I can’t get enough of reading about the OpenAI soap opera that started on Friday when their board fired Sam Altman and all hell broke loose from there.
The OpenAI soap opera all started on Friday afternoon with the announcement in a blog post from OpenAI that Altman would be departing as CEO to be replaced in an interim role by Mira Murati, the company’s CTO. The announcement stated this:
“Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
The announcement also said: “As a part of this transition, Greg Brockman will be stepping down as chairman of the board and will remain in his role at the company, reporting to the CEO.”
Per the recap, Altman was told he was being fired, and the “whole board, except Greg, was there”. In other words, the other four board members besides CEO Altman and Chairman of the Board Brockman – OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, independent directors Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Helen Toner – decided to remove those two from the board and Altman from the company.
Sutskever, who also co-founded OpenAI (after being lured away by Elon Musk – flashback!) and leads its researchers, was reportedly instrumental in the ousting of Altman. McCauley and Toner reportedly have ties to the Rationalist and Effective Altruist movements, a community that is deeply concerned that A.I. could one day destroy humanity.
This might be the most notable coup since Brutus and Cassius told Julius Caesar “We’ve got your back”. “Et tu, Sutske?”
Brockman’s resignation was followed by the resignation of three notable researchers: Jakub Pachocki, the director of research at OpenAI; Aleksander Madry, the head of a team that analyzes AI risks; and Szymon Sidor, a researcher who had been at the firm for seven years. And rumors of several other resignations to come.
Which leads me to the joke section of this post. Here’s a few I’ve come up with so far:
“Did you hear that OpenAI is considering changing its name to OpenPositionAI?”
“The fact that OpenAI (which is a major Microsoft partner) used Google Meet to fire Altman tells you all you need to know about how bad Microsoft Teams is.”
And my favorite:
“See, I told you that AI was going to cost people their jobs!”
Anyway, back to the story. Speaking of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft was reportedly “furious” to learn of Altman’s departure “minutes” after it happened, and was in touch with Altman — and pledged to support him — as OpenAI backers recruit Microsoft’s aid in exerting pressure on the board to reverse course. Meanwhile, some key venture capital backers of OpenAI were said to be contemplating a lawsuit against the board; none, including Khosla Ventures and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, a former OpenAI board member, were given advance notice of the decision to fire Altman.
While OpenAI is a non-profit, the company created OpenAI LP, a “capped-profit” company as a subsidiary back in 2019 to fuel investment in developing the products. And Microsoft has committed at least $10 billion (some reports say $13 billion) – though only a fraction of it has been wired to the company so far. OpenAI is also reportedly in talks to close a new funding round that would value the company at more than $80 billion — nearly triple its valuation less than a year ago.
Here’s the thing. Altruism and safe AI is great, but people actually LIKE money. And nobody likes money more than Microsoft.
So, what happened next in the OpenAI soap opera? The board reversed course. Multiple publications published reports suggesting that the OpenAI board was in talks to have Altman return. According to The Verge, the board had agreed in principle to resign and to allow Altman and Brockman to return but has since waffled — missing a key 5PM PT deadline by which many OpenAI staffers were set to resign. If Altman decides to leave and start a new company, those staffers would reportedly go with him.
This may be the biggest “never mind” since Emily Littella. “Sam, we didn’t say ‘fired’, we said we are ‘inspired’”. These are the people in charge of our AI, folks! 😮
So, where do we stand now? It was announced overnight by Nadella that “Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team.” To which Musk tweeted: “Now they will have to use Teams!”
Meanwhile, Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Amazon’s streaming service Twitch, will join OpenAI as interim CEO. Which begs the question: can Murati still put CEO on her LinkedIn profile? Does it count if you were only CEO over the weekend? 😉
In the meantime, the OpenAI soap opera is better than anything on TV, even The Curse. Even ChatGPT couldn’t hallucinate a story this wild!
UPDATE: As Greg Bufithis noted with a link to Kara Swisher’s report in the comments below, 505 of 700 employees tell the board to resign or they will (and that Microsoft has a position waiting for them). One of those is Mira Murati, who was CEO for a whopping 48 hours. Another even more shocking name on the list is Ilya Sutskever, who was reportedly the catalyst of the firing in the first place. On his Twitt, er, X account, Sutskever says: “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.”
So, what do you think? Are you as hooked on the OpenAI soap opera as I am? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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