Sam Altman Makes Stunning Return to OpenAI Helm After Brief Ouster
By April Fowell
The former CEO of ChatGPT creator OpenAI will return to the business that dismissed him just days ago, bringing an end to a brief but dramatic power battle that stunned the tech world and highlighted the debates about how to construct artificial intelligence securely.
Late Tuesday, the San Francisco-based business said that it had "reached an agreement in principle" for co-founder Sam Altman to return as CEO under a new board of directors.
(Photo : by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The former CEO of ChatGPT creator OpenAI will return to the business that dismissed him just days ago.
Altman's Future, Board Dynamics, and Transparency Challenges
The accord came after extensive discussions between Altman's team and the board members that forced him out, which began on Saturday.
According to a source involved with the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly about such sensitive subjects, the discussions included differences over Altman's future position and who would remain on the board.
An independent inquiry into Altman and the circumstances that led to his departure, which was disclosed earlier this week, will continue. The source highlighted board members' gradual erosion of faith in the OpenAI head without pointing to any substantial malfeasance. The corporation had previously made specific claims that Altman had not been forthcoming with the board.
The lack of transparency surrounding Altman's firing sparked a weekend of internal conflict at the company, as well as increasing outside pressure from the startup's investors, particularly Microsoft, which hired Altman and a key ally, OpenAI co-founder and president Greg Brockman, on Monday, and welcomed any of the other more than 700 employees who wanted to join them.
The tumult highlighted the disparities between Altman, who has been the face of generative AI's fast commercialization since ChatGPT's introduction a year ago, and board members who have expressed grave concerns about the safety hazards posed by AI as it advances.
Sutskever's Reversal, Resignations, and New Leadership
OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, one of the four board members who participated in Altman's removal, was participating in the weekend talks. But that changed Monday morning, when he publicly expressed sorrow for the decision and supported the call for the board's resignation.
According to a person familiar with the discussions, board members did not want the firm to fail or for staff to desert to Microsoft.
At the same time, they did not want to give in to demands that they all resign, nor did they want to restore Altman and Brockman on the board or install new members who may not stand up to them, according to the source. Finally, the majority of them resigned.
Former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor, who headed Twitter's board before Elon Musk took over the site last year, will lead the new board. The remaining members will be former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Quora CEO Adam D'Angelo, the sole prior board member to remain.
Prior to the board's replacement, venture billionaire Vinod Khosla, a prominent Altman supporter whose business is an OpenAI investor, said in an opinion essay for The Information that board members had harmed the "tremendous benefits" of AI by misapplying their "religion of 'effective altruism.'"
Over the years, certain OpenAI board members have had links to effective altruism, a philanthropic social movement that emphasizes funding to initiatives that will have the biggest influence on the greatest number of people, including humans in the future.
While many effective altruists believe AI has the potential to provide significant benefits, they also argue for limiting the technology's potential hazards.
Microsoft, which has spent billions of dollars in OpenAI and holds rights to its current technology, was a driving force behind Altman's return and the installation of a new board.