OpenAI is one of the most high-profile artificial intelligence companies in the world. So the abrupt ouster of Sam Altman as its CEO on Friday caused an immediate stir in the AI world and among the investors behind it.
Now, two days later, in the latest twist, Altman was said to be in talks about a return to the company, although the talks stalled over the makeup of the company’s board of directors, according to two people familiar with the discussions. .
Under Altman’s leadership, OpenAI has become synonymous with artificial intelligence. The company helped spark a frenzy in the tech world after it launched ChatGPT last year, and industry giants like Apple, Google and Meta hastily began developing their own AI technology.
Here’s what you need to know about Mr. Altman’s departure and what could happen next.
On Friday, Altman was abruptly fired as CEO of OpenAI. The move was so surprising (and significant) that some tech observers openly compared it to when Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985.
Details of his surprise departure are still emerging, but a dispute with a fellow OpenAI founder appears to have played a role. Ilya Sutskever, a board member who founded OpenAI with Altman and several others, was said to be increasingly alarmed that the company’s technology could pose a significant risk and that Altman was not paying enough attention to the damage. potentials. . Sutskever also objected to what he perceived as his own diminished role within the company.
“It doesn’t seem at all implausible that we have computers (data centers) that are much smarter than people,” Sutskever said recently at a press conference. podcast. “What would those AIs do? I don’t know.”
Two other OpenAI board members, Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, have ties to the Rationalist and Effective Altruist movements, which worry that AI technology could one day grow to destroy humanity.
The board, however, has remained reserved about the reasons for his departure. In Friday’s announcement, the board said little more than that Altman “was not consistently truthful in his communications with the board.” On Saturday, Brad Lightcap, an OpenAI executive, told employees that “the board’s decision was not made in response to misconduct or anything related to our financial, business, security, or safety/privacy practices. “This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.”
Sunday’s talks included a look at how the company’s board could be reformed if Altman returns as CEO, two of the people said. Board members have not yet reached an agreement on what a restructured board would look like, nor is Altman’s reinstatement inevitable, two of the people said.
What was the reaction?
It was shock and confusion among OpenAI’s rank-and-file employees and distress among the company’s investors.
On Saturday, Altman, as well as Greg Brockman, a former president of OpenAI who resigned in protest on Friday, were in negotiations to return to the company. Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in the company, was said to be particularly alarmed by Altman’s sudden firing and was leading the campaign for his reinstatement.
Microsoft, as well as other OpenAI investors such as Thrive Capital and Sequoia Capital, found out about Altman’s firing a minute before the announcement or after it was made public.
What happens if the board does not reinstate Mr. Altman?
Altman, along with Brockman, would almost certainly build a new company.
Immediately after Altman was ousted, he was said to have entered into talks with investors about a new artificial intelligence startup. Altman is well known in the tech world not only for his work at OpenAI but also for his years running Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley startup incubator.
Alfred Lin, an investor at Sequoia Capital, posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he was looking forward to “the next world-changing company” that Altman and Brockman would build. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, posted: “Can’t wait to see what he does next.”