The madness

On 17 November 2023 Sam Altman was fired from his position as CEO of OpenAI. Documents indicate the board told the leadership team that allowing the company to be destroyed ‘would be consistent with the mission’ [of the company].

This rather scant set of facts has led some to believe OpenAI has created a superintelligent AI called Q*. Altman was fired for recklessly creating a danger to all of humanity, and possibly desires for world domination, or for being the puppet of Q*, or some other James Bond villain behavior. The purpose of this post is to explain why I believe this to be false.

I believe Sam Altman was fired because the board of OpenAI realized, too late, its company had been reshaped from a small non-profit research group into a Silicon Valley startup where their services would no longer be needed.

Altman has been skillfully moving towards this end for years. First creating the for-profit entity to offer stock options to attract top talent, and then bringing Microsoft on as an investor. OpenAI now resembles and operates like a dot com startup. Its non-profit origins are a vestigial organ no longer of use to the host. This outcome should not be surprising. Altman has no experience with anything but this type of company. He has behaved in a manner consistent with past performance.

Saftey, Secutiry, and Super antigens

So why the cryptic statements about allowing the company to be destroyed? Because safety, and security, are super antigens in the business world.

Antigens are the molecular signatures the immune system uses to identify pathogens. They are the first step in marshaling a defense against the invader. Antigens are important, so important some bacteria exploit them by producing super antigens. These super antigens cause an overreaction so intense the now hyper zealous immune system will destroy its own cells for fear they might be the pathogen. In this chaos the bacteria thrive.

Safety is important, so important it is perfect for exploitation. Security is similarly invoked. I have sat through many painful meetings where IT explains an especially ridiculous policy is needed for security. They cannot explain what is being made more secure or what threat is being addressed, but unless you want to be responsible for the business ending you need to uphold the policy.

Firing your CEO for safety concerns sounds reasonable, much better than admitting you don’t like the company he has created, or the fact you will soon be obsolete.

What about all the experts who believe in Q*?

AI safety proponents are like crypto proponents. A few are genuinely interested in ensuring their technology is beneficial, and the rest are scammers. AI doomers get engagement and AI safety is a somewhat more elegant way to cash in on that engagement.

Imagine if I were to tell you I was a faster than light starship safety proponent and I had created a unilateral phase detractor to make FTL travel safer. Would you be interested in hearing what I have to say, or better yet employing me at your company? Probably not, since FTL does not exist I could not have tested my unilateral phase detractor. So you probably not be too interested in my unproven creation for a system that does not yet exist.

Unlike FTL travel AI has not had the same amount of time to be processed by our culture. We are therefore more willing to accept a more interesting fiction over mundane reality. Cities were supposed to be rebuilt because of the Segue, blockchain was going to destroy the entire financial system, and Theranos would revolutionize medicine. Progress is hard. Even revolutionary technologies take decades to deploy. But in the infancy of a new technology we are seduced into irrationality. 

The way forward

Spending energy on speculative future harms weakens us against those of the present. Learn the motives of those who have your attention. Do not give fuel to those who benefit from your fears. Do not add your voice to the chorus of the ignorant.


Elden ring is very popular, selling 12M copies in its first 3 weeks. But why? The graphics are poor compared to current gen offerings, there is little recorded dialog, a confused and often contradictory plot, and enemy AI with the intelligence of driveway gravel. Even features like lip sync are missing despite being common among RPGs for years. 

From Software, the creators of Elden Ring, are well know for their Dark Souls series. Even those who have never played a game from the series have likely heard of its notoriously non-adjustable difficulty. So is the difficulty of Elden Ring the reason for its popularity? Are players tired of easily completed games? 

No. Elden Ring’s ‘difficulty’ is the beginning of the reason for its success but it is not the end. 

Git Gud is a lie

Strictly speaking I would not say Elden Ring is difficult. I cleared the game and a fair number of side quests in just under 70hrs. In that time I never felt that game was difficult in the traditional sense. 

Typically when a skill is gained it represents an improvement within a specific domain. If I train to run a 10k I would also expect this training to help me run a 5k since both tasks involve running. Elden Ring is not like this. Its boss battles are won by memorizing the attack patterns of each specific boss. Mastering any given boss does not provide much insight into fighting the next boss. So you don’t really ‘git gud’ at Elden Ring instead you ‘git gud’ at each enemy in Elden Ring. If, however, you consider a game difficult if you die frequently then Elden Ring is a very difficult game. 

This pattern is true of other games as well with the Souls series being a prime example. The player is expected to die many times over as they encounter and learn how to react to each action an enemy can take. In a conventional game difficulty is scaled such that an average player can experience and adapt to new enemies without dying. Elden Ring players will die a lot and those not expecting this type of gameplay can easily become frustrated. And where do frustrated players go for help? What can they do to help short circuit this painstaking learning process?

The Ultimate FAQ

In the dark days before the internet, strategy guides allowed players to engage in optimal play without having to discover it through trial and error. GameFAQs replaced this model and then YouTube and Twitch replaced the FAQs. Now struggling players can turn to videos or even livestreams for advice. 

Easy games are less likely to send players running for help than difficult games. Therefore the most difficult games will generate the greatest demand for assistance. For the top 1% of players who master Elden Ring there is an incredible opportunity for content creation. The thirst for Elden Ring tutorials and guides is immense. Mass consumption of this content is detected by trending algorithms and promoted. The closed network test provided an excellent opportunity to get this cycle started. By the time Elden Ring went on sale it was already engaging its potential player base. 

Elden Ring’s vaguely worded patch notes are practically free money for these creators. Statements such as ‘Increased shield’s effectiveness’ are fertile ground for exploration.  Which shields? By how much? In what circumstances? Each patch spawns a fresh wave of player questions which is followed by content to satisfy them. 

The Shared Pain community

This content consumption cycle creates a community. Players who benefit from a tutorial leave comments. Whether these are gratitude for assistance or stories of how absurdly long a boss took to clear they build a community. This extends even to the game’s lore. Because so little information is given each player can create and share their own interpretation of the game while others cite opposing evidence in their own opinions. This is engagement, the ultimate goal of marketing, and it has been building around From Software for a while. 

And now they are reaping their rewards. 


I can’t tell if From Software planned for this to happen or not. If so then they have a genius working in marketing. If not, it doesn’t change their awesome balance sheet. 

I understand players wanting to build a community around their favorite games. However, I hope it does not become a blindly copied trend. I want to enjoy a game’s exploration and discovery without needing external assistance to complete it before the gameplay becomes dull. 

Unfortunately I don’t think many studios will be able to ignore the revenue Elden Ring has generated. Copycats are likely to soon follow.