After some haggling, it’s official: Sam Altman is returning to his post as CEO of OpenAI. How did the world’s hottest generative AI company go through three CEOs in under a week? This is what we know so far.
On November 17th, OpenAI’s board abruptly announced that co-founder and CEO Sam Altman was out, effective immediately.
After weekend talks to restore Sam Altman to his post fell apart, former Twitch boss Emmett Shear will now be the new interim CEO of OpenAI. Then hundreds of OpenAI employees — including former interim CEO Mira Murati and board member Ilya Sutskever — signed a letter saying they would leave the company for jobs at Microsoft unless Altman is reinstated.
Now, there’s an agreement in principle for Altman’s return, along with president Greg Brockman. The deal also includes a new set of board members, which sources indicate will include representation from Microsoft.
The shake-up comes just shy of one year after the launch of ChatGPT, which quickly entered mainstream conversation, became one of the fastest-growing apps in history and initiated an industry-wide race to build generative AI tools and hardware to power them. At OpenAI’s first developer conference just a week before his ouster, Altman said the service had over 100 million weekly users and more than 2 million developers were building on the company’s APIs.
All of the news and updates about OpenAI’s executive turnover continue below.
Nov 23A troll worthy of Clippy themself.
This Wall Street Journal article about the recent drama at OpenAI contains an amazing anecdote. Apparently an employee at AI rival Anthropic thought it’d be funny to send “thousands of paper clips in the shape of OpenAI’s logo” as a prank, in reference to the infamous paperclip maximizer thought experiment.
Weirdly, I think OpenAI’s logo makes for a great paperclip design. Should we be worried?
- A recent OpenAI breakthrough on the path to AGI has caused a stir.
Reports from Reuters and The Information Wednesday night detail an OpenAI model called Q* (pronounced Q Star) that was recently demonstrated internally and is capable of solving simple math problems. Doing grade school math may not seem impressive, but the reports note that, according to the researchers involved, it could be a step toward creating artificial general intelligence (AGI).
After the publishing of the Reuters report, which said senior exec Mira Murati told employees that a letter about Q* “precipitated the board’s actions” to fire Sam Altman last week, OpenAI spokesperson Lindsey Held Bolton refuted that notion in a statement shared with The Verge: “Mira told employees what the media reports were about but she did not comment on the accuracy of the information.”
Separately, a person familiar with the matter told The Verge that the board never received a letter about such a breakthrough and that the company’s research progress didn’t play a role in Altman’s sudden firing.
The drama continues!
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, OpenAI announced that Sam Altman is returning as CEO, following a shock firing on Friday. Over the weekend, it looked like Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman might end up at Microsoft, leading a new AI research lab. But after days of negotiation, that’s no longer the case and OpenAI has appointed a new board of directors and brought back Altman as CEO of the company.Read Article >
After a weekend of chaotic scenes, including hundreds of OpenAI employees threatening to quit and join Microsoft, things seem to be settling down. Microsoft CTO and EVP of AI Kevin Scott has now addressed Microsoft employees about the OpenAI turmoil. It’s the first company-wide communication to Microsoft employees about the situation, beyond CEO Satya Nadella’s announcement of Altman’s hiring not hiring on Sunday and the initial reaction to the news on Friday.
Sam Altman will return as CEO of OpenAI, overcoming an attempted boardroom coup that sent the company into chaos over the past several days. Former president Greg Brockman, who quit in protest of Altman’s firing, will return as well.Read Article >
The company said in a statement late Tuesday that it has an “agreement in principle” for Altman to return alongside a new board composed of Bret Taylor, Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo. D’Angelo is a holdover from the previous board that initially fired Altman on Friday. He remains on this new board to give the previous board some representation, we’re told.
ChatGPT’s voice feature is now available to all users for free. In a post on X (formerly Twitter), OpenAI announced users can now tap the headphones icon to use their voice to talk with ChatGPT in the mobile app, as well as get an audible response.Read Article >
OpenAI first rolled out the ability to prompt ChatGPT with your voice and images in September, but it only made the feature available to paying users.
Nov 21The negotiations to bring Sam Altman back to OpenAI slowly continue.
Here’s a brief update on where things stand with OpenAI today, after an explosive weekend and a very confusing Monday which saw the news of Sam Altman going to Microsoft slowly fade into Satya Nadella not seeming so sure that would happen.
— We’re told Altman still wants to return to OpenAI and continues to negotiate with the board today.
— As Bloomberg reported late last night, new interim CEO Emmett Shear is involved in mediating these negotiations, creating the frankly unprecedented situation where (1) the interim CEO who replaced (2) the interim CEO who replaced Sam and who (3) got replaced for trying to get Sam back is now (4) deeply involved in a new effort to get Sam back. Read it through a few times, it’s fine. It doesn’t make any sense to anyone else either.
— Microsoft’s offer to hire everyone who threatened to quit is still on the table, and has now been made officially public, after being noted in the employee walkout letter yesterday. In general, Microsoft appears to have receded from the situation; Nadella remains in the mix but has now made several media appearances reiterating that he’ll will work with Altman and OpenAI “irrespective of configuration,” which frankly sounds like he’s talking about the benefits of plug and play device drivers in Windows. We all fall back to what we know.
— We are told everyone, including the board, is trying to be reasonable, and put OpenAI back together.
We’ll keep posting updates as we have them; at the very least we can say the overall temperature has dropped, but it’s not clear any of this results in an actual return.
Nov 21Microsoft offers to match OpenAI compensation.
Microsoft CTO and EVP of AI Kevin Scott says the software maker will match OpenAI’s compensation to employees that want to join Sam Atlman’s new AI research lab. It comes shortly after Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella went on a media tour last night and didn’t seem to know if Sam Altman will actually join Microsoft or not. Competitors like Salesforce have been trying to tempt OpenAI employees to join rival AI projects.
- OpenAI exec to employees: “our number one goal remains to reunify OpenAI.”
Several days after Sam Altman was removed from his post as OpenAI’s CEO, there is still no resolution to the issue, even after hundreds of employees signed a pledge to follow him to Microsoft unless he’s reinstated.
Now, Bloomberg reports that global affairs VP Anna Makanju sent a memo to staff confirming that negotiations have continued between Altman, the remaining board members, and new interim CEO Emmett Shear, they won’t have a final response tonight and plan to continue discussions on Tuesday morning.
- A few more updates about OpenAI.
The Information reports that before interim CEO Emmett Shear took the job, OpenAI’s remaining board members offered it to two others: former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman and Scale AI CEO Alex Wang. Both turned it down. (Update: And in another report, it says board members also pursued the CEO of its competitor Anthropic, Dario Amodei, and proposed a merger between the two companies.)
From Business Insider there’s a report Ilya Sutskever gave employees two explanations for Altman’s firing: that he gave two people the same project and that he allegedly gave two board members different opinions about a member of personnel.
Finally, the Wall Street Journal writes that Sutskever, one of the board members who voted to fire Altman, switched to asking for Altman’s return “after an emotionally charged conversation with Anna Brockman, Greg Brockman’s wife” and notes he officiated their civil ceremony at OpenAI’s offices in 2019.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced late last night that former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman were both joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team, an announcement that sent Microsoft’s stock price soaring. Now, less than 24 hours later, following The Verge reporting that Sam Altman is still trying to return as OpenAI CEO, Nadella doesn’t seem so sure.Read Article >
“[We’re] committed to OpenAI and Sam, irrespective of what configuration,” said Nadella in an interview with CNBC’s Jon Fortt, adding that Microsoft “chose to explicitly partner with OpenAI [and] obviously that depends on the people at OpenAI staying there or coming to Microsoft, so I’m open to both options.” Nadella added that “obviously we want Sam and Greg to have a fantastic home if they’re not going to be [at] OpenAI, with all the colleagues at Microsoft, but I’m exactly where I was on Friday morning.”
Nov 20Today on the (emergency) Vergecast: what in the world is happening at OpenAI.
We tried to just tell the story in order, which is tough to do. Then we tried to figure out how this happened, what it means, and what might happen next. Grab the audio for your preferred podcast app right here.
And because this story won’t stop, we didn’t even get all the news – because one outcome we didn’t think of is that Sam Altman might go back to OpenAI after all. Sure!
Sam Altman’s surprise move to Microsoft after his shock firing at OpenAI isn’t a done deal. He and co-founder Greg Brockman are still willing to return to OpenAI if the remaining board members who fired him step aside, multiple sources tell The Verge.Read Article >
The promised mass exodus of virtually every OpenAI employee — including board member and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who led the initial move to depose Altman! — means that there is more pressure on the board than ever, with only two of the three remaining members needing to flip. Altman posted on X that “we are all going to work together some way or other,” which we are told is meant to indicate that the fight continues.
Nov 20Of course there’s a rationalist Harry Potter fanfic angle to the OpenAI drama.
No, really: this does not surprise me at all! Unlike 404’s Jason Koebler, I did in fact read early parts of blogger and AI “doomer” Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality — it was known in nerd/fan circles, not just the effective altruist movement, and at least initially was built around the pretty funny conceit of “applying cold hyperlogic to the quirks of a children’s fantasy series.” I did not get nearly far enough to reach the namecheck of Emmett Shear, OpenAI’s new CEO.
- Sam Altman isn’t showing up in Microsoft’s corporate directory yet.
Microsoft employees are waking up to the surprise news of former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman joining them as a colleague. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says Altman is joining to lead a new advanced AI research team, but he’s not yet showing up in Microsoft’s corporate directory according to multiple sources. He’s still marked as an OpenAI guest. Once he’s fully onboarded Altman will have a CEO title inside Microsoft and could be set to hire hundreds of OpenAI employees who have threatened to resign.
📩 Do you know more about Microsoft’s plans for its new AI research team? You can reach me confidentially on the Signal messaging app: +442081230413, or through email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Most of the staff at OpenAI have threatened to resign from the company and join Microsoft, which has hired ousted OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and former OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman to lead a new “advanced AI research team.” In a letter to OpenAI’s board that was reported on this morning by Wired and journalist Kara Swisher, more than 500 current OpenAI staffers say that “Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join.”Read Article >
The letter says the OpenAI employees will leave if the board does not reinstate Altman and Brockman and then resign. But seeing as the board has already made its choice, deciding to remain in place and naming a new CEO, while Altman and Brockman head to Microsoft, it seems that Microsoft may have just found Altman’s first several hundred employees, assuming they’re correct about the company’s promise to hire them all.
Nov 20We’re all trying to find the guy who did this.
OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who reportedly led the push to fire Sam Altman, which kicked off an entire weekend of shenanigans including three CEOs in three days and Altman joining OpenAI financial backer Microsoft, has regrets. In a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, he writes:
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.
Nov 20OpenAI employees are openly criticizing the company’s leadership.
“Every single person whose ever told me to trust them on blind faith has been a liar,” said OpenAI technical staff member Brydon Eastman in a now-deleted post. “A chief scientist should [k]now this better than anyone.”
- Sam Altman has a CEO title inside Microsoft.
That’s a big deal in itself. Microsoft typically uses the CEO title for the leaders of big divisions like Microsoft Gaming, or acquired companies like LinkedIn and GitHub. Altman as the CEO of a new advanced AI research team signals to me that Microsoft is treating this like a big acquisition, which makes sense when you consider that a number of OpenAI employees are joining Altman at Microsoft.
OpenAI has a third CEO in three days: Emmett Shear. After a shock firing of former CEO Sam Altman on Friday, Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear is officially taking over as interim CEO of OpenAI. The Information first revealed Shear’s appointment on Sunday night. The official announcement comes just an hour after Microsoft confirmed it had hired Sam Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman to form a new advanced AI research team.Read Article >
“Today I got a call inviting me to consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become the interim CEO of OpenAI,” says Shear in a post on X (formerly Twitter). “After consulting with my family and reflecting on it for just a few hours, I accepted.”
Microsoft is hiring former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and co-founder Greg Brockman.Read Article >
Altman was fired from OpenAI on Friday after the board said it “no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.” After a weekend of negotiations to potentially bring Altman back to OpenAI, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that both Altman and Brockman will be joining to lead Microsoft’s new advanced AI research team. Altman will have the CEO title of this new group.
After a weekend of negotiations to potentially bring back Sam Altman as OpenAI CEO following his shock firing, the company’s nonprofit board has gone another way entirely and named former Twitch CEO and co-founder Emmett Shear as interim CEO, according to a person familiar with the matter. He will take over as CEO for Mira Murati, who was publicly aligned with Altman.Read Article >
That’s three CEOs in three days, if you’re keeping track.
- The deal to bring Sam Altman back to OpenAI appears to be going sideways.
Bloomberg is now reporting that interim CEO Mira Murati is trying to re-hire Altman and former president Greg Brockman in some sort of role, all while the board is trying to replace her as CEO. It is a mess — and keep in mind that the clock is ticking for Microsoft, which definitely wants to have a clear and convincing statement for its shareholders when the markets open tomorrow morning. Vibe check: bad.
Even as Murati works to bring Altman and Brockman back, members of the OpenAI board are also seeking to hire their own CEO to succeed Altman, a person with direct knowledge of the search said. Picking a different CEO would come as a stinging rebuke to investors, led by Microsoft Corp. and Thrive Capital, who have urged the board to step down and want Altman reinstated.
- The OpenAI negotiations are being fueled by boba tea and McDonalds.
The NYT has been updating its piece on the OpenAI negotiations all day — the paper of record has a reporter staked out in front of the building, so we know what delivery is being ordered. It is very funny that a bunch of people concerned with existential AI risk are ordering McDs!
As deliberations continued on Sunday, executives at OpenAI called in resources. At 12:45 p.m., a deliveryman with a dozen drinks from the Boba Guys chain showed up on a motorbike outside with two bags. Another deliveryman followed later with a half dozen more drinks.
At 6:15 p.m., a food delivery driver pulled up at the rear entrance and jumped out with four bags from McDonald’s. Two employees from OpenAI loaded them on carts and wheeled them inside for what looked to be a long night.Talks to Bring Sam Altman Back to OpenAI Stretch Through Weekend
[The New York Times]
Nov 19It’s the endgame for Sam Altman’s potential return to OpenAI.
Sam Altman is back in the building at OpenAI for the final stretch of negotiations for his potential return as CEO after being unceremoniously fired by the four-member board on Friday. A source close to Altman says he has once again set a 5PM PT deadline to resolve the situation, as he did yesterday — that big show of heart emoji support last night was meant to demonstrate how many people would leave for a new company with him.
One big condition of Altman’s return is that the existing board (who fired him!) has to step down. The existing board has to make some hard decisions about who will replace them, which appears to be the sticking point. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella is reportedly mediating the discussion between Altman, former OpenAI president Greg Brockman, and the four current board members as they attempt to select a new board. We’re also told Microsoft would very much like to wrap this up before the stock market opens tomorrow morning. (Microsoft declined to comment; OpenAI’s communications team isn’t returning calls.)
Today’s 5PM deadline is meant to be a hard deadline, per the source close to Altman. If a deal isn’t reached, things will take “a different path,” we’re told, and extend through tomorrow and perhaps much longer.
Updates to come!
Nov 19Why OpenAI employees were posting all those heart emojis.
Saturday evening, hours after we broke the news that Altman was being asked to return to OpenAI by the board that fired him, he posted the following on X: “i love the openai team so much.”
Then, a lot of OpenAI employees started reposting him with the heart emoji. I’ve been told by multiple sources that the action was meant to signal to the board who would leave OpenAI to follow Altman to a new company. “A very large portion of people were there because of Greg [Brockman, the now-resigned president] and Sam,” one source says.