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Summary of OpenAI and Sam Altman’s faceoff that led to Altman’s removal and reinstatement as CEO

2 Mins read
  • For about a week now, the internet has gone wild over the issue between OpenAI board and the CEO, Sam Altman, which led to the firing and rehiring of the latter. In case you missed the whole scoop, here is a summary of how it all went down.

OpenAI sent shockwaves through the tech world last week after abruptly firing CEO and co-founder Sam Altman from the prominent artificial intelligence research company that created ChatGPT. Altman’s removal sparked chaos, but after about a week of furious debate and negotiations over OpenAI’s future, Altman returned as CEO, and the board of directors experienced a reshuffle.

Who is Sam Altman?

Sam Altman co-founded OpenAI in 2015 and has served as its CEO for years. He is known as a talented entrepreneur who previously led the tech incubator – Y Combinator. Under Altman’s leadership, OpenAI rose to global prominence in AI research. Its release of tools like image generator DALL-E, as well as conversational bot ChatGPT, brought widespread public attention to generative AI.

What led to Altman’s sudden removal as CEO?

According to reports, Altman clashed with some board members at OpenAI over commercialization plans and how to manage potential risks from rapidly advancing AI systems. OpenAI runs parallel non-profit and for-profit entities; some raised concerns Altman focused too heavily on profits over ethical precautions.

Tensions apparently boiled over after chief scientist Ilya Sutskever spearheaded a breakthrough project named Q*, which could solve basic math problems. Several OpenAI staff warned this technology posed threats to humanity, but Altman appeared unreceptive. On Thursday 16th November, Sutskever and three fellow board members abruptly voted to remove Altman for allegedly not being “consistently candid in his communications with the board.” Greg Brockman, a fellow co-founder, was also demoted from the board, but he resigned in protest.

Following the removal of Altman, and Brockman’s resignation, the board named Chief Technology Officer – Mira Murati – acting CEO. Murati, after taking over, advocated for the reinstatement of Altman and Brockman, and this led to her removal. Twitch co-founder and former chief, Emmett Shear, was then appointed to replace Murati as the second acting CEO within 3 days.

The uprising after Altman’s removal

OpenAI President Greg Brockman quit moments after Altman’s sudden removal. By the following morning, almost all of OpenAI’s employees signed a petition threatening to join Microsoft with Altman if the board didn’t reinstate him.

Investors like Microsoft, which has poured $13 billion into OpenAI, also revolted and pressed for Altman’s return. Interim CEOs came and went as tensions mounted. Ultimately the board yielded Tuesday when employees’ resignations appeared imminent.

Read also: 8 ways to use social media to grow your business

Altman and Brockman return under new board

OpenAI announced Altman resumed his CEO role under a transformed three-member board of directors. Former Twitter chairman Bret Taylor is the new chairman. Economist Lawrence Summers also joins, while Sutskever and other initial board leaders departed.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella welcomed Altman’s reinstatement as an “essential first step” toward proper governance. The saga exhibits the debate about whether AI capabilities are advancing too quickly without enough brakes in place.

For now, Altman regains the helm to shepherd OpenAI’s future trajectory. But lasting questions around oversight remains unaddressed.

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When I'm not reading about tech, I'm writing about it, or thinking about the next weird food combinations to try. I do all these with my headphones plugged in, and a sticky note on my computer with the words: "The galaxy needs saving, Star Lord."
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