Sam Altman is said to be discussing return to OpenAI with company’s board
Cade Metz, Mike Isaac and Erin Griffith
Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, two top executives at OpenAI who left the company after a dramatic board meeting late last week, are talking again with board members about returning to the artificial intelligence startup, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
The discussions follow an outcry after Altman, 38, was ousted from his role as OpenAI’s CEO. Since then, OpenAI’s investors and Altman’s supporters have pressured the four board members of the startup to bring Altman back, six people with knowledge of the situation said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential.
Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in OpenAI, was leading the pressure campaign, one of the people said. OpenAI investors who have expressed support for Altman to be reinstated were also willing to invest if he were to start a new company, something he began discussing almost immediately after he was forced out, people with knowledge of the situation said.
There is no guarantee that Altman or Brockman will be reinstated at OpenAI, the people said. Because of OpenAI’s unique structure — it is controlled by a nonprofit and its board has the power to govern the activities of the subsidiary, where its AI work is done — the company’s investors have no official say in what happens to the startup or who leads it.
OpenAI, Microsoft and Thrive Capital declined to comment. The Verge earlier reported that OpenAI’s board was talking with Altman about potentially returning to the company.
The new discussions between Altman, Brockman and OpenAI’s board were the latest twist in a fast-moving drama at what is perhaps the world’s highest-profile AI company.
The San Francisco startup shot to fame last year when it released the chatbot ChatGPT and showed the power of artificial intelligence. Altman, a founder of OpenAI, rapidly became the face of the AI industry as Google, Meta and other giants raced to take the lead in the technology. But on Friday, OpenAI abruptly announced that its board had removed Altman as CEO, saying “he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board.” The board did not elaborate.
Altman was asked to join a video meeting with OpenAI’s board at noon Friday and was immediately fired, Brockman has said. Brockman said that even though he was chair of the company’s board, he was not part of the meeting. He later said he was quitting the company.
OpenAI had six board members before Altman was forced out and Brockman left. The other four are Ilya Sutskever, an OpenAI founder; Adam D’Angelo, CEO of Quora, the question-and-answer site; Helen Toner, a director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology; and Tasha McCauley, an entrepreneur and computer scientist.
Before Altman’s ouster, tensions had been rising at OpenAI as the company’s profile soared. In particular, Sutskever, a respected AI researcher, had grown increasingly worried that OpenAI’s technology could be dangerous and that Altman was not paying enough attention to that risk, three people familiar with his thinking have said. Sutskever also objected to what he saw as his diminished role inside the company.
Altman’s firing drew attention to a longtime division in the AI community between people who believe AI is the biggest business opportunity in a generation and others who worry that moving too fast could be dangerous.
His exit also caused waves across the tech industry, where Altman is well known not only from OpenAI but from his years leading Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley startup incubator. Many of OpenAI’s investors — which include Microsoft, Thrive Capital and Sequoia Capital — did not learn about Altman’s exit until a minute before his departure was announced or after the news became public.
By Friday evening, Altman and Brockman were racing to set up a new AI company, three people familiar with the situation have said. They also considered which OpenAI employees would join them. At least three other OpenAI employees have resigned over the last two days.
Altman took a break to poke at OpenAI’s board on social media, with a joke threatening to start “going off,” or speaking candidly, about the situation.
Tech investors also rushed to show their support for Altman and hinted that they would back his next venture.
Alfred Lin, an investor at Sequoia Capital, a venture capital firm that invested in OpenAI and Altman’s first startup, Loopt, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he looked forward to “the next world-changing company” that Altman and Brockman would build. Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO, posted, “I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
While still leading OpenAI, Altman had pitched several ideas for new projects to investors and others in recent months. During a fundraising trip last month in the Middle East, Altman spoke about AI-related projects, including a plan to develop custom chips for AI that would compete with the chip company Nvidia.
Altman also spoke with Masayoshi Son, the CEO and billionaire founder of the tech conglomerate SoftBank, about investing in an effort to build an AI device with Jony Ive, the former chief design officer at Apple.
But by Saturday afternoon, Altman and Brockman were also talking with the OpenAI about a return.