OpenAI & Sam Altman: What Happened So Far?

Sam Altman’s Ouster and Return

Sam Altman, co-founder of OpenAI, experienced a sudden ousting as CEO, followed by a rapid return to his position. This series of events started with Altman’s abrupt dismissal on a Friday due to what the original board described as his lack of candor and for defending OpenAI’s mission to develop AI that benefits humanity. The details surrounding his firing were not fully disclosed. However, this decision led to significant turmoil within the company, with President Greg Brockman resigning in protest. The situation escalated when almost all of OpenAI’s staff threatened to leave and join a new research team at Microsoft unless the board stepped down and reinstated Altman​

Interim Leadership and Employee Reaction

In the wake of Altman’s departure, OpenAI named Emmett Shear, the former boss of Twitch, as interim CEO. Shear moved swiftly to address the concerns surrounding Altman’s firing, promising an investigation into the matter and considering new governance structures for OpenAI. Meanwhile, Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist and a board member who had a role in Altman’s firing, expressed regret over his involvement in the decision.​

Microsoft’s Role

Microsoft played a crucial role in the events. After Altman’s ousting, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella offered him a position to head a new research team at Microsoft, along with other departing OpenAI colleagues. This move was part of Microsoft’s strategy to retain key talent and stabilize OpenAI, where it had invested billions of dollars. The threat of staff leaving for Microsoft put significant pressure on OpenAI’s board.

Reinstatement of Altman and New Board Formation

Amidst this upheaval, an agreement was reached for Altman to return as CEO of OpenAI. This comeback was accompanied by the introduction of a new initial board, including Bret Taylor as chair, Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo. The reformation of the board and Altman’s reinstatement were seen as moves to stabilize the company and set a clearer direction for its future.

Shift in Focus and Governance

Altman’s return and the new board composition suggest a potential shift in OpenAI’s approach, with a likelihood of being more profit-focused and possibly less risk-averse. The organization, traditionally overseen by a nonprofit parent board to prioritize AI safety alongside growth, now faces a transition period and potential reorientation of its goals and methods.

Employee Dynamics and Future Directions

The series of events highlighted a divide within OpenAI’s workforce. Some employees, particularly those who joined before 2022, are focused on safely building artificial general intelligence (AGI) with adequate safeguards. In contrast, others, recruited after the success of ChatGPT, are more inclined towards rapidly developing and launching products, aligning with the fast-paced nature of Silicon Valley startups.​

For those wondering, here’s the letter from OpenAI employees to the board of directors that led to the return of Sam Altman as the CEO, as posted by WIRED:

To the Board of Directors at OpenAI,

OpenAI is the world’s leading AI company. We, the employees of OpenAI, have developed the best models and pushed the field to new frontiers. Our work on AI safety and governance shapes global norms. The products we built are used by millions of people around the world. Until now, the company we work for and cherish has never been in a stronger position.

The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and company. Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.

When we all unexpectedly learned of your decision, the leadership team of OpenAI acted swiftly to stabilize the company. They carefully listened to your concerns and tried to cooperate with you on all grounds. Despite many requests for specific facts for your allegations, you have never provided any written evidence. They also increasingly realized you were not capable of carrying out your duties and were negotiating in bad faith.

The leadership team suggested that the most stabilizing path forward – the one that would best serve our mission, company, stakeholders, employees and the public – would be for you to resign and put in place a qualified board that could lead the company forward in stability.

Leadership worked with you around the clock to find a mutually agreeable outcome. Yet within two days of your initial decision, you again replaced interim CEO Mira Murati against the best interests of the company. You also informed the leadership team that allowing the company to be destroyed “would be consistent with the mission.”

Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI. We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgment, and care for our mission and employees. We, the undersigned, may choose to resign from OpenAI and join the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman. Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join. We will take this step imminently unless all current board members resign, appoint two new lead independent directors, Bret Taylor and Will Hurd, and reinstate Sam Altman and Greg Brockman.

“OPEN AI are not listed in any public exchanges and therefore could not be traded”

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