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Someone asked for a more nuanced perspective, so here we go.

For a lot of AI researchers, OpenAI has been a huge disappointment. We had hope that OpenAI would be the company to democratize AI with good open source work, transparency, no PR bullshit (aka DeepMind), and evangelism. That they would develop in the open, and perhaps even do research in the open. You know, kind of like the name says.

It all started out okay with their release of OpenAI Gym, tutorials, leaderboards, and competitions around that. That was when Karpathy was still there. Over time, many projects have become abandoned, poorly maintained, or just disappeared [1]. And many projects they promised never happened [2]. OpenAI became just another research lab obsessed with publishing papers in closed (!) journals, indistinguishable from Google AI, DeepMind, FAIR, MSR, and the many others.

There is nothing open or different about them. Most paper code is not published, and even when it is, it's just the typical poorly written and unmaintained research code that you see from other labs. None of their infrastructure is open source either, because it's needed to maintain their competitive advantage to train models and publish research papers. GPT-3 being offered as a paid API to a select number of people is latest joke in a long series of other jokes. All of this would be fine, if it was not for the name and branding of being a transparent and good-willed nonprofit company. It is just misleading and that rubs many people the wrong way, as if the whole "open" thing was just a PR stunt.

HuggingFace [0] these days is pretty much what OpenAI should have been, but only time will tell what happens.

[0] https://huggingface.co/

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/MachineLearning/comments/aqwcyx/dis...

[2] https://github.com/openai/roboschool/issues/159

I don't see how this is a nuanced perspective - it seems to restate the same complaints/arguments just about every comment makes in these discussions.

A nuanced perspective would look at the arguments as to why OpenAI is doing the things they are doing. For example:

* OpenAI publishes in closed journals (actually conference proceedings) because that is where all the cutting edge research is published and reviewed. I cannot recall an OpenAI paper that wasn't available either via arXiv or their website, despite being published in a closed journal. What is the alternative here? Where should they go for quality peer-review? Yes you can argue the peer review at top conferences is not quality, but is worse quality than no peer-review or peer review from open-access no-name journals?

* How does OpenAI make money? How much are they bringing in? How much does it cost to support things like the OpenAI Gym, etc.? How much does it cost OpenAI in terms of bandwidth to host pre-trained versions of GPT-3? At some point a company needs to make money and prioritize resources - they can't give everything away for free in perpetuity.

I don't think these questions have obvious answers - there is give and take.

It seems like there are a lot of good reasons for every choice they made.

Organizations are constantly making decisions that are trading off certain values for others, i.e. openness vs safety/expediency/funding. But if they use the word open in their name, signalling to people that is one of their foundational values, people will expect them to pick openness even when it's not necessarily the easiest, safest, most expedient, or most profitable choice. They expect them to pick openness when it's hard.

> At some point a company needs to make money


OpenAI started as a non-profit.

Non-profit does not mean “spends money in perpetuity with no revenue.”

that's not what happened with OpenAI though. They're not a non-profit anymore, they changed to a "controlled profit" (lol) model.

I didn't know this was even possible/legal. Start as a non-profit for all the tax advantages and convert to for-profit once you've got a saleable product? Maybe startups should start doing this

What's the point? If your business doesn't turn a profit then you don't owe business income taxes anyways. Most businesses take several years to reach profitability.

I thought it was capped profit not controlled.

"OpenAI is governed by the board of OpenAI Nonprofit, which consists of OpenAI LP employees Greg Brockman (Chairman & CTO), Ilya Sutskever (Chief Scientist), and Sam Altman (CEO), and non-employees Adam D’Angelo, Holden Karnofsky, Reid Hoffman, Shivon Zilis, and Tasha McCauley."


The NFL is also managed by a non-profit. Just because you're managed by a non-profit doesn't mean your company is also a non-profit.

The NFL is a (nonprofit) trade association for NFL team companies.

Yes, but the computing they are trying to do is expensive, so it makes sense to then try and get some self-sustaining revenue by leveraging their research into a software service. I must admit I don't know about their current status of funding from large companies etc, but I do think it makes sense to try and make a bit of their own money to be more independent.

Non-profit doesn't mean zero revenue.

The Girl Scouts are a non-profit yet they don't give their cookies away for free.

Girl Scouts USA has been a textbook example for decades now of an institution that misuses non-profit status for financial gain.

Good point, but their name does not imply that their cookies are free.

> OpenAI publishes in closed journals (actually conference proceedings) because that is where all the cutting edge research is published and reviewed.

Ok. So whats the point of OpenAI then ?

A bunch of fellow researchers and I started Manifold Computing (https://manifoldcomputing.com), were we’re hoping to do live, open source research and build open source tools. As you said, time will tell but I hope we can do good work this way.

Hugging face and the Spacy team have done some incredible work. Huge fan of both for my NLP projects.

I think this illustrates just how complex the topic is, though. Hugging Face is awesome, and Transformers has done so much to democratize NLP, but does it exists without labs like OpenAI releasing models like GPT-2? The ecosystem is still young and fluid, and as a result, it's super complex. I completely understand the critique of what OpenAI is now vs. what they positioned themselves as early on, but I think it is also a symptom of all the open questions around how ML research is to be done in a way that maximizes community benefit while remaining sustainable.

Hugging Face is also a for-profit startup. I wonder how betrayed this guy is going to feel betrayed when they launch a paid service...

Open doesn’t mean free. Plenty of for profit open source companies are making good money . Redis gitlab, elastic, sentry, docker, mongo Etc

Open source has very specific definitions OSI has a good process to determine whether a project meets them. I doubt openAI can meet them

Are they doing any notable research at all?

As soon as I learned that Sam Altman is involved, I could infer the direction. I cannot recall Sam being activist for anything open - but I do remember him as a the "head of the startup world", aka creating exclusive opportunities for venture capitalist by using and tearing bright eyed talent. I think he was pretty successful at the latter.

The sad thing is: OpenAI might be just the foreshadow of the power step function segment of the future, disenfranchising those who are on the wrong side of the API much more that we see today (e.g. somewhat limited to the gig economy).

What is the business model of HuggingFace?

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