On November 17, 2023, the internet was ablaze with the sudden and mysterious firing of Sam Altman, co-founder and former CEO of OpenAI. Following this abrupt decision, the board of OpenAI initially attempted to rehire Altman, but these efforts seem to have failed. Despite the company’s executives making earnest attempts to bring him back, Sam Altman will not be resuming his role as the CEO of OpenAI, as confirmed by co-founder and board director Ilya Sutskever.
After a weekend marked by negotiations involving the board of directors of OpenAI who ousted him, as well as discussions with other key leaders and top investors, it was determined that Altman would not be making a return to the startup he co-founded back in 2015.
In light of these developments, the mantle of interim CEO will be taken up by Emmett Shear, the co-founder of Twitch, a video streaming platform owned by Amazon.
The leadership dynamics at OpenAI appear to be undergoing a significant shift, marking a new chapter for the company and its future direction.
Sam Altman is contemplating launching his own Artificial Intelligence venture, as disclosed by a source briefed on the matter to Reuters. Vinod Khosla, from Khosla Ventures, expressed support for Altman’s future endeavours in a post on X, stating, “To be clear, Khosla Ventures wants @sama (Sam Altman) back at @OpenAI (OpenAI) but will back him in whatever he does next.”
This potential move by Altman has created additional pressure from Microsoft and other backers urging the board to reinstate him as the CEO. The concern is fueled by fears that a segment of employees might choose to follow Altman if he embarks on a new venture, underscoring the significant impact Altman has on the organization and its personnel.
A Weekend of Boardroom Battles
Following the removal of CEO Sam Altman and President Greg Brockman from OpenAI on Friday, the company faced additional setbacks with the resignation of three senior researchers. Jakub Pachocki, the company’s director of research; Aleksander Madry, head of a team evaluating potential risks from AI, and Szymon Sidor, a seven-year researcher at the startup, conveyed their resignations to associates.
Despite these key departures, the OpenAI board’s choice not to reinstate Sam Altman has intensified the crisis within the company. The decision has stirred internal unrest and raised concerns about the organization’s future trajectory.
By midday on Sunday, there were indications that negotiations might be reaching a resolution. Altman and Brockman unexpectedly appeared at OpenAI’s San Francisco headquarters, following an invitation from interim CEO Mira Murati. Altman shared an image on the social platform X, showing himself at the offices wearing a guest badge, accompanied by a caption that read, “first and last time I ever wear one of these.”
However, the situation took a sombre turn later in the Sunday evening when distressed employees were seen leaving the San Francisco headquarters shortly after 9 p.m., coinciding with the internal announcement of the decision. Among those departing appeared to be research chief Bob McGrew, who had been actively involved in efforts to bring Altman and Brockman back.
If Altman were to return, Microsoft, OpenAI’s major backer, is rumoured to play a pivotal role on the board. The discussions include the possibility of Microsoft taking a seat on the board of directors or acting as a board observer without voting power. The involvement of Bret Taylor, former co-CEO of Salesforce, and an executive from Microsoft further complicates the regulatory landscape.
Mystery Behind Sam Altman’s Exit from OpenAI
Sam Altman, the visionary behind OpenAI’s evolution from a nonprofit into a $90 billion company, found himself at odds with board members over the pace of his initiatives. Concerns surfaced that Altman was pushing forward too rapidly, with insufficient attention to the safety implications of an AI technology that, if left unchecked, could potentially generate content harmful to the public and humanity as a whole.
However, OpenAI Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap clarified that safety wasn’t the primary reason for Altman’s termination, attributing it instead to a “breakdown in communications.”
Investors were caught off guard with minimal advance notice about Altman’s departure, leading to growing outrage over the decision to oust an executive known for successfully introducing innovative and widely-used products. Altman had also been instrumental in securing billions of dollars in venture and corporate funding. Notably, executives, including Murati, have aligned with investors in advocating for Altman’s return.
Elon Musk’s Call for Transparency
Elon Musk emphasized the importance of transparency regarding the decision to remove Sam Altman as CEO of OpenAI, urging that it is crucial for the public to understand why the board took such a strong stance.
Elon underscored the significance of AI safety, asserting that even with substantial financial resources, OpenAI’s non-publicly traded status emphasizes the critical importance of ensuring responsible AI development. “OpenAI is not publicly traded and all the money in the world won’t matter if AI goes wrong,” he posted on X.
In defense of OpenAI’s Co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who was reportedly instrumental in Altman’s ousting, Musk vouched for Sutskever’s “moral compass” and clarified that he does not seek power. Musk asserted, “He would not take such drastic action unless he felt it was absolutely necessary.” This statement aims to provide insight into the decision-making process behind Altman’s removal and emphasizes the commitment to ethical considerations in artificial intelligence.