In a recent Silicon Valley twist, Sam Altman, the former CEO of OpenAI, is embarking on a new journey with Microsoft. This move comes hot on the heels of Altman’s unexpected departure from OpenAI, the brains behind ChatGPT and DALL-E.
The Big Question: Why Was Sam Altman Let Go?
On November 17th, OpenAI’s board of directors surprised everyone by giving the boot to CEO Sam Altman. The board’s statement hinted at a lack of consistent openness in Altman’s communication, making it tough for them to carry out their duties. This cryptic explanation set off a storm of speculation about the real cause behind this decision.
Things didn’t stop there. Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president, was swiftly removed from the board and later stepped down from his role in the company. Adding to the upheaval, three key researchers—Jakub Pachocki, Aleksander Madry, and Szymon Sidor—also decided to part ways with OpenAI.
After ousting Sam Altman, the board of OpenAI swiftly took action. They named Mira Murati, the chief technology officer, as the temporary CEO, while also initiating a search for a permanent replacement. However, Murati’s time at the helm was short-lived.
Within just two days, Emmett Shear, co-founder of the video streaming platform Twitch, stepped into the role of interim CEO. Shear took to Twitter to clarify that Altman wasn’t dismissed due to a specific disagreement on AI safety. He pledged to conduct an independent investigation, promising a detailed report within the next month.
Shear didn’t stop there. He committed to shaking things up, vowing to “reform the management and leadership team.” He even hinted at the possibility of making “governance changes” within the company. The stage was set for a period of introspection and potential transformation at OpenAI.
Speculations about the return of Sam Altman
In a surprising turn of events, speculations arose about Sam Altman possibly making a comeback to OpenAI shortly after his sudden exit. Reports suggested that influential investors, including tech giant Microsoft, were urging OpenAI’s board to reconsider Altman’s departure. Despite these rumblings, it seemed talks didn’t progress in that direction.
Fast forward to November 20th—Satya Nadella, the head at Microsoft, broke the news on X (formerly Twitter) that Altman and Greg Brockman were set to embark on a new venture. Nadella expressed excitement about Altman and Brockman and their colleagues leading a groundbreaking AI research team at Microsoft.
Interestingly, Microsoft, holding a substantial stake in OpenAI with an investment of eleven billion dollars over the years, appeared unsuccessful in bringing Altman back to his former role. Instead, they opted to bring Altman and Brockman into their fold for a fresh start.
Possible conflict of interests
Altman, a savvy figure in Silicon Valley and a key player in AI research, was expected to continue his work in the field after he departed from OpenAI. Known for his strategic acumen, Altman has been a prominent figure in AI research.
Sam Altman was fired from his position as CEO by the board of OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, over the weekend.
The move raised questions over the future and safety of AI and it came as a complete surprise — including to investor Microsoft, which later hired him. pic.twitter.com/gHLE9UIIMD
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) November 20, 2023
Paul Graham, founder of the venture capital firm Y Combinator, once described him as someone who could thrive in any challenging situation.
Altman and Brockman are now gearing up to lead a new AI research team directly under Microsoft, even as Microsoft remains a significant shareholder in OpenAI. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s head, expressed eagerness to collaborate with Emmett Shear and OpenAI’s new leadership team.
The future holds questions about how many researchers from OpenAI will join this new team and how Microsoft will manage potential conflicts of interest with two players in the AI arena.