Photo: Jamesonwu1972 / Shutterstock.com | OpenAI CEO Sam Altman attends the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Revolution Forum in Taipei on September 25, 2023.
OpenAI is going through a tumultuous time. In a surprising turn of events over the weekend, the co-founder of OpenAI, Sam Altmam, was summarily dismissed by the board.
This sudden departure sent ripples down the tech industry, and the market was rife with rumours, particularly considering Altman’s integral role in developing ChatGPT, a widely popular generative AI bot and Microsoft’s substantial investment in the venture.
Swift changes in leadership have marked the aftermath. After Sam Altman, Mira Murati and Twitch CEO Emmett Shear were announced as interim CEO. Rumours also began to circulate regarding the dismissal of Mira Murati, with many claiming that she was ousted due to her perceived alignment with Altman.
After that, reports surfaced over the weekend of a growing movement among investors and employees pushing for Altman’s reinstatement. Furthermore, rumours are that Altman and Brockman are launching a new AI venture, with speculation about collaborating with semiconductor industry executives to create microchips to reduce costs for large-language model-led companies like OpenAI. Now, it seems like Altman will be working with Microsoft on a new AI project.
Here, we look at why Sam Altman was fired and what’s happening at OpenAI.
Update [22/11/2023]: Sam Altman and Greg Brockman reinstated amid OpenAI board shakeup
Everything that has happened so far in OpenAI
Here’s what has happened so far in OpenAI:
On November 17, 2023, the official OpenAI announced Sam Altman’s removal from the company.
- Here’s what the board had to say about why Sam Altman was ousted: “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 board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
- The board, consisting of Ilya Sutskever, Adam D’Angelo, Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, also removed Greg Brockman as the board’s chairman but kept him as the company’s president. However, Brockman later resigned.
- Greg Brockman narrated the whole incident in his later tweet. Both got texts from Ilya Sutskever asking for a call and received a Google Meet invite. After joining the invite, they were removed from the board.
- However, The Information reported that employees are in a panic following the sudden removal of Sam Altman, and Mira Murati is trying her best to calm them down.
- Axios reported that Microsoft, which has invested close to $10 billion in OpenAI, received the Sam Altman news only a few minutes before the world. Forbes further confirmed this news and reported that Microsoft and several key venture capital backers of OpenAI, including Vinod Khosla and Reid Hoffman, were not told about this decision.
On November 18, The Information reported that three senior OpenAI researchers — Jakub Pachocki, Szymon Sidor, and Aleksander Madry — resigned after the Altman dismissal.
- The New York Times, citing an anonymous source, reported that in an all-hands meeting at the company, Ilya Sutskever defended the Altman ouster decision by claiming that “it was necessary to protect OpenAI’s mission of making artificial intelligence beneficial to humanity” while dismissing coup or hostile takeover of the company.
- Satya Nadella also tweeted saying, “We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap and remain committed to our partnership, and Mira and the team.”
- However, suddenly, there was a change of heart among the board members, who decided to bring back Sam Altman and Greg Brockman. Jason Kwon, the chief strategy officer, said that OpenAI is optimistic about Sam Altman’s return. However, what caused this sudden change is a matter of speculation.
- Forbes reported that the situation after Sam Altman’s ousting was worse. Venture capitalists threatened the OpenAI board with lawsuits, mass revolt by senior researchers and withholding cloud rights. Bloomberg reported that Microsoft and Thrive are working behind the scenes to restore Sam Altman as CEO.
- Meanwhile, Sam Altman had other plans. Instead of sitting idle, Sam Altman was planning to pitch a new start-up.
On November 19, things didn’t look much bright. Bloomberg reported that before his removal, Sam Altman was looking to raise capital from the Middle East for his new venture, Tigris. The venture was related to an AI-focused chip to compete against Nvidia.
- We also saw that the Microsoft-led movement to bring back Sam Altman faced a blockade as the board members didn’t resign. The board decided to hire their CEO but plans to re-hire Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, although not in their former roles.
- The Information also reported that Microsoft is mulling taking a seat on OpenAI’s board either as the board of directors or as a board observer.
- Mira Murati was also removed as the acting CEO by the OpenAI board, and Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear was named as the new interim CEO.
On November 20, Wired reported that nearly 500 OpenAI employees threatened to quit unless Sam Altman returned. But the board was undeterred and “stands by its decisions as the only path to advance and defend.”
- People were still discussing the future of Sam Altman when Microsoft announced that it had hired Sam Altman, Greg Brockman and other AI staff, as reported by TechCrunch. Meanwhile, Ilya Sutskever tweeted that he regrets participating in the board’s actions.