OpenAI scandal: why Sam Altman was fired and how they tried to return

20.11.2023 13:13
On November 17, OpenAI announced the dismissal of CEO Sam Altman. Some employees left the company in protest, and leading investors were surprised by the unexpected decision. While the board of directors is considering further steps, ForkLog has collected up-to-date information and compiled a complete picture of what happened.

The beginning of the conflict

According to the story of the co-founder and already ex-president of OpenAI, Greg Brockman, on the evening of November 16, Altman received an invitation to a Google Meet conference from Ilya Sutskever, the company's chief researcher.  

Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today.

Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.

We too are still trying to figure out exactly…

— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023

The next day at lunch, the CEO joined the call, which was attended by almost the entire board of directors. During the conversation, Altman was informed about his removal from office.

A few minutes later, the management contacted Brockman and also informed him of his removal from the council. After that, OpenAI published a press release. 

The statement says that the decision was made based on the results of an internal audit, and Altman himself "was not always frank with the board of directors." The post of acting CEO was taken by CTO Mira Murati. 

Against the background of the incident, Brockman announced his resignation from the post of president of OpenAI, followed by the head of the training department Alexander Madfrey and Research director Jakub Pachoki.

After learning today’s news, this is the message I sent to the OpenAI team:

— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
Reaction and attempts to return Altman

OpenAI Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap wrote in a corporate memo that the news of Altman's dismissal came as a surprise to the entire team. 

"We can say with confidence that the decision of the board of directors was not taken in response to malfeasance or related to finances, business practices, security or confidentiality. This is a failure in communication between Sam and the board," he clarified.

Microsoft, the largest investor and partner of OpenAI, has published a statement regarding Altman's dismissal. The head of the corporation, Satya Nadella, tried to calm the community and assured that what happened would not affect further relations between the firms in any way, and also expressed commitment to Murati and the rest of the project team.

However, Bloomberg later reported that Microsoft's CEO was "furious" after the decision and began pushing the board of directors to consider reinstating Altman.

According to The Information, in parallel, the former CEO began discussing with investors a new AI startup, which will be joined by Brockman and some OpenAI employees.

On the evening of November 18, The Verge published a story that the current board of the firm "in principle" agreed to resign, as well as to reinstate Altman and Brockman. The final decision was to be made in the evening of the next day.

On November 19, the ex-CEO posted on X a photo from the OpenAI office, where he was present as a guest with the appropriate badge.  

first and last time I ever wear one of these

— Sam Altman (@sama) November 19, 2023

"The first and last time I wear one of these pieces", — he wrote.

The final decision?

According to Bloomberg, if Altman returns, Microsoft management would request a seat on the board of directors or a role as a non-voting observer.

According to sources, the top management of OpenAI, including interim head Mira Murati, Director of Strategy Jason Kwon and chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap, insists on the return of the ex-CEO.

However, despite the prerequisites for a favorable outcome for Altman, on the evening of November 19, The Information released a news item stating the appointment of the co-founder of the Twitch streaming platform Emmett Shire as the new CEO, as Murati was trying to return former colleagues to the company.

So, here's what happened at OpenAI tonight. Mira planned to hire Sam and Greg back. She turned Team Sam over past couple of days. Idea was to force board to fire everyone, which they figured the board would not do. Board went into total silence. Found their own CEO Emmett Shear

— Ashlee Vance (@ashleevance) November 20, 2023

"Mira planned to hire Sam and Greg again. Over the past couple of days, she has launched a campaign in support of Altman. The idea was to force the board to fire everyone, which, in their opinion, it would not do. The Council fell into complete silence. We found our own CEO Emmett Shire," explained Bloomberg author Ashley Vance. 

In his opinion, Microsoft is extremely dissatisfied with the results, and "there may not be enough cars in the United States for the number of lawyers who will come to San Francisco."

Nadella tried to smooth the corners of the conflict by issuing a statement in support of both sides. He wrote in X that he was "looking forward to getting to know" Shire and the new OpenAI team.

We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and in continuing to support our customers and partners. We look forward to getting to know Emmett...

— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) November 20, 2023

Altman and Brockman, along with colleagues, will join Microsoft as part of a new research group in the field of artificial intelligence, the head of the corporation added.

Now they will have to use Teams!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2023

"Now they have to use Teams,— Elon Musk joked. 

Altman is still listed as the co—founder and chairman of Tools of Humanity, the main developer of the Worldcoin project. After the news of his dismissal, the native WLD token fell from $2.5 to $1.8. At the time of writing, the asset price has recovered to the level of $2.4.

15-minute WLD/USDT chart of the Binance exchange. Data: TradingView.

Recall that in a recent interview, Sam Altman announced plans to attract additional funding from Microsoft to create a general artificial intelligence.

In early November, OpenAI held a presentation where it showed turbo versions of ChatGPT and presented an assistant for developers.

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