In a surprising turn of events, OpenAI, the AI research startup known for its groundbreaking work in generative AI systems like ChatGPT and DALL-E 3, has announced a significant change in its leadership. Sam Altman, the co-founder and CEO of OpenAI, has been removed from his position by the board of directors. According an official announcement, the decision comes after a “deliberative review process” by the board, which concluded that Altman was not “consistently candid in his communications” with them, undermining their ability to fulfill their responsibilities. As a result, the board expressed a lack of confidence in Altman's ability to continue leading the organization.
Sam Altman took his disappointment to X, where he said the decision was unexpected, saying he loved his time at OpenAI.
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.
will have more to say about what's next later.
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 17, 2023
i love you all.
today was a weird experience in many ways. but one unexpected one is that it has been sorta like reading your own eulogy while you're still alive. the outpouring of love is awesome.
one takeaway: go tell your friends how great you think they are.
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 18, 2023
Altman has been actively involved in shaping regulatory responses to AI, meeting with world leaders, and steering OpenAI through significant growth and transformation. Under his leadership, OpenAI shifted from a non-profit to a “capped-profit” company to raise capital, attracting substantial investment, including from Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion and holds a significant stake in the company. The sudden leadership change raises questions about the future direction of OpenAI and its ongoing projects and partnerships, including its collaboration with Microsoft. Aside from his role at OpenAI, Sam Altman was reportedly in the process of raising capital for a new venture fund, with an interest in hard technology companies.
New Leadership and Future Directions
Following Altman's departure, Mira Murati, previously the Chief Technology Officer at OpenAI, has been appointed as the interim CEO. Murati, who has been a part of OpenAI's leadership team for five years and leads the company's research, product, and safety functions, is seen as exceptionally qualified for this role. The board is now conducting a formal search for a permanent CEO. OpenAI's board, consisting of chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, Quora CEO Adam D'Angelo, entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner from Georgetown University's Center for Security and Emerging Technology, remains committed to the company's mission of ensuring that artificial general intelligence benefits all humanity.
Altman Holds No Equity in OpenAI
Notably, OpenAI did not provide Altman with equity in the company, allowing the board to make leadership changes as necessary. The company recently disclosed an impressive milestone of surpassing 100 million weekly users with ChatGPT. This growth came under Altman's tenure, during which he traveled globally to discuss AI regulations and promote OpenAI's industry vision. His diverse portfolio also includes a foray into cryptocurrency initiatives such as a startup called Worldcoin that rewards users with tokens for scanning their eyeballs. Prior to his focus on OpenAI, Altman was at the helm of startup accelerator Y Combinator.
OpenAI Co-founder and President Greg Brockman Leaving with Three Senior Researchers
Greg Brockman, co-founder and prior chairman of OpenAI, has decided to leave the company shortly after the announcement of Sam Altman being fired. Greg Brockman conveyed his decision to part ways with OpenAI in a post on X. In his message, Brockman expressed his pride in the work accomplished by the OpenAI team, noting the company's journey from its inception in his apartment eight years ago to its current status. Despite the adversity and challenges faced along the way, OpenAI has remained committed to its mission. Brockman emphasized this, stating his ongoing belief in OpenAI's goal of developing Advanced General Intelligence (AGI) that serves the greater good of humanity.
Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today.
Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.
We too are still trying to figure out exactly…
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
According to The Information, three senior researchers at OpenAI resigned on Friday night as well. Their departure came after Sam Altman's termination and the sudden resignation of President Greg Brockman. The departing researchers include Jakub Pachocki, who had worked at the company for six years and had risen to the position of Director of Research. Aleksander Madry, who had joined the company as Head of Preparedness just seven months ago, led a team assessing potential AI risks. Finally, Szymon Sidor, a researcher who had been with the startup for seven years, also resigned.
Pachocki started as a research lead in 2017 and worked his way up to become the Director of Research over a period of six years. On the other hand, Aleksander Madry joined only seven months ago and held the position of Head of Preparedness. Meanwhile, Sidor became a Member of the Technical Staff at OpenAI in 2016.
Mira Murati Reassures OpenAI Staff of Strong Microsoft Support
The Information reports that in a special assembly on November 17, interim CEO Mira Murati addressed OpenAI employees, conveying Microsoft's continued trust in the AI developer. Murati, who previously served as a leading product executive at OpenAI, sought to reassure the workforce regarding the stability of the partnership. Murati emphazised OpenAI's commitment to finding a new permanent CEO.
Chief AI researcher at OpenAI, Ilya Sutskever, also spoke at the meeting, suggesting that the team would grow closer as they addressed the challenges posed by the high-profile departure of Altman. The conversation ventured into not only the aspects of leadership change but also the continuity and progression of OpenAI's innovative projects within the AI space. Employees left the meeting with a sense of resolution and focus on the future objectives of the organization.
Notable expressions of confidence came from the top echelons at Microsoft, with CEO Satya Nadella and CTO Kevin Scott reaffirming their faith in OpenAI's potential and direction. OpenAI relies heavily on Microsoft for significant financial backing and computational resources, making their endorsement particularly critical during this period of transition. Following the layoff of Sam Altman, Satya Nadella shared this brief statement on the official Microsoft Blog:
“As you saw at Microsoft Ignite this week, we're continuing to rapidly innovate for this era of AI, with over 100 announcements across the full tech stack from AI systems, models, and tools in Azure, to Copilot. Most importantly, we're committed to delivering all of this to our customers while building for the future. 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.”
OpenAI Investors “Blindsided By Sam Altman's Firing”
The news of Altman's firing has sent ripples through the tech community. Altman, who co-founded OpenAI alongside notable figures like Peter Thiel and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, has been a prominent figure in AI and technology.
According to reports, OpenAI investors were blindsided by Sam Altman's firing not getting advanced notice about the decision.
According to four sources with direct knowledge, the key venture capital supporters of OpenAI were not informed beforehand about the recent news of the company's CEO, Sam Altman's departure.
One of them was Vinod Khosla, whose company Khosla Ventures invested in OpenAI in 2019. A source close to Khosla said that he was not aware of the ouster before the announcement, and Khosla declined to comment. Reid Hoffman, an early investor who previously sat on OpenAI's board of directors, was also not informed of the news.
Microsoft, which has invested over $10 billion in OpenAI, learned about Altman's departure and removal from the board just a minute before it was publicly announced, according to an Axios report. Thrive Capital, which conducted a tender offer to purchase employee shares in April and was in talks to buy more at an $80 billion valuation last month, did not respond to a request for comment.