In a surprising turn of events, Sam Altman, co-founder of OpenAI, the makers of ChatGPT, has been dismissed from his role as CEO of the company. This decision, made by the board of directors, has sent ripples through the tech industry, especially considering Altman's significant role and public image as a leading figure in the field of generative AI.
Altman's ouster occurred on November 17, 2023, marking the end of an eight-year tenure since he co-founded the company. The board cited a “deliberative review process” as the basis for their decision, indicating that Altman was not consistently candid in his role as CEO. This lack of candour ultimately led the board to lose confidence in his ability to lead OpenAI.
In the wake of this decision, Mira Murati, OpenAI's Chief Technology Officer, has been appointed as the interim CEO. The company is currently in the process of searching for a permanent successor to fill the CEO position.
Reasons for firing of Sam Altman
The specifics of the allegations against Altman, such as the nature of his purported lack of candour, have not been disclosed in detail. The exact reasons behind Altman's removal may take time to get fully clear but seem to be related to his relationship with OpenAI's board and its governance structure.
This lack of transparency has added to the shock and speculation surrounding the incident. There is also speculation about the impact of ongoing discussions to raise substantial new capital for the company.
In response to his dismissal, Altman expressed his fondness for his time at OpenAI and indicated that he would comment further on his future plans at a later time.
“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,” Altman wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“If i start going off, the OpenAI board should go after me for the full value of my shares.”
if i start going off, the openai board should go after me for the full value of my shares
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 18, 2023
OpenAI's leadership change also includes Greg Brockman, President and co-founder of OpenAI, stepping down as chairman of the board while remaining as president of the company. He will report to Mira Murati, who was OpenAI's CTO and has been appointed as the interim CEO.
Brockman expressed shock and sadness over the board's recent decisions. “We are both stunned and deeply saddened by today's actions,” they stated, extending their gratitude to the OpenAI team, customers, investors, and supporters reaching out during this challenging time.
The duo revealed they were still piecing together the sequence of events. According to their account, the ordeal began last night when Altman received a text from Ilya Sutskever, co-founder and Chief Scientist, OpenAI leading to a noon meeting on Friday. In a Google Meet session attended by the entire board, except for Greg, Ilya announced Sam's imminent firing.
Simultaneously, Greg said he also experienced a similar encounter. After receiving a text from Ilya at 12:19 pm for a quick call, he joined a Google Meet link sent at 12:23 pm. There, Greg was informed of his removal from the board, though his role within the company remained intact, and that Sam had already been dismissed. This announcement coincided with an OpenAI blog post detailing the changes.
The management team was reportedly made aware of these developments shortly thereafter, with the exception of Mira, who had been informed the night before.
Despite the upheaval, the pair urged supporters not to worry. “The outpouring of support has been really nice; thank you. But please don't spend any time being concerned. We will be fine. Greater things are coming soon,” they assured.
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
Was Microsoft blindsided?
Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI with a stake amounting to 49%, was reportedly informed of Altman's departure just minutes before the public announcement.
This news led to a slight drop in Microsoft's stock price. Microsoft said that it remains committed to its partnership with OpenAI, emphasising its continued innovation in AI and support for the company's new leadership under Murati.
“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,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote on social media platform X.
“Together, we will continue to deliver the meaningful benefits of this technology to the world,” he added.
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…
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) November 17, 2023