21 November 2023

OpenAI Ousts CEO Sam Altman


SAM ALTMAN, WHO as CEO of OpenAI gave the world ChatGPT and became one of the most influential people in technology, has departed the company after losing the confidence of its board.

Altman, who had been at the company since cofounding it in 2015, was told he was fired by OpenAI board member and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever minutes before a public announcement by the board, company president Greg Brockman said in a post on X.

The board's announcement said that a review of Altman's conduct “concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.” Mira Murati, previously OpenAI’s chief technology officer, was appointed interim CEO while OpenAI searches for a full-time replacement, the board said.

OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Brockman's post and declined to comment on the board's announcement. Altman did not respond to a request for comment.

The announcement said that Greg Brockman, who cofounded OpenAI with Altman alongside leading names in AI and technology including Elon Musk, would also step down from his role as chair of the company’s board.

No reason was given for Brockman’s change in position but he announced that he had resigned from the company several hours after the company's statement. He shared an email sent to OpenAI staff on X. “I’m super proud of what we’ve all built since starting in my apartment 8 years ago," the email said. "We’ve been through tough and great times together, accomplishing so much despite all the reasons it should have been impossible. But based on today’s news, I quit.”

Later on Friday, Brockman posted on X that he and Altman were “shocked and saddened by what the board did today.” His post claimed that Altman was told he was being fired by fellow OpenAI cofounder Ilya Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist and a member of its board, at noon that day. Brockman was informed separately that he was being removed from the board soon after, his post said. “We will be fine. Greater things coming soon,” Brockman’s post concluded.

An investor in OpenAI who spoke anonymously because they did not have full details of the board's concerns said its statement suggested the gravity of Altman's alleged lack of candor was significant and it's possible the changeover could lead to employees heading elsewhere. OpenAI and AI rivals such as Google and Meta have intensified their competition for AI talent since ChatGPT's debut last year.

The surprising capabilities of ChatGPT, such as solving complex puzzles and handling questions that appear to require human-like reasoning, stunned AI researchers, amazed the public, and triggered an arms race among big tech companies to build more powerful AI. The bot’s success turned Altman into a tech celebrity, consulted by world leaders on the future path of AI technology.

Altman appeared yesterday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, telling hundreds of business and government leaders that AI systems could solve humanity's most-pressing problems if their development were pursued responsibly.

“We're on a path to self-destruction as a species right now,” he said, sitting alongside executives from Meta and Google. “We need new technology if we want to flourish for tens, hundreds of thousands, and millions of years more.”

Altman acknowledged that success wasn’t certain, but he expressed confidence that AI would ultimately be beneficial, describing the technology as his life's work, from childhood. “This will be the most transformative and beneficial technology humanity has yet invented,” he said.

OpenAI was founded in 2015 as a nonprofit focused on safely developing AI more intelligent than humans. It was funded by Musk and others, including Peter Thiel and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman.

OpenAI became a for-profit company in 2019, as the cost of building and training advanced AI became challenging. It struck a partnership with Microsoft in 2019 that saw the software giant invest a billion dollars and provide cloud computing power for training OpenAI’s algorithms. This year Microsoft agreed to invest a further $10 billion into OpenAI.

OpenAI developed a number of cutting-edge AI projects in the years after its creation, but the introduction of ChatGPT in November 2022 quickly turned the company into one of the most important businesses on earth.

Microsoft was given a brief heads up about OpenAI's announcement of management changes today, according to a person familiar with the matter speaking on the condition of anonymity. They declined to say what Microsoft was told about the OpenAI board's justifications.

Microsoft later posted a statement from CEO Satya Nadella saying that the company is committed to its partnership with OpenAI and to Murati and her team. “Together, we will continue to deliver the meaningful benefits of this technology to the world,” Nadella's statement says.

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