Key Takeaways From the Sam Altman Saga

OpenAI’s co-founder is canned as CEO – and look where he wound up.

Sam Altman, co-founder and chief executive officer of OpenAI, the creator of the ChatGPT natural language communication tool, is out after a weekend-long company shape-up by the board of directors.

The reasons were murky at first, but the decision came down to the board’s determination that Altman was operating too fast in a fast-moving AI market fraught with risk. While that decision may or may not be proven to be sound, it was the way that the firing was handled that ruffled feathers at the company, at company partners, and with the technology industry as a whole.

Here’s the statement from Open AI’s board of directors announcing its decision to jettison Altman.

The board of directors of OpenAI, Inc., the 501(c)(3) that acts as the overall governing body for all OpenAI activities, today announced that Sam Altman will depart as CEO and leave the board of directors. Mira Murati, the company’s chief technology officer, will serve as interim CEO, effective immediately…

Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.

In a statement, the board of directors said: “OpenAI was deliberately structured to advance our mission: to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all humanity. The board remains fully committed to serving this mission. We are grateful for Sam’s many contributions to the founding and growth of OpenAI. At the same time, we believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward.

Altman Lands at Microsoft

As of Monday, November 20, Altman is out as CEO at OpenAI and is moving on to a new, as yet undefined AI leadership post at Microsoft.

“We’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, (an Open AI co-founder who quit the firm last Friday) together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”

“We’ve learned a lot over the years about how to give founders and innovators space to build independent identities and cultures within Microsoft, including GitHub, Mojang Studios, and LinkedIn, and I’m looking forward to having (Altman and Brockman) do the same,” he added.

The Microsoft hiring came after a wild weekend where the OpenAI board apparently had second thoughts about letting Altman go, with both parties negotiating a deal that would bring Altman back but with more aggressive oversight by the board. That deal was nixed and it looks like Altman is officially on to Microsoft, with former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear stepping up as interim CEO at OpenAI, replacing the original interim CEO, Mira Murati, who was named to the post on November 17.

With smoke clearing, the weekend’s events were not a good look for Open AI’s board, which appeared overly aggressive, indecisive, and error-prone all in one weekend (having three CEOs on board over a single weekend will do that to a company.)

Microsoft looks like it got burned on the deal, as well.

The tech giant, which had funded Open AI to the tune of $13 billion, was only apprised of Altman’s firing moments before the news went public. With the company in chaos, Microsoft’s investment doesn’t look as sterling as it did only a week ago.

Microsoft likely won’t abandon OpenAI, but it’s reportedly demanding a seat on the company’s board in the newly reconstructed company, and rumors are rampant that Microsoft wants to turn Open AI from a non-profit to a for-profit company and take it public.

That’s pretty much where the scenario stands now, with Altman in as a Microsoft AI visionary leader and with Open AI’s board spending Monday cleaning the egg off its face.

We’ll keep an eye on the CEO shuffle and in what direction both companies go next. If recent history is any guide, there should be plenty of fireworks ahead.

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