OpenAI-Sam Altman saga: What we know so far

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The surprise ouster of OpenAI co-founder and former CEO Sam Altman has triggered widespread fallout at the artificial intelligence (AI) company behind the popular ChatGPT tool.

Here’s what we know so far about the company’s messy split with Altman:

OpenAI announces Sam Altman stepping down as CEO on Nov 17

The company made the surprise leadership change Friday afternoon, announcing that Altman would be stepping down as CEO after a review found that he was “not consistently candid in his communications with the board.”

“OpenAI was deliberately structured to advance our mission: to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all humanity,” the board of directors said in statement. “The board remains fully committed to serving this mission.”

“We are grateful for Sam’s many contributions to the founding and growth of OpenAI,” it continued. “At the same time, we believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward.”

Greg Brockman, the president of OpenAI and chair of its board, quit over Altman’s ouster. In a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Brockman said both he and Altman were “still trying to figure out exactly what happened.”

“Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today,” Brockman wrote Friday night. “Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.”

Brockman said the former CEO received a message from OpenAI’s chief scientist and board member Ilya Sutskever on Thursday night asking to talk the next day. When he joined the Google Meet on Friday, Altman was reportedly told he was being fired.

Shortly after, Brockman also received a message from Sutskever asking for a quick call, during which he was informed that he was being removed as chair the board.

OpenAI cycles through CEOs amid upheaval

In its initial announcement Friday, OpenAI said that chief technology officer Mira Murati would take over as interim CEO, effective immediately.

The company touted Murati’s “critical role” in the growth of OpenAI from a small startup to an AI leader.

“As the leader of the company’s research, product, and safety functions, Mira is exceptionally qualified to step into the role of interim CEO,” the board said Friday. “We have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead OpenAI during this transition period.”

Murati — who appeared to show her support for Altman online, responding to a Saturday post from her predecessor with a heart emoji — reportedly negotiated with OpenAI’s board over the weekend in an effort to rehire Altman and Brockman, according to Bloomberg. 

However, Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch, revealed early Monday morning that he was taking over as interim chief of the AI company.

Shear acknowledged that “the process and communications around Sam’s removal has been handled very badly” and “seriously damaged our trust,” and he announced plans to launch an independent investigation into Altman’s ouster in his first 30 days.

“Depending on the results [of] everything we learn from these, I will drive changes in the organization — up to and including pushing strongly for significant governance changes if necessary,” he said in a post on X. 

“OpenAI’s stability and success are too important to allow turmoil to disrupt them like this,” Shear added.

Microsoft scoops up Altman, Brockman

Amid the turmoil, Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella announced late Sunday night that Altman and Brockman would be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team.

“We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” Nadella said in a post on X.

“We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and in continuing to support our customers and partners,” he added. “We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and [OpenAI’s] new leadership team and working with them.”

Microsoft has reportedly invested $13 billion into OpenAI since 2019.

Hundreds of OpenAI employees threaten to quit

In the wake of Altman’s ouster, more than 700 employees at OpenAI are threatening to quit and follow the former CEO to Microsoft, unless the board resigns and reinstates Altman and Brockman, Wired reported.

“The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and company,” the employees wrote, according to Wired. “Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.”

The letter was signed by Murati, as well as Sutskever, the board member. Sutskever said in a post Monday that he “deeply” regrets his participation in the board’s recent actions and “never intended to harm OpenAI.”  

“I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company,” Sutskever said.

Amid the revolt at OpenAI, Microsoft on Tuesday appeared to be prepared to take employees up on their offer to follow Altman to the company. 

“To my partners at OpenAI: We have seen your petition and appreciate your desire potentially to join Sam Altman at Microsoft’s new AI Research Lab. Know that if needed, you have a role at Microsoft that matches your compensation and advances our collective mission,” Microsoft’s chief technology officer, Kevin Scott, said in a post on X.

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