Capping off a tumultuous weekend at OpenAI that culminated in investors — and a contingent of employees — attempting to convince the company’s board to hire back former Y Combinator president Sam Altman after firing him on Friday, Altman won’t be returning as CEO, according to a report in The Information.
Citing an internal memo sent by Ilya Sutskever, board director and one of OpenAI’s co-founder, Altman has decided to walk away from negotiations — at least for the time being. As the search for a new permanent CEO continues, OpenAI has appointed Emmett Shear, the co-founder of video streaming site Twitch, as interim CEO — replacing Mira Murati, who held the position for only two days.
The board was won over by Shear’s concern over the existential threats that AI presents, Bloomberg reports, as well as his experience in leading large engineering groups while at Twitch.
Murati was said to be strongly advocating for Altman and plotting a way to hire him in some capacity even as the six-member board vetted potential new CEOs, which could have something to do with her replacement. We’ve reached out to OpenAI for comment and will update this piece if we hear back.
This latest development threatens to worsen an already-precarious situation for OpenAI, whose board faces pressure from all sides to change course after firing Altman with little input from some of its largest stakeholders.
The board’s decision Friday evening to remove Altman — and demote OpenAI president and co-founder Greg Brockman, who’s since resigned, from his position as board chairman — reportedly infuriated Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, a major OpenAI backer and partner. (Nadella was said to be playing a key mediating role between the board and Altman and pledged to support Altman no matter the outcome.) OpenAI investors — in particular Tiger Global, Sequoia Capital and Thrive Capital — had recruited Microsoft’s aid in exerting pressure on the board to bring Altman and Brockman back while contemplating a lawsuit against the board’s members.
Meanwhile, OpenAI top brass and rank-and-file aligned with Altman called it quits. Three senior OpenAI researchers left after Brockman, including the director of research Jakub Pachocki and head of preparedness Aleksander Madry. Others threatened to walk out if both Altman and Brockman weren’t reinstated.
So what kicked off all the chaos? Namely, a clash of philosophies.
Sutskever said during a company all-hands meeting on Friday that he felt removing Altman was “necessary” to protect OpenAI’s mission of “making AI beneficial to humanity,” suggesting Altman’s commercial ambitions for the company were beginning to unsettle the board’s kingmakers. Reports over the weekend confirmed as much; Sutskever was said to be “infuriated” by a number of announcements at OpenAI’s first annual developer conference, DevDay, like custom GPTs that OpenAI has said may one day run autonomously
Altman reportedly demanded “significant” managerial changes at OpenAI — and a new board of directors — as a condition of returning; The Wall Street Journal reports that Altman told associates it was “ridiculous” that the major shareholders had no say in OpenAI’s governance. Bret Taylor, the co-CEO of Salesforce, was among those being considered for the new board, allegedly, along with a Microsoft-aligned member (or alternatively board observer).
Bloomberg’s Emily Chang reports that Microsoft isn’t pleased with Sunday night’s outcome — and that’s not exactly surprising. Instability at OpenAI drove Microsoft shares down 1.7% on Friday, wiping out nearly $47 billion in market value.