UPDATED Nov. 18 with new details: Tech journalist Kara Swisher reported today that the former CEO and co-founder of ChatGPT parent OpenAI, Sam Altman, is in discussions to return to the company that fired him yesterday. Swisher writes that Altman “is ‘ambivalent’ about coming back and would want significant governance changes.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that it is OpenAI’s investors that are pushing for his return.
“Altman is considering returning but has told investors that he wants a new board, the people said. He has also discussed starting a company that would bring on former OpenAI employees, and is deciding between the two options, the people said.”
Microsoft is the company’s largest investor, having funded the company to the tune of $13 billion, per WSJ. Thrive Capital is its second-largest shareholder.
As the initial shockwaves from Altman’s ouster continue to reverberate, the broad details of what led to his ouster are becoming clearer.
A letter sent to employees this morning blamed “a breakdown in communication” between Altman and the board. While vague, that description in not exactly at odds with more specific reporting from tech journalist Kara Swisher, who wrote on social media: “Sources tell me chief scientist Ilya Sutskever was at the center of this. Increasing tensions with Sam Altman and Greg Brockman over role and influence and he got the board on his side.”
A post yesterday from OpenAI President an cofounder Greg Brockman (who was also ousted) seems to confirm Sutskever as a prime mover.
“Last night, Sam got a text from Ilya asking to talk at noon Friday,” Brockman wrote. “Sam joined a Google Meet and the whole board, except Greg, was there. Ilya told Sam he was being fired and that the news was going out very soon.”
Swisher said the company’s recent developer day and how the company’s GPT store was introduced was an “inflection moment of Altman pushing too far, too fast…The board members who voted against Altman felt he was manipulative and headstrong and wanted to do what he wanted to do.”
UPDATED with key exec exit. Greg Brockman, who co-founded ChatGPT parent OpenAI and served as its president and chairman, is exiting the company in the wake of CEO Sam Altman’s ouster.
After a company statement earlier Friday indicated Brockman would remain, the exec instead expressed his support of Altman, telling employees in an internal memo shared on Twitter/X, “Based on today’s news, I quit.” Assessing the growth of the company from modest beginnings to one of the most valuable start-ups in existence, he added, “We’ve been through tough & great times together, accomplishing so much despite all the reasons it should be impossible. … I continue to believe in the mission of creating safe AGI that benefits all of humanity.”
Sam Altman, the face of the tech industry’s current embrace of artificial intelligence, has been ousted by OpenAI’s board of directors.
The tech firm said Friday that Altman had been let go after a board-initiated review found that he had been “not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.” A blog post added that the board “no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI..” He was replaced on an interim basis by Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati.
Along with the shuffle in the corner office, the company said Greg Brockman will be stepping down as chairman of the board. He will remain in his role at the company, reporting to the CEO.
“I loved my time at openai,” Altman tweeted, sans capitalization. “It was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. most of all i loved working with such talented people. will have more to say about what’s next later.”
Released about a year ago, the most recent version of OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT took the conversation about generative AI out of the laboratory and into the living room. Students working on term papers, professional workers developing presentations and millions of others suddenly gained easy access to a vast trove of resources, though it came with significant strings attached. As OpenAI’s valuation soared and Altman and other champions of ChatGPT espoused its potential to drive efficiencies and help speed cumbersome processes in areas like health care and other parts of society, some painted a much darker picture. A group of tech leaders, including Elon Musk, earlier this year called for a pause in AI development pending a more thorough review of its potential to do harm.
Even short of doomsday scenarios involving nuclear codes and machines freezing out their human creators, the issue of copyright has raised alarms in the creative community. AI was a central priority for both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA in the Hollywood guilds’ recent strikes against the AMPTP. ChatGPT is trained to create text and images through a process of feeding material into it. Copyright holders of those works have voiced concerns that the system erodes the value of their creations.
OpenAI had reportedly held talks with investors recently for a new fundraising round valuing the company at $80 billion, making it one of the world’s most valuable startups. Microsoft has invested about $13 billion for a 49% stake in the company.
“OpenAI was deliberately structured to advance our mission: to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all humanity,” the board said in a 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. At the same time, we believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward. As the leader of the company’s research, product, and safety functions, Mira is exceptionally qualified to step into the role of interim CEO. We have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead OpenAI during this transition period.”
OpenAI’s board of directors consists of OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, independent directors Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Helen Toner.