It’s been three days of chaos for OpenAI, the largest artificial intelligence company, after the board of directors suddenly fired CEO Sam Altman on Friday, November 17th. (sort of) attacked, employees threatened mass layoffs, and questions were raised once again about the potential powers and dangers of an AI-driven future. Even after all of this, it’s safe to say that the dust definitely hasn’t settled.
For anyone trying to catch up or just catch their breath, here’s a summary of everything that’s happened at OpenAI since last Friday. (Unfortunately, you can’t just ask OpenAI’s flagship product, ChatGPT, for a summary. We tried for now, and were told, “I can’t provide real-time updates, as my last update was in January 2022, and I don’t have access to current news beyond that point.” Sigh.) That way, you can go into Thanksgiving prepared to discuss Silicon Valley’s hottest, weirdest story since, well, last Thanksgiving, when another Prominent Sam was at the center of Silicon Valley’s hottest and strangest story.
Friday, November 17th
Altman is deposed – others follow him in solidarity, but no reason is given.
OpenAI issues a declaration announcing that Altman “will step down as CEO and step down from the board of directors.” The company’s statement explains that the decision followed “a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering his ability to carry out his responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
Mira Murati, chief technology officer at OpenAI, has been named interim CEO.
(For background, Altman helped found OpenAI in 2015 as a nonprofit with funding from Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Amazon Web Services. Altman became CEO in 2019 and oversaw the creation of a for-profit subsidiary OpenAI, although the company continued to be overseen by an independent, non-profit board of directors.)
Following the news, Altman issued a statement about X writing: “I loved my time at OpenAI. It was transformative for me personally and, I hope, for the world a little bit. Most of all, I loved working with such talented people. will have more to say about what comes next later.”
In solidarity with Altman, OpenAI President Greg Brockman announced he was leaving the company in solidarity. “(We) have been through difficult and great times together, accomplishing so many things despite all the reasons it should have been impossible,” he wrote in a message to the OpenAI team (which he also shared on Facebook). X), adding “but based on today’s news, I’ve given up.”
Additionally, The information reported that three senior researchers at OpenAI were resigning: Jakob Pachocki, director of research; Aleksander Madry, who led a team analyzing the potential risks of AI; and Simon Sidor, a researcher with seven years of experience at OpenAI.
Other than the board’s somewhat vague statement, no official reason for Altman’s dismissal was given. Reports, however, indicated that there was internal tension over the direction the company was taking and how OpenAI’s technology could be used in the future.
Reporter Kara Swisher, in a series of tweetssaid there was a “misalignment” between the company’s for-profit and non-profit “supporters,” adding: “Sources tell me that the company’s profit direction under Altman and the speed of development, which could be seen as too risky, and the nonprofit side devoted to more safety and caution was at odds.”
Swisher and others, including On the edge, reported that board member, co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever played a major role in the decision to oust Altman. Sutskever, how On the edge said, it had been “constantly banging the drum about the dangers of superintelligent AI”; these concerns may be at odds with some of Altman’s more commercial ambitions for the company.
Saturday, November 18th
Not even big investors knew this would happen – and this led to confusion.
In a memo sent to employees on Saturday (via Axes), Brad Lightcap, chief operating officer at OpenAI, called Altman’s firing a “surprise” and said there were “several conversations with the board to try to better understand the reasons and process behind his decision.” Lightcap also appeared to put to rest rumors that something more sinister lurked behind Altman’s firing, saying the board’s decision was “not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, security or security practices.” security/privacy”.
Lightcap also noted that “discussions and options regarding our path forward are ongoing this morning” – and it soon emerged that one possible option would be to reinstate Altman and Brockman. According to The New York Times, Many of OpenAI’s biggest investors supported that push, especially Microsoft, which invested $13 billion in the company and saw its shares plummet after Altman’s firing. (Apparently, Microsoft and other major investors, such as venture capital firms Thrive Capital and Sequoia Capital, learned of Altman’s firing a minute before the announcement or after the news became public.) At the same time, reports emerged that Altman and Brockman were pitching a new AI venture to investors.
The decision to bring Altman and Brockman back to OpenAI appeared to gain traction on Saturday night as negotiations continued. Altman started a love fest on social media, tweeting“I love the openai team so much,” which prompted a plethora of quote tweets from OpenAI employees filled with heart emojis. The information even reported that chief strategy officer (and key Altman ally) Jason Kwon sent employees a memo saying the company was “optimistic” it could bring the duo back.
Altman, of course, had conditions for his return, including the board resignations members who expelled him. According to a Saturday night report from On the edgethe board “agreed in principle to resign” but also continued to waver as an important deadline passed.
Sunday, November 19
Negotiations to bring Altman back fail – but major investor Microsoft picks him up before markets open on Monday.
On Sunday, as talks about Altman’s return resumed, he tweeted a selfie at the OpenAI offices, sporting a sour look and a guest pass: “First and last time I use one of these,” he wrote.
According to The New York Times, negotiations largely centered on how OpenAI’s board of directors could be restructured, as well as who could replace members who decided to fire Altman if they themselves resigned. Boba tea and McDonald’s would be on the menu of the parties in the negotiations.
By Sunday night, however, the writing seemed pretty clear on the wall. Bloomberg reported that Murati, the interim CEO, was trying to bring Altman and Brockman back to the company at the same time other OpenAI board members were working to install a new CEO. Then, a little after 8pm Pacific Time, it was confirmed that Altman would not return to OpenAI and that former Twitch CEO and co-founder Emmett Shear would replace Murati as interim CEO.
In a memo, OpenAI board members Sutskever, Adam D’Angelo, Helen Toner and Tasha McCauley reaffirmed their decision to fire Altman, saying it was “the only way to advance and defend OpenAI’s mission.” They continued: “Simply put, Sam’s behavior and lack of transparency in his interactions with the board undermined the board’s ability to effectively oversee the company in the way it was tasked to do.”
Before the clock struck midnight on the West Coast, however, Microsoft joined the chat to announce that it was hiring Altman and Brockman. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella tweeted that the pair will “lead a new advanced AI research team,” while also stating that the computing giant will “remain committed” to its partnership with OpenAI. (The quick decision to hire Altman on Sunday night was not particularly surprising, as Microsoft aimed to reassure investors before the stock market opened on Monday morning.)
Altman marked the occasion by retweeting Nadella and writing“The mission continues.”
As for OpenAI’s new interim CEO, Shear laid out a “three-point plan for the next 30 days” in a tweet technically shipped on Monday morning. In addition to talking to employees, partners and investors, as well as revamping OpenAI’s management team, Shear said he would “hire an independent investigator to delve deeper into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report.”
Monday, November 20th
A Microsoft-OpenAI partnership appears to be in the works, which should stabilize things – at least for now?
In the early hours of Monday morning, heart emojis returned. After the board rejected Altman’s return and Microsoft picked him up, OpenAI’s top figures, including Lightcap, Kwon, and Murati, tweeted the same message: “OpenAI is nothing without its people.” Altman, in turn, retweeted many of them accompanied by a red heart.
But the most surprising statement came around 8:15 a.m. ET, when Sutskever — who is said to have led the charge against Altman — tweeted: “I deeply regret my part in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we have built together and will do everything I can to reunite the company.” This earned three heart emojis from Altman.
Sutskever was among reportedly hundreds of OpenAI employees who signed an open letter threatening to resign and join Altman at Microsoft if the board did not reinstate him and Brockman and resign (other signatories included key allies of Altman during the disaster). The letter, shared by Swishersaid that “the board’s conduct made it clear that you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.”
The letter also stated: “Microsoft has assured us that there are openings for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary, should we decide to join.”
Altman himself tweeted Monday afternoon, “We have more unity, commitment and focus than ever before. We’re all going to work together in one way or another, and I’m very excited. One team, one mission. Satya and my top priority continue to be ensuring OpenAI continues to thrive. We are committed to providing full continuity of operations to our partners and customers. The OpenAI/Microsoft partnership makes this very viable.”
The kicker to all this? Everything that happened on Sunday night and Monday is still not technically signed in ink. As On the edge reported Monday night, Altman’s deal with Microsoft is not yet official, and apparently he and Brockman remain open to returning to OpenAI if the board members who fired him resign.