis of the company’s approach today.
That was a very formative period for the company, and arguably — given the influence Facebook has had on how social media has developed globally — for the internet and society overall. Some of those years were marked by very outspoken positions on the freedom of speech, and how Facebook needed to resist calls to rein in controversial groups and controversial posts.
One case in point was a very big dispute, in 2009, played out in the public forum about how Facebook was handling accounts and posts from Holocaust Deniers. Some employees and outside observers felt that Facebook had a duty to take a stand and ban those posts. Others believed that doing so was akin to censorship and sent the wrong message around free discourse.
Now, without Willner, who will lead OpenAI’s charge to address that?
Update: After publishing, OpenAI provided the following statement:
“We thank Dave for his valuable contributions to OpenAI. His work has been foundational in operationalizing our commitment to the safe and responsible use of our technology, and has paved the way for future progress in this field. Mira Murati will directly manage the team on an interim basis, and Dave will continue to advise through the end of the year. We are seeking a technically-skilled lead to advance our mission, focusing on the design, development, and implementation of systems that ensure the safe use and scalable growth of our technology.”
Additional reporting by Natasha Lomas