That’s why it was such a shock when OpenAI’s board of directors suddenly announced on Friday evening that Altman was gone from the company. Then, less than 24 hours later, reports quickly spread that OpenAI was looking to bring Altman back. What?!
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The OpenAI and Sam Altman situation is still unfolding and there’s a lot we don’t know. But, here’s everything you need to know so far:
Who is Sam Altman?
Sam Altman is one of the original founders of OpenAI, funding the company in 2015 alongside a group of other investors like Peter Thiel and Elon Musk. At the time, Altman was a partner at the startup incubator Y Combinator. He would later go on to become president of the organization.
In 2019, Altman stepped down from his role at Y Combinator and joined OpenAI as its CEO. A few years later, in 2022, OpenAI would launch its ChatGPT chatbot and, in just a few month’s time, ChatGPT would become the fastest-growing app of all time.
OpenAI boots Sam Altman
Altman’s Friday evening exit from OpenAI flabbergasted the tech world as there was no indication that Altman and the leading AI organization’s relationship was on the rocks. Even more surprising was the manner in which Altman was let go and what exactly OpenAI’s board said in its announcement. The timing was also unusual as companies usually wait until after the markets close when making such announcements in hopes of controlling the most damaging fallout.
“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,” OpenAI’s post said. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
Rumors and speculation quickly spread on social media, with tech industry heads, journalists, and onlookers trying to make sense of the situation based on the board’s announcement.
Shortly after OpenAI’s announcement, Altman broke his silence on X, the Elon Musk-owned platformer formerly known as Twitter.
“i loved my time at openai. it was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. most of all i loved working with such talented people,” Altman posted. “will have more to say about what’s next later.”
Altman’s post lacked any details as well but it provided some information regarding Altman’s attitude about the situation – and perhaps the reasoning being Altman’s firing wasn’t one in which he felt he needed to hide from.
OpenAI’s president quits
Another shocker occurred that same Friday evening. In its post about Altman’s departure, the board also announced that OpenAI co-founder and president Greg Brockman was stepping down as chairman of the board.
The board’s statement also said Brockman was remaining with the company in his other roles.
However, it appears that the board did not know that Brockman intended to stand with Altman and leave the company entirely. Soon after Altman posted on X, Brockman followed it up with his own announcement that he was quitting OpenAI.
“Based on today’s news, I quit,” he posted, adding that he was proud of his time at OpenAI.
How Altman’s firing went down
Brockman wasn’t done after announcing that he was quitting the company he helped found. Late Friday night, he decided to share his version of events of Altman’s removal from the company.
According to Brockman, Altman received a text message on Thursday evening from OpenAI’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever about a meeting the next day. At that Friday meeting over Google Meet, Altman was fired by the entire board, minus Brockman who was not in attendance. Brockman says he was later informed he was being removed from the board but being retained in his other roles at the company.
According to Brockman, most of OpenAI’s management was unaware of Altman’s removal until that day. He says OpenAI’s then-CTO and current interim CEO Mira Murati was only informed of the news the night before.
Why was Sam Altman fired?
We still don’t know exactly why Altman was fired for sure.
However, tech journalist Kara Swisher has reported that it appears the main issue was a “misalignment” between OpenAI’s for-profit side and non-profit side.
According to Swisher, Sutskever was able to get the board behind him regarding his concerns about the direction that OpenAI was moving into. OpenAI was originally founded as a non-profit with a more open-source ethos. However, as the years went on, the company increasingly moved into its for-profit arm, led by Altman.
Altman was allegedly more focused on profit and product development than issues like AI safety, which caused concern amongst OpenAI’s non-profit organization, which controls the company as well.
OpenAI now wants Altman back
While the non-profit wing led by the board of directors had its say on Altman, the for-profit arm’s investors were not happy with it.
Big tech companies like Microsoft have invested heavily in OpenAI. The computer giant alone, for example, has pledged $13 billion to the company. And it’s certainly not because Microsoft feels strongly about the AI ethos of the non-profit organization. It is investing in for-profit OpenAI led by Sam Altman.
According to a report from Forbes, while the investors don’t have the power to bring Altman back, they’ve been pushing the OpenAI board of directors to do so.
And, apparently, it worked. The Verge reported on Saturday – less than 24 hours after Altman’s firing – that the board had reached out to Altman in order to work out a return to the company.
However, an agreement that saw the board resign and Altman and Brockman return to their roles at OpenAI never went through as its Saturday night deadline passed.
OpenAI employees, for their part, have voiced their disapproval of Altman’s firing. Some of them have voiced their clear support for the now-former CEO on social media. Three senior OpenAI researchers took a different approach and resigned from the company. According to The Information, those researchers are OpenAI’s director of research Jakub Pachocki, the head of an AI risk team Aleksander Madry, and a senior researcher Szymon Sidor.
“i love the openai team so much,” he said in one post on X.
Altman, though, could still decide to go his own way and start his own AI company. It seems many of his former employees would move there to work with him. And he’d have more control and say over how he runs things too.
As of right now, it seems like anything could happen.