As Sam Altman Returns To OpenAI, Is The Circus Finally Over?

As Sam Altman Returns To OpenAI, Is The Circus Finally Over?

It must have been some week at chez Altman. On 17 November, Sam Altman (pictured), the co-founder and then CEO of OpenAI — the firm behind ChatGPT — was removed as CEO by the company’s board, citing a lack of confidence in him.

Disagreements over the safety of AI divided employees at the company and the release of the commercial ChatGPT product put a strain on the not-for-profit OpenAI.

Mira Murati, the chief technology officer, took over as interim CEO. Greg Brockman, the company’s president, was removed as the chairman of the board. He then resigned as president shortly after. Three senior OpenAI researchers also resigned.

The next day, it was rumoured that investors including Microsoft and Thrive Capital were pressuring the board to bring Altman back. This was despite Altman saying that, though he favoured returning to OpenAI, he was considering starting another rival firm with his former employees should discussions about his return break down.

Now to 19 November, negotiations about Altman’s return did break down. Murati was ousted as interim CEO and replaced by Emmett Shear, co-founder of Justin.tv and former CEO of Twitch.

Mira Murati

On 20 November, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Altman and Brockman would be joining the company to lead an AI research team at the company. Nadella also said that Microsoft was committed to its investment in OpenAI despite the calamitous goings-on.

Then, almost the entirety of OpenAI’s workforce, including Murati and co-founder Ilya Sutskever, signed an open letter saying that they would quit if Altman was not reinstalled as CEO. In response, OpenAI’s management released an internal memo saying that negotiations between Altman and the board were ongoing and that they would take time.

Except they didn’t take time. The next day, 21 November, Altman and Brockman were back in their prior roles with a reconstructed board. Bret Taylor, former co-CEO of Salesforce, and economist and former US Presidential candidate Lawrence Summers were in, with Adam D’Angelo, co-founder and CEO of Quora the only remaining board member.

What a nightmare.

This small three-person board is reportedly going to vet and appoint an expanded board of up to nine people that will reset the governance of OpenAI. Microsoft and Altman both want to have seats on the board. Nadella said that Microsoft did not want any further “surprises” about OpenAI.

According to The Verge, both sides have agreed to an investigation into the saga which will be conducted by an outside independent law firm. However, it believes that the power struggle at the heart of the debacle is not yet over.

Thrive Capital said that Altman’s return was “the best outcome for the company, its employees, those who build on their technologies, and the world at large.”

“OpenAI has the potential to be one of the most consequential companies in the history of computing,” Thrive partner Kelly Sims said in a statement shared with The Verge. “Sam and Greg possess a profound commitment to the company’s integrity, and an unmatched ability to inspire and lead. We couldn’t be more excited for them to come back to the company they founded and helped build into what it is today.”

So what’s next? Frankly, no one knows. But, it seems certain that the wrangling over the technology is far from over. Stay tuned.

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