It’s official: Sam Altman is, once again, the CEO of OpenAI. How did the world’s hottest generative AI company go through three CEOs in under a week and end up with the same one it had at the start? 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 was announced as the interim CEO of OpenAI. Then hundreds of OpenAI employees — including former interim CEO Mira Murati and (now-former) board member Ilya Sutskever — signed a letter saying they would leave the company for jobs at Microsoft unless Altman is reinstated.
After some negotiations, Altman has returned, along with president Greg Brockman, while Murati is returning to her role as the company’s CTO. The deal also includes a new set of board members, which now 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.
Feb 9The latest rumor about Sam Altman’s AI chip-building dream could require up to $7 trillion.
For context, here’s how the Wall Street Journal describes OpenAI’s once-again leader’s trillion dollar effort to “reshape the global semiconductor industry:”
Such a sum of investment would dwarf the current size of the global semiconductor industry. Global sales of chips were $527 billion last year and are expected to rise to $1 trillion annually by 2030.
The money is needed to fuel AI’s growth and solve the scarcity of expensive AI chips required to train the large language models that underpin systems like ChatGPT. According to the WSJ, Altman is pitching a chip-making partnership to investors from the UAE, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son (again), and TSMC.
Jan 5Microsoft’s observer has reportedly joined the OpenAI board.
Remember the November upheaval at OpenAI, with Sam Altman fired and rehired as CEO? After all that, new board chair Bret Taylor said the ChatGPT company would “build a qualified, diverse Board of exceptional individuals” that included a nonvoting observer from Microsoft, which is OpenAI’s biggest financial backer.
Dec 12, 2023A peek inside the black box that is OpenAI’s finances.
OpenAI’s nonprofit parent company — the one with the board that suddenly fired Sam Altman last month — has its finances made public each year by the government. The numbers for 2022 were recently published by the IRS, and you can view the filing below.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t say much, given that it excludes the financials for OpenAI’s commercial entity that makes ChatGPT. What the filing does show is that Altman was paid $73,546 in 2022. Co-founders Greg Brockman and Ilya Sutskever were paid $113,727 and $334,572, respectively. What about the three board members who voted to fire Altman alongside Sutskever? They were paid nothing.
Dec 9, 2023“The destruction of the company could be consistent with the board’s mission.”
The New York Times published a look at OpenAI’s firing and rehiring of CEO Sam Altman. The moment-by-moment rundown doesn’t dig into the claims of Altman being “psychologically abusive” from yesterday’s Washington Post story.
Remember, this all started less than a month ago.
Dec 8, 2023Not a flattering portrayal of Sam Altman.
A new report from The Washington Post says that senior OpenAI staffers had indicated to the board Altman had been “psychologically abusive.” The board had also worried that it couldn’t keep Altman accountable.
All of that contributed to Altman’s firing, the report says — though, as we now know, Altman ultimately came out on top.Warning from OpenAI leaders helped trigger Sam Altman’s ouster
[The Washington Post]
Dec 7, 2023OpenAI is low on Toner.
Helen Toner, one of the board members who fired Sam Altman and then ousted herself when Altman returned, has given an interview to The Wall Street Journal. She is unable to give a specific reason for Altman’s firing beyond “Our goal in firing Sam was to strengthen OpenAI and make it more able to achieve its mission.”
Listen, babe, I am fully happy to hear you out, but if being full of shit is a firing offense for CEOs, everyone in the Fortune 500 would be looking for a new job.
We still don’t know the whole story around the conflict between OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and the company’s board, but more and more is leaking out. A new report, from The New Yorker, alleges that OpenAI’s old board deliberately excluded Microsoft after initially voting to expel Sam Altman as CEO, and they actually believed the company would back them.Read Article >
In the sprawling story, New Yorker reported Microsoft executives were blindsided by the decision to oust Sam Altman, possibly to prevent Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella from warning Altman what was about to happen.
OpenAI’s GPT store will be delayed until next year, the company said in an email to people who signed up for its GPT Builder.Read Article >
In the email, OpenAI said that “unexpected things have been keeping us busy,” pushing back the GPT store’s rollout. The company said it had planned to release the store in December, which itself is slightly later than originally promised; at its developer conference in November, OpenAI said the store would launch later that month.
When OpenAI’s board asked Sam Altman to return a day after they fired him, he initially felt defiant, hurt, and angry.Read Article >
“It took me a few minutes to snap out of it and get over the ego and emotions to then be like, ‘Yeah, of course I want to do that,’” he told me by phone on Wednesday. “Obviously, I really loved the company and had poured my life force into this for the last four and a half years full time, but really longer than that with most of my time. And we’re making such great progress on the mission that I care so much about, the mission of safe and beneficial AGI.”
Sam Altman is officially OpenAI’s CEO again.Read Article >
Just before Thanksgiving, the company said it had reached a deal in principle for him to return, and now it’s done. Microsoft is getting a non-voting observer seat on the nonprofit board that controls OpenAI as well, the company announced on Wednesday.
Nov 29, 2023
Earlier this year, I ran into Adam D’Angelo at an AI conference in San Francisco’s “Cerebral Valley” neighborhood.Read Article >
He was there to talk about Poe, the AI bot platform that is his pet project as the CEO of Quora. But I was more interested in his role as a board member of OpenAI, which had just lost two other directors in a matter of a few weeks: Reid Hoffman and Shivon Zilis. Was the board actively looking to fill their spots? I cornered D’Angelo in the halls of the conference venue to ask. He said yes and declined to elaborate.
Nov 23, 2023A 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!
Nov 22, 2023
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.
Nov 21, 2023
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 21, 2023The 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 21, 2023Microsoft 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 20, 2023Today 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 20, 2023Of 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 (email@example.com).