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OpenAI CEO Sam Altman pushed out after losing board’s confidence

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OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman has left the company abruptly after losing the confidence of the board, according to a statement on Friday from the Microsoft-backed artificial intelligence pioneer.

“Mr Altman’s departure follows 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. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI,” the statement said.

Altman said in a post on X: “I loved my time at OpenAI. It was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit.”

“Will have more to say about what’s next later,” he added.

Greg Brockman, another co-founder of OpenAI alongside Altman, said later on Friday that he would resign from the company. Just a few hours earlier, OpenAI’s board had said Brockman would be vacating his position as chair but would be staying, reporting to the chief executive. 

Altman will be replaced by Mira Murati, the company’s chief technology officer, who will serve as interim chief executive until a permanent replacement is named. He will also leave OpenAI’s board. The respective exits of Altman and Brockman leave Ilya Sutskever, who is also the group’s chief scientist, as the sole OpenAI founder remaining on its board.

Brockman wrote in a statement late on Friday that he and Altman had been given little warning by Sutskever of the board’s decision, delivered in a Google meeting. Altman was told he would be sacked 30 minutes before OpenAI issued a statement to the public, Brockman said, adding that he was informed he would be removed from the board a few minutes later.

“We too are still trying to figure out exactly what happened,” said Brockman, who signed off: “Greater things coming soon.”

A spokesperson for OpenAI said the company had “nothing to add at this time.”

Altman’s exit sent shockwaves through Silicon Valley on Friday. The 38-year-old has become the public face of the boom in generative AI, following the launch of OpenAI’s hugely popular chatbot ChatGPT a year ago. 

He has been the most prominent executive in the fast-growing sector and the de facto ambassador for Silicon Valley in its efforts to persuade governments around the world that the pursuit of highly-sophisticated AI could be managed safely.

OpenAI has drawn billions of dollars of investment from strategic partners — most notably Microsoft — and prominent venture funds including Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz and Josh Kushner’s Thrive Capital, which has been preparing to lead a purchase of up to $1bn in employee stock in a deal valuing OpenAI at $86bn, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

But a number of OpenAI’s investors, including senior figures at Microsoft, appeared to have been caught cold by Friday’s announcement, according to people with knowledge of the situation. “Even close, close friends have no idea [what happened],” said one friend of Altman’s. It is not clear whether the employee stock sale will be affected by Altman’s departure.

At the company’s inaugural developer day earlier this month, Altman struck a triumphant tone as he rolled out a store for apps using its AI and announced its flagship ChatGPT product had reached 100mn users.

Altman welcomed Satya Nadella as a special guest at the event, asking the Microsoft chief executive how he felt about the future of their relationship. “We love you guys,” Nadella responded. Microsoft shares fell about 2 per cent following the announcement of Altman’s departure.

Nadella said in a statement on Friday: “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.”

Altman also spoke at length about generative AI at the Apec summit in San Francisco on Thursday, saying he was “super excited” about the future of the technology. When asked to predict what would be most surprising in the space this time next year, he said AI model capabilities would have taken “a leap forward that no one will have expected”.

In a post on X on Friday night, Altman responded to support from investors and technologists — including Airbnb founder and chief executive Brian Chesky and former Google boss Eric Schmidt — saying it was “like reading your own eulogy while you’re still alive.”

OpenAI’s board of directors said in its statement on Friday it was grateful for Altman’s contributions in growing the company but added “we believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward”.

OpenAI’s board of directors include Sutskever; Quora chief executive Adam D’Angelo; technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley; and Helen Toner from the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

Additional reporting by Camilla Hodgson

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