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OpenAI‘s co-founder and CEO Sam Altman has weighed in on some of the effects of the the ongoing armed conflict in Israel and Palestine, specifically stating he supports Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian tech workers who feel uncomfortable and unsafe to share their experiences.
As Altman, a U.S.-born Jew, wrote on his account on Elon Musk’s social platform X:
Altman also noted that Jews like himself are targets of antisemitism, which he labeled a “significant and growing problem in the world,” but stated he “see[s] a lot of people in our industry sticking up for me, which I deeply appreciate.”
Nearly a month ago, Altman posted on X that he had been wrong about the degree of antisemitism “particularly on the American Left,” and that it was worse than he previously believed.
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In a response to a recent question from a follower, Altman further stated that he thought OpenAI’s marquee AI chatbot ChatGPT should treat Jews and Muslims equally in regards to humor.
ChatGPT has been previously called out by prominent voices including UK-Iraqi writer Mona Chalabi for responding to prompts about Israel and Palestine differently, and seeming to favor Israel.
A notable statement amid a tense and consequential political climate
Altman’s statement is notable as one of the most and so far, only high-profile statements from tech leaders in support of Palestinians, Muslims, and Arabs as Israel continues its military campaign against the terrorist organization Hamas, based in Palestine’s Gaza Strip, which was responsible for a series of brutal murders, rapes, and kidnappings on October 7, 2023, and which continues to level attacks on Israeli forces.
Since then, Israel’s military strikes — largely aerial attacks — to root out Hamas have cost the lives of more than 21,000 Palestinians, including an estimated 5,000+ children, and resulted in the displacement of an estimated 1.8 million people.
VentureBeat previously reported how the initial Oct. 7 attacks and military call-up of Israel’s armed forces and reserves — where the country practices mandatory service for citizens — was impacting the thriving AI industry there and globally.
We also covered the ongoing larger political fallout, including the controversy that erupted around Web Summit co-founder and CEO Paddy Cosgrave, an Irish citizen who posted on X implying Israel’s military was committing “war crimes” in its fight against Hamas. Cosgrave faced immediate pushback from pro-Israel tech voices and apologized, but after numerous leading sponsors including Google and Intel pulled out of the 2023 Web Summit, Cosgrave resigned from his post as CEO.
Not the first OpenAI employee to speak out
Altman’s commentary also follows a controversy surrounding another member of the OpenAI team, Tal Broda, Head of Research Platform, who posted on X several messages in early October 2023 supporting Israel’s military campaign and its resulting destruction of buildings in Gaza, including one stating “More! No mercy! IDF don’t stop!” and another stating “There is no Palestine. There never was, and never will be.” Palestinians and others supportive of their fate rushed to condemn Broda’s remarks.
Clearly, as with nearly any organization of a medium-to-large size, OpenAI harbors a multitude of perspectives and opinions on the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine. But Altman’s move to publicly support Palestinians is among the more significant political statements from a tech leader since the October 7 attacks, and may put him at odds with others in his own firm and, judging by recent history, the larger tech industry.
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