November 22, 2023
Just four days after being pushed out by the OpenAI board, Sam Altman will be reinstated as CEO of the company he co-founded. His return as chief executive was announced in a series of online posts. In addition, most of the company’s board members will be replaced. Following Altman’s firing, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had announced Altman would lead a new advanced AI research team to run independently within Microsoft. However, hundreds of OpenAI employees, including co-founder and board member Ilya Sutskever, continued to push for Altman’s return, threatening to quit if he was not reinstated.
Speculation evolved quickly over the weekend that Altman and the board had split over a reported disagreement about the pace of AI development in addition to issues involving transparency. President and co-founder Greg Brockman quickly resigned in solidarity, as did several top researchers. OpenAI CTO Mira Murati was named interim CEO, only to be replaced on Sunday by Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch.
Sutskever, who was reportedly behind the board’s decision to fire Altman, would later walk back his earlier statements, writing on social media: “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions.” He would join Murati and hundreds of other OpenAI employees in signing a petition demanding the return of Altman and Brockman.
This morning, Altman explained on X that he would be returning to OpenAI, noting that “with the new board and w satya’s support, i’m looking forward to returning to openai, and building on our strong partnership with msft.”
“We believe this is a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance,” Nadella wrote in an X post. “Sam, Greg, and I have talked and agreed they have a key role to play along with the OAI leadership team in ensuring OAI continues to thrive and build on its mission. We look forward to building on our strong partnership and delivering the value of this next generation of AI to our customers and partners.”
“Former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers will join OpenAI’s board, the Microsoft-backed startup said, with Taylor holding the chair position,” reports CNBC. “Adam D’Angelo, co-founder and CEO of question-and-answer startup Quora, will remain on the board.”
“Concurrent with Altman’s return, Helen Toner, Tasha McCauley and co-founder Ilya Sutskever were removed as board members,” CNBC adds. “All had been involved in pushing out Altman, although Sutskever later walked back his support for the coup and remains an OpenAI employee as of Wednesday.”
Both sides “are collaborating to figure out the details” of Altman’s return and what comes next. “The announcement appears to bring to an end days of chaos for the AI industry that included negotiations over who should lead OpenAI and how the firm should be run, as well as broader discussions about just how fast the arms race to develop AI technology should be moving,” suggests CNN.
“Ultimately, Microsoft and Altman appear to be the big winners from the dust-up: Altman will continue leading the firm he helped to found, now with a board that is, in theory, more supportive of his vision,” notes CNN. “Altman’s vision to quickly roll out and commercialize AI tools also appears to have won out.”
Sam Altman Is Reinstated as OpenAI’s Chief Executive, The New York Times, 11/22/23
The Long Shadow of Steve Jobs Looms Over the Turmoil at OpenAI, The New York Times, 11/21/23
Before Altman’s Ouster, OpenAI’s Board Was Divided and Feuding, The New York Times, 11/21/23
After Altman Firing, OpenAI Tried to Merge with Rival – and Was Rejected, Ars Technica, 11/21/23
How the OpenAI Fiasco Could Bolster Meta and the ‘Open AI’ Movement, TechCrunch, 11/21/23
Sam Altman Joins Microsoft After Abruptly Ousted by OpenAI, ETCentric, 11/20/23