The saga of OpenAI co-founder and former CEO Sam Altman triggered fallout at the artificial intelligence (AI) company behind the popular ChatGPT tool and across the technology sector.
OpenAI announced late Tuesday that it would bring back Altman as CEO and form a new board of directors. The announcement came four days after OpenAI’s previous board fired Altman and two days after Microsoft announced it would hire the ousted CEO to lead an AI division.
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Here’s what we know so far about the company’s messy split with Altman and eventual reversal:
OpenAI announced Sam Altman’s ouster 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 Thursday night from OpenAI’s chief scientist and board member Ilya Sutskever 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 of the board.
OpenAI cycled 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.” 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 appeared to scoop 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 in OpenAI since 2019.
Hundreds of OpenAI employees threatened to quit
In the wake of Altman’s ouster, more than 700 employees at OpenAI threatened to quit and follow the former CEO to Microsoft unless the board resigned and reinstated 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 was ready 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 Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott said in a post on X.
Altman, Brockman return to OpenAI with new board
The Altman saga appeared to come to close Tuesday morning when OpenAI announced he would return to the company as CEO and serve under a new board. Brockman announced in a post on X that he would also return to OpenAI.
Silicon Valley veteran Bret Taylor will chair the new OpenAI board, and other members include former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Quota co-founder Adam D’Angelo.
Despite losing the chance to bring Altman and Brockman in-house, Nadella said Wednesday he was “encouraged by the changes” to the OpenAI board and called them “a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance.”
“We look forward to building on our strong partnership and delivering the value of this next generation of AI to our customers and partners,” Nadella said.
Updated Nov. 22 at 10:12 a.m. Sylvan Lane contributed.