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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

OpenAI board says Sam Altman will not return as CEO

The OpenAI logo at the company headquarters in San Francisco on March 10, 2023. Sam Altman, who was ousted as OpenAI’s chief executive on Friday, returned to the company’s headquarters on Sunday afternoon wearing a guest identification badge.

By Mike Isaac, Kevin Roose and Cade Metz

The board of directors of OpenAI, the high-flying artificial intelligence startup, said in a note to employees Sunday night that its former chief, Sam Altman, would not be returning to his job, while naming his second interim replacement in two days.

Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch, will replace Mira Murati as interim CEO of OpenAI, the board said. Murati, a longtime OpenAI executive, had been appointed to that role after Altman’s ouster Friday. The board said Shear has a “unique mix of skills, expertise and relationships that will drive OpenAI forward,” according to the memo viewed by The New York Times.

“The board firmly stands by its decision as the only path to advance and defend the mission of OpenAI,” said the memo, referring to Altman’s removal from the company Friday. It was signed by each of the four directors on the company’s board; Adam D’Angelo, Helen Toner, Ilya Sutskever, and Tasha McCauley.

“Put simply, Sam’s behavior and lack of transparency in his interactions with the board undermined the board’s ability to effectively supervise the company in the manner it was mandated to do,” the memo said.

Altman’s firing startled the tech industry and OpenAI’s investors, which include Microsoft, Sequoia Capital and Thrive Capital. Microsoft, which has invested more than $13 billion in OpenAI, only learned of Altman’s exit one minute before it was announced, while other investors discovered that he had been forced out via social media. They were given no further information or updates over the weekend.

The departure of Altman, 38, also drew attention to a rift in the AI community between people who believe AI is the most important new technology since web browsers and others who worry that moving too fast to develop it could be dangerous. Sutskever, in particular, was worried that Altman was too focused on building OpenAI’s business while not paying enough attention to the dangers of AI.

The board’s decision to remove Altman was a shock to industry allies and rank-and-file employees who supported the charismatic founder. Silicon Valley investors and tech executives expressed their support of Altman and Greg Brockman, Altman’s co-founder who resigned in protest. By Friday evening, Altman was pitching a new AI startup to investors and planned to start the company with Brockman.

Since OpenAI released its hit ChatGPT chatbot almost a year ago, artificial intelligence has captured the public’s imagination, with hopes that it could be used for important work like drug research or to help teach children. But some AI scientists and political leaders worry about its risks, such as jobs getting automated out of existence or autonomous warfare that grows beyond human control.

OpenAI has been the gravitational center of that discussion along with its former CEO, who has done more than anyone over the past year to make artificial intelligence a mainstream topic.

The board did not cite specific incidents involving Altman as the cause for removing him. Rather, it claimed that Altman had “lost the trust of the board of directors,” and that removing him was “necessary to preserve the board’s ability to execute its responsibilities and advance the mission of this organization.”

“It is paramount that any CEO be honest and transparent with his or her board,” the memo said.

OpenAI, Altman, and Microsoft, OpenAI’s largest investor, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The AI company has an unusual governance structure. It is controlled by the board of a nonprofit that can decide the company’s leadership and its investors have no formal way of influencing decisions.

Some OpenAI employees pledged to quit OpenAI or join Altman’s new potential venture if the board did not relent. But even as Altman made his pitch for a new company, investors were pushing for the return of Altman and Brockman.

Throughout the weekend, Altman and his supporters pressured OpenAI’s board with appeals from venture capitalists, other tech executives and employees. Microsoft led the charge, three people said, and smaller investors channeled their concerns through Microsoft.

The effort, the people said, was meant to show the company’s board how popular Altman was among OpenAI’s employees and across Silicon Valley.

The lack of details about the reasons behind Altman’s ouster emboldened his supporters. Some argued that OpenAI’s nonprofit board could no longer support the business that OpenAI had become — one with 700 employees, numerous customers and corporate partnerships that is on track to post $1 billion in annual in revenue.

Altman, Brockman and Sutskever created OpenAI in 2015 alongside nine others, including Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla. The group founded the AI lab as a nonprofit, saying that unlike Google and other tech giants, it would not be driven by commercial incentives.

In 2018, after Musk parted ways with OpenAI, Altman transformed the lab into a for-profit company that is controlled by the nonprofit and its board. Over the next several years, he raised the billions of dollars the company would need to build technologies like ChatGPT.

Before joining OpenAI, Shear led Twitch through its transformation from an upstart platform called to a behemoth that was acquired by Amazon in 2014. He stayed on after the tech giant took over, and only departed earlier this year, saying he was having a child.

Shear, a longtime video gamer, was viewed as a competent leader at Twitch but had his critics. He was perceived to be too focused on cost-cutting and turning the money-losing site into a more profitable business.

“We apologize for the abruptness of the process that we felt was required by the situation,” the board said in its memo. “Even understanding the questions it has raised, we continue to believe our actions were necessary.”

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