In a dramatic turn of events late Friday, ex-Y Combinator president Sam Altman was fired as CEO of AI startup OpenAI, the company behind viral AI hits like ChatGPT, GPT-4 and DALL-E 3, by OpenAI’s board of directors. Then, the company’s longtime president and co-founder, Greg Brockman, resigned — as did three senior OpenAI researchers. And the fallout continues.
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It’s a fast-moving situation that we’re still trying to get to the bottom of. No doubt more will become clear as time goes on. To make it easier to follow all that’s happened in the meantime, though, we’ve put together a timeline; we’ll do our best to keep it current.
Timeline of Sam Altman’s firing from OpenAI
Ilya Sutskever schedules call with Altman
According to a post on X (formerly Twitter) from Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, the chief scientist at OpenAI and a co-founder, texted Altman on Thursday evening about scheduling a Friday noon call.
Murati told of Altman’s firing
Brockman alleges that Mira Murati, OpenAI’s CTO and now interim CEO, was informed on Thursday night that Altman would be fired.
Brockman says he got a text from Sutskever shortly after noon on Friday asking for a quick call. After sending a Google Meet link, Brockman was told that he was being removed from the board as chairman “but was vital to the company and would retain his role” as president, and that Altman had been fired.
Altman’s firing publicly announced
OpenAI held an all-hands meeting Friday afternoon during which Sutskever defended Altman’s ouster. He dismissed suggestions that pushing Altman out amounted to a “hostile takeover,” and claimed that it was necessary to protect OpenAI’s mission of “making AI beneficial to humanity.”
Microsoft releases a statement
“As you saw at Microsoft Ignite this week, we’re continuing to rapidly innovate for this era of AI, with over 100 announcements across the full tech stack from AI systems, models and tools in Azure, to Copilot. Most importantly, we’re committed to delivering all of this to our customers while building for the future. 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 to Mira and the team. Together, we will continue to deliver the meaningful benefits of this technology to the world.”
Brockman announced his resignation from OpenAI, citing “today’s news.” After sending a memo internally, he published the text on X.
Senior OpenAI researchers resign
Three senior OpenAI researchers resign after Brockman, including the director of research Jakub Pachocki and head of preparedness Aleksander Madry.
“Not … in response to malfeasance”
In an internal memo obtained by Axios sent Saturday morning, OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap said yesterday’s announcement “took [the management team] by surprise” and that management had had “multiple conversations with the board to try to better understand the reasons and process behind their decision.” Discussions were ongoing as of Saturday morning, per the memo.
“We can say definitively that the board’s decision was not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices,” Lightcap added. “This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board … We still share your concerns about how the process has been handled, are working to resolve the situation, and will provide updates as we’re able.”
OpenAI’s funding in jeopardy
The planned sale of OpenAI employee shares that would value the startup at about $86 billion could be in jeopardy. The Information, speaking to three sources formerly with the company, reports that they no longer expect the sale — led by Thrive Capital — to happen, or, if it does, to come with a lesser valuation because of the recent turn of events.
Altman planning new venture
Altman has been telling investors that he’s planning to launch a new venture, according to The Information. Brockman is expected to join the effort — whatever form it takes. (Possibly an AI chip startup.)
Investors pushing for Altman’s return
Investors — furious at the turn of events — are reportedly exerting pressure on OpenAI’s board to reinstate Altman, going so far as to recruit Microsoft. Nadella is said to be sympathetic.
Board agrees to reverse course — in principle
The Verge reports that the board agreed in principle to resign and to allow Altman and Brockman to return. It waffled, however, missing a deadline yesterday by which many OpenAI staffers were set to leave the company. Altman is said to be ambivalent about coming back and asking for “significant” governance changes.