Altman met with company board members Sunday to discuss him possibly returning to the organization. But those negotiations collapsed, and Altman was hired hours later by Microsoft to lead its AI research.
The bold overhaul of OpenAI, one of the most influential AI companies, has profound consequences for the future of the booming technology. Here’s what you need to know about the Silicon Valley shake-up.
Why was Sam Altman fired?
OpenAI’s board of directors abruptly forced its co-founder and longtime CEO Altman out of the company on Friday. In a blog post, the board wrote that his firing followed “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.”
OpenAI executives, who say they were blindsided by the move, have said the board hasn’t detailed the reasons for Altman’s ousting. According to a person familiar with the board’s proceedings, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, its members had struggled to oppose Altman, who was well-connected and powerful.
Soon after being fired on Friday, Altman posted on X, formerly Twitter, that he “loved” his time at OpenAI and it was “transformative” for him.
Just two days later, amid shock and pushback from investors and the broader tech community, Altman met with the OpenAI board to discuss possibly returning to the company. But those talks collapsed Sunday.
Microsoft, OpenAI’s largest investor, quickly announced it had hired Altman to lead its AI research, and hired former OpenAI president Greg Brockman. Brockman quit OpenAI Friday in solidarity with Altman.
OpenAI created ChatGPT, a popular chatbot that has taken the tech world by storm, instigating a flood of investment and interest in AI. OpenAI began in San Francisco in 2015 as a non-profit trying to build “artificial general intelligence,” or AGI, which is essentially software that’s as smart as humans. It’s original mission was to keep advanced AI out of the sole hands of huge corporations.
After accepting a large investment from Microsoft in 2019, OpenAI become a for-profit corporation. Microsoft is now the largest investor in OpenAI.
How many employees does OpenAI have, and how many signed the open letter?
OpenAI employees have vocally protested Altman’s firing and the subsequent departure of Brockman. More than 700 of the roughly 770-person company signed a letter that called for the current board to resign and for Altman to be reinstated.
“Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI,” the employees wrote in the letter. “We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgment and care for our mission and employees.”
Employees threatened to otherwise quit and join Altman at Microsoft if their demands were not met.
Current OpenAI board member and executive Ilya Sutskever was among those who signed the letter, and said he regretted his participation in the board’s actions.
Who are the OpenAI board members?
The current four board members are the company’s chief scientist Sutskever; Helen Toner, the director of strategy and foundational research grants for the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University; Tasha McCauley, whose LinkedIn profile says she began work as an adjunct senior management scientist at Rand Corp. earlier this year; and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo.
Altman and Brockman were both members of OpenAI’s small board before departing the company late last week.
Who’s the interim OpenAI CEO now?
Emmett Shear, the co-founder of video streaming company Twitch, posted on Monday that he had been named interim CEO of OpenAI. He replaced the company’s chief technical officer Mira Murati, who was briefly named interim CEO when Altman was ousted on Friday.
Shear called the offer a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” and wrote on X that he has a three-point plan for his first 30 days in the role. The first step, he said, is to “hire an independent investigator to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report.”
Nitasha Tiku, Gerrit DeVynck and Pranshu Verma contributed to this report.