In a surprising move, OpenAI’s board of directors announced on Friday that CEO Sam Altman has been fired and will be leaving the company and the board immediately. Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati has been named interim CEO.
Board Lost Confidence in Sam Altman’s Leadership
According to the announcement, Altman’s removal follows an “internal deliberative review process” which found Altman had not been “consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.” As a result, “the board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI,” the company stated.
OpenAI thanked Altman for his “many contributions to the founding and growth of OpenAI,” but believes that “as the leader of the company’s research, product, and safety functions, Mira is exceptionally qualified to step into the role of interim CEO.” The board expressed having “the utmost confidence in her ability to lead OpenAI during this transition period.”
OpenAI Co-Founder Greg Brockman is Leaving Too
The shakeup at OpenAI extended beyond Altman’s firing, as co-founder and former board chair Greg Brockman also announced he is leaving the company. Hours after OpenAI revealed Altman’s ousting and Murati’s appointment as interim CEO, the company stated that Brockman would step down as chairman but remain in his role, reporting to the new CEO.
However, Brockman swiftly refuted this later that same day, declaring his full departure in a post on Platform X.
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
i’m super proud of what we’ve all built together since starting in my apartment 8 years ago. we’ve been through tough & great times together, accomplishing so much despite all the reasons it should have been impossible.
but based on today’s news, i quit.
genuinely wishing you all nothing but the best. i continue to believe in the mission of creating safe AGI that benefits all of humanity.
Brockman wrote on the platform, implying his exit was in protest of Altman’s firing. The suddenness of Brockman’s announcement compounds the uncertainty around OpenAI’s future, as the AI startup loses two of its founding members and top executives in one fell swoop.
Sudden Departure Despite Recent Appearances
The abruptness of Friday’s news is surprising given Altman’s steady promotions of OpenAI and its products in recent days. Just last week, he announced the new GPT-4 Turbo platform and application-specific GPTs at OpenAI’s 2023 DevDay event.
On Thursday he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in San Francisco, where he spoke enthusiastically about AI’s potential.
Also Read: OpenAI DevDay: Here’s what was announced
“Something has qualitatively changed,” Altman said at the event. “Now I can talk to this thing. It’s like the ‘Star Trek’ computer I was always promised… I think a lot of the world has collectively gone through a lurch this year to catch up.”
Microsoft Remains Committed Despite Stock Drop
Microsoft, which extended its multibillion-dollar partnership with OpenAI in January, saw its stock price drop following Friday’s news. However, Microsoft will maintain its existing OpenAI partnership, a company spokesperson confirmed.
“We have a long-term partnership with OpenAI and Microsoft remains committed to Mira and their team as we bring this next era of AI to our customers,” the spokesperson stated.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also reaffirmed the company’s commitment, saying “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.”
Sam Altman Co-Founded OpenAI in 2015
Sam Altman co-founded OpenAI as a nonprofit with Elon Musk in 2015 and has served as CEO of the for-profit arm since 2019. OpenAI’s release of the popular ChatGPT conversational AI last November is credited with catalyzing the recent surge in generative AI.
Originally built on GPT-3.5, ChatGPT enabled natural language conversations with an AI agent more capable than previous voice assistants. Its capabilities have since expanded to support programming, multiple languages, and device control through APIs.
The meteoric rise of generative AI over the past year thrust Altman into the limelight as the unofficial representative of OpenAI and the industry. He has testified before Congress, attended Senate AI forums, and made frequent conference appearances.
Leadership Changes Raise Questions
With Altman and Brockman’s departures, questions remain about OpenAI’s future direction and priorities.
However, Microsoft appears unconcerned. Their recent $10 billion investment in OpenAI gives Microsoft a 75% claim on OpenAI’s profits until the sum is repaid, after which Microsoft will hold a 49% stake. This likely gives them considerable influence over OpenAI’s strategy moving forward.
For now, the company states it has full confidence in CTO Murati’s ability to lead OpenAI through this transitional period. But Friday’s abrupt leadership shakeup portends additional changes on the horizon for one of AI’s highest-profile players.