What Is Project Q* That May Have Been a Factor in Altman’s Firing From OpenAI

OpenAI and Sam Altman have been in the news for the last week for different reasons, including the firing episode and the much-anticipated return late Tuesday. However, a new story unfolded today after Reuters reported a letter written by researchers at OpenAI warning about an all-new AI discovery, Project Q* (or called Q Star).

The latest Reuters report highlights this AI breakthrough, which has been unreported so far. This all-new revelation opens up the debate about Altman’s intentions, too. It adds that the letter could be one of the factors leading to Altman’s firing. 

What is Project Q*?

Based on the limited information on Project Q* shared in the Reuters report, it looks like Altman got a breakthrough in the company’s long search for artificial general intelligence (long for AGI). Altman’s blog earlier this year described AGI as “AI systems that are generally smarter than humans.” 

He also talked about how if AGI was created successfully, it could help elevate humanity by pushing the global economy. However, Altman did mention the cons of this superintelligence, “AGI would also come with serious risk of misuse, drastic accidents, and societal disruption.”

“Because the upside of AGI is so great, we do not believe it is possible or desirable for society to stop its development forever; instead, society and the developers of AGI have to figure out how to get it right,” Altman said in a blog from February 2023.

As per the Reuters report, Project Q* could threaten humanity, which reminds us of the Terminator movies. It further adds that the new model on which Altman was working solved math problems, which is where it gets interesting. 

Generative AI relies on mathematical models and broadly is a subset of machine learning. For AI to solve a math problem is algorithmic as it follows a pre-defined resolution path. To put some context, currently, generative AI is mainly used in writing be it typing emails for a particular need or how Gmail utilises for predicting your next word. The letter sent to the OpenAI board before Altman was fired flagged the new AI’s capabilities and stressed safety concerns, which seemed to be being given low priority. 

OpenAI acknowledged its employees about Project Q* after the Reuters report. However, the exact details of what this breakthrough in AI meant weren’t disclosed.

Recapping the week’s episode at OpenAI, it took days for Sam Altman to be fired as the CEO and then reinstated. In solidarity with the narrative of “OpenAI is nothing without its people”, several OpenAI staff threatened to quit after Altman’s sudden firing. Apart from staff, Altman also got immense support from other senior executives like Greg Brockman, then President and co-founder at OpenAI. However, after negotiations with the new board, Altman re-joined as the CEO.

Between getting fired and being reinstated, Altman also got the opportunity to join Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team.

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