Annie Altman is seen in a screengrab from her TikTok channel phuckfilosophy

Annie Altman’s Abuse Allegations Against OpenAI’s Now-Fired CEO Sam Altman Highlight the Need to Prioritize Humanity Over Tech

Serious allegations of abuse made against OpenAI’s newly fired CEO Sam Altman by his sister Annie Altman gained renewed attention on social media in October 2023 and highlighted which sort of stories receive widespread press coverage.

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America has gotten into the bad habit of lionizing “tech geniuses” based on limited information and the clickability of promoting “game-changers” and “disrupters.” If someone—correction, if generally a white, cis man—presents himself with enough confidence, then venture capitalists, media, and the public tend to believe he’s as smart and innovative as he says he is without caring too much about evidence, track record, or personal history. And there’s a hesitation to rock that narrative boat, lest access to said genius and his friends and funders be revoked.

Sam Altman, who was fired Friday from his role as OpenAI CEO, is one such lionized “tech genius,” and as a recent New York Magazine profile reported, he’s someone who has been granted power and influence in the tech industry and beyond, largely on the basis of his own confidence and the unceasing buzz around AI. Writing on his blog in January 2019 in a post called “How to Be Successful,” Altman said, “A big secret is that you can bend the world to your will a surprising percentage of the time—most people don’t even try.” He writes about bending the world to one’s singular will as a virtue. As a start-up hack. While much journalism around Altman adds to his budding mythos, one voice has been contributing a different sort of story for years.

An X (formerly Twitter) account run by Altman’s sister, Annie Altman (the only girl in the four-sibling Altman clan), has come to social media multiple times, most recently in March and October of 2023, with disturbing allegations about her oldest brother that, if true, would present a horrifying addition to Sam Altman’s history.

What are Annie Altman’s allegations against her brother Sam Altman?

Annie Altman alleged in a November 2021 Twitter thread that she “experienced sexual, physical, emotional, verbal, and financial abuse from my biological siblings, mostly Sam Altman and some from Jack Altman.” She returned to those allegations in 2023, seeming to call out Sam. “I’m not four years old with a 13 year old “brother” climbing into my bed non-consensually anymore,” Ms. Altman’s account, @phuckfilosophy, tweeted in March 2023. “(You’re welcome for helping you figure out your sexuality.)” [Sam Altman is openly gay, and there are nine years between Sam and Annie.] “I’ve finally accepted that you’ve always been and always will be more scared of me than I’ve been of you.”

While these allegations have only picked up steam in recent months—thanks to ChatGPT’s position in the public discourse and the discussion about AI related to labor actions like the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes—Ms. Altman has been public about her allegations since at least 2021.

Yet the media seems reluctant to discuss the abuse allegations specifically. Even the writer of the New York Magazine profile, Elizabeth Weil—who went to interview Annie in Maui, discussed her financial situation, her mental health, her artistic career, her career in sex work, and quoted her about what she views as Sam’s lack of emotion—does not spell out the more serious abuse allegations. Weil writes in the profile, “Sam Altman Is the Oppenheimer of His Age”:

Annie has moved more than 20 times in the past year. When she called me in mid-September, her housing was unstable yet again. She had $1,000 in her bank account.

Since 2020, she has been having flashbacks. She knows everybody takes the bits of their life and arranges them into narratives to make sense of their world.

As Annie tells her life story, Sam, their brothers, and her mother kept money her father left her from her.

As Annie tells her life story, she felt special and loved when, as a child, Sam read her bedtime stories. Now those memories feel like abuse.

The Altman family would like the world to know: “We love Annie and will continue our best efforts to support and protect her, as any family would.”

Annie Altman does, however, seem to approve of the work done by Weil, writing on her X account, “This is a@lizweil ~stan~ account” and “Thank you @nymag for acknowledging my existence and experiences.”

While the New York Magazine profile doesn’t specify the instances of alleged abuse as Ms. Atlman has tweeted, it includes quotes from Ms. Altman about her estrangement from the family, and specifically about her impressions of Sam. For example, Ms. Altman cites an incident after their father Jerry’s death as indicative of what she views as Sam’s lack of basic human perspective:

“One day, shortly after she’d moved to a farm to do a live-work trade, she got an email from Sam asking for her address. He wanted to send her a memorial diamond he’d made out of some of their father’s ashes. “Picturing him sending a diamond of my dad’s ashes to the mailbox where it’s one of those rural places where there are all these open boxes for all these farms … It was so heavy and sad and angering, but it was also so hilarious and so ridiculous. So disconnected-feeling. Just the lack of fucks given.” Their father never asked to be a diamond. Annie’s mental health was fragile. She worried about money for groceries. It was hard to interact with somebody for whom money meant everything but also so little. “Like, either you aren’t realizing or you are not caring about this whole situation here,” she said. By “whole situation,” she meant her life. “You’re willing to spend $5,000 — for each one — to make this thing that was your idea, not Dad’s, and you’re wanting to send that to me instead of sending me $300 so I can have food security. What?””

New York Magazine writer Weil further posted on X about how to support Annie after renewed attention to her allegations emerged on October 5th, 2023.

Weil also explained how she came to include Annie in her profile of Sam Altman, and why her fellow journalists may not have done the same.

Others voice their support for Annie Altman on X

Since Annie Altman’s allegations gained more visibility in October 2023, there are vocal posters on X advocating for her.

Writer, researcher, and professional dominatrix Dr. Olivia Snow (who goes by @MistressSnowPhD on social media) tweeted the above in support of Ms. Altman, suggesting that the alleged abuse and neglect Annie experienced was the reason she transitioned into sex work for survival. Snow included a screenshot of a Twitter thread Ms. Altman posted in 2021, where she named both Sam and Jack Altman as alleged abusers, and was reaching out to others who may have experienced similar abuses at their hands in the hopes of pursuing legal justice as a group:

Sam Altman’s ousting

On November 17, 2023, it was announced that Sam Altman had been removed from his position as CEO of OpenAI. “Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities,” the company wrote in a public blog post. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”

This announcement took many by surprise. As The Verge notes, “Just last week, Altman led the keynote at the company’s first-ever DevDay conference, where it announced a suite of major new updates to compete with other big tech companies like Microsoft and Google. More recently, Altman spoke at Thursday’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference.”

While we obviously don’t have any insight into the company’s decision, there is a lot of speculation being thrown about online that the move to remove Sam Altman, which came just over a month after Annie Altman’s allegations garnered attention in October, may possibly have less to do with his business abilities and more to do with personal controversies.

Annie Altman continues to address allegations on social media

Since Ms. Altman’s allegations came to further social media attention the first week of October 2023, she has posted in more detail on the subject, including on TikTok.

She further reposted and responded to a post on X by a writer on Less Wrong, a community blog for the “rationality” community, which summarized and detailed her story from the public record. “Wow, thank you. This feels like a study guide version of a big chunk of my therapy discussions,” Ms. Altman wrote. “Yes can confirm accuracy.”

While there is no indication that any legal action is being pursued (“Uninterested in: -legal action around experiences between a baby child and a tween child -he said/she said debates,” Ms. Atlman wrote on X), it is chilling that there is so little being written about this, especially with AI and OpenAI in particular in the news cycle on a daily basis. Sam Altman is a public figure, and though these allegations are complex in nature, the sheer lack of coverage is troubling. That’s not to say that no attempt is being made, as Ms. Altman reposted:

And of course, there are legal considerations. Even here at The Mary Sue, this piece will be sent to our legal department to ensure that nothing I write can trigger a lawsuit. I’ll be surprised if this sentence stays in the article, which supports my overall point.

Access matters, especially in the tech world—and in many cases, it can come before telling human stories that also matter.

We give too much of our collective power away to white, cis men with money and privilege, then wonder why industries in which they dominate, like tech and finance, are so filled with apparently soulless egotists who feel entitled to bend the world “to their will.” We bend over backward to protect perceived genius, even when those “geniuses” are being accused of terrible wrongs, because we want so much to believe that someone, some singular, brave, usually male individual will be smart enough and strong enough to save us all.

What we need to remember is that we, together, can save ourselves, and that all-powerful “tech bros” are only as powerful as we allow them to be.

This article was originally published October 12, 2023. It has been updated to include the news of Sam Altman’s ousting from OpenAI

(featured image: screengrab of Annie Altman/phuckfilosophy on TikTok )


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Author
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.