It’s been a dramatic few days for artificial intelligence giant OpenAI, which saw CEO Sam Altman ousted from the company he co-founded before he and other OpenAI staff decamped to form a new “advanced AI research team” at Microsoft.
The saga kicked off on Friday with the surprise announcement that Altman was out at OpenAI, with the board of directors releasing a statement that Altman “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.” The board added that it “no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
The news came less than a fortnight after the company’s DevDay conference, where Altman took to the stage to announce a slew of new features for its ChatGPT generative AI service.
The board further announced that the company’s CTO Mira Murati would serve as interim CEO, while co-founder Greg Brockman would step down as chairman of the board and would remain at the company.
According to reports in The Verge and The New York Times, the boardroom coup was led by the company’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, and kicked off at noon on Friday November 17, without Brockman’s participation or advance discussions with Altman or the company’s major investors—which include tech giant Microsoft. According to Brockman, Sutskever invited Altman to a Google Meet discussion with the board, minus Brockman, where he was told that he was “being fired.”
Brockman was, he said, subsequently told that he was being removed from the board but would retain his role at the company. “As far as we know, the management team was made aware of this shortly after, other than Mira who found out the night prior,” he added.
Events quickly started to spiral out of control when Brockman refused to play ball, tweeting that “based on today’s news, I quit.”
While Microsoft publicly expressed the “utmost confidence” in OpenAI’s new leadership, behind the scenes there was a flurry of activity from investors. OpenAI investors—including Microsoft and VC firm Thrive Capital—were rallying around the ousted founder in a bid to have him reinstated.
Amid the uncertainty, OpenAI founders took to retweeting a November 19 post by Altman stating that “i love the openai team so much” with heart emojis, reportedly a signal to the board indicating who would leave to follow Altman to a new company.
A more concrete signal came in the form of a letter signed by over 500 of the firm’s 770 workers, threatening to quit unless the board resigned and Altman and Brockman were reinstated. Among those who signed the letter were Sutskever himself, who subsequently tweeted, “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.”
Their efforts were in vain, however; on the morning of Monday November 20, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella tweeted that the tech giant had tapped Altman to head an in-house “advanced AI research team,” alongside other unspecified colleagues.
Brockman soon revealed that he would be joining Altman in the new venture, along with former OpenAI director of research Jakub Pachocki, AI risk evaluation head Aleksander Madry, and researcher Szymon Sidor, who had all quit the company on November 18.
Meanwhile, former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear announced that he’d been tapped as OpenAI’s new interim CEO, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Shear announced a three-point plan for the next 30 days, including the hiring of an independent investigator to “dig into the entire process leading up to this point,” and reforming the company’s management and leadership team.
As the dust settles, the instigator of the weekend chaos has expressed regrets for what happened.
Edited by Ryan Ozawa.
This post first appeared on: Decrypt