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Altman back as OpenAI CEO: Here’s the rollercoaster of events since Friday

Nov 22, 2023

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Sam Altman now has his old job back. Here is the timeline of events from Altman’s abrupt dismissal to the moments that led up to his reinstatement as CEO of OpenAI.

Friday, Nov. 17, Altman was ousted from OpenAI. Co-founder and President Greg Brockman was removed from the board, then he quit. Mira Murati was appointed as interim CEO.

Saturday, Nov. 18, Axios reported on an internal memo written by Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap.

“We can say definitively that the board’s decision was not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices,” Lightcap wrote. “This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.”

Sunday, Nov. 19, Altman was reportedly in talks about returning to OpenAI while also contemplating the possibility of starting a new company.

Monday, Nov. 20, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Altman, Brockman, and some colleagues would join a “new advanced AI research team” under Microsoft.

That same day, Emmett Shear, former CEO of Twitch, was named interim CEO at OpenAI, pledging to initiate an investigation into Altman’s firing.

In a letter, employees called for Altman and Brockman to be reinstated and for the board to step down. More than 700 people signed the letter.

The resolution came in the early hours of Wednesday, Nov. 22, as OpenAI announced an agreement for Altman to return as CEO with a new initial board.

Quora co-founder Adam D’Angelo retained his position on the board, while former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor were added. The new board is tasked with constructing a larger one, potentially comprising up to nine members, according to reports from The Verge.

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AFTER BEING FIRED, CONSIDERED FOR REINSTATEMENT, AND TAKING A NEW POSITION, SAM ALTMAN NOW HAS HIS OLD JOB BACK: HE’S ONCE AGAIN CEO OF OPENAI.

WHAT EXACTLY WENT DOWN?

ON FRIDAY, ALTMAN IS DISMISSED. OPENAI O-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT GREG BROCKMAN IS REMOVED FROM THE BOARD, THEN HE QUITS.

MIRA MURATI IS APPOINTED INTERIM CEO.

ON SATURDAY, WE LEARN WHY THIS HAPPENED. AXIOS REPORTED ON A MEMO COO BRAD LIGHTCAP SENT TO EMPLOYEES. IT CITED A “BREAKDOWN IN COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN SAM ALTMAN AND THE BOARD,” NOT “MALFEASANCE OR ANYTHING RELATED TO OUR FINANCIAL, BUSINESS, SAFETY, OR SECURITY/PRIVACY PRACTICES.”

THERE ARE ALSO REPORTS THAT INVESTORS ARE PRESSING FOR ALTMAN’S REINSTATEMENT. KHOSLA VENTURES, AN EARLY BACKER, SPECIFICALLY WANTS HIM BACK, BUT ITS FOUNDER SAYS THEY’LL SUPPORT HIM IN WHATEVER HE DOES NEXT.

ON SUNDAY, ALTMAN IS DISCUSSING HIS POSSIBLE RETURN TO OPENAI WHILE ALSO CONSIDERING STARTING A NEW COMPANY, ACCORDING TO REUTERS’ SOURCES.

ON MONDAY, SATYA NADELLA, THE CEO OF MICROSOFT, WHICH OWNS 49% PERCENT OF OPENAI, MAKES AN ANNOUNCEMENT. HE’S HIRED ALTMAN, BROCKMAN AND SOME COLLEAGUES TO WORK ON A “NEW ADVANCED AI RESEARCH TEAM.”

OPENAI NAMES EMMETT SHEAR INTERIM CEO. HE’S THE FORMER CEO OF TWITCH AND SAYS HE’LL INITIATE AN INVESTIGATION INTO ALTMAN’S FIRING.

IN A LETTER, EMPLOYEES CALL FOR ALTMAN AND BROCKMAN TO BE REINSTATED AND FOR THE BOARD TO STEP DOWN. OTHERWISE, THEY MAY GO TO MICROSOFT. MORE THAN 700 EMPLOYEES SIGN IT.

FINALLY, IN THE EARLY HOURS ON WEDNESDAY, OPENAI ANNOUNCES IT’S REACHED AN AGREEMENT FOR SAM ALTMAN TO COME BACK AS CEO WITH A NEW INITIAL BOARD. QUORA CO-FOUNDER ADAM D’ANGELO STAYS ON. BUT FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY LARRY SUMMERS AND FORMER SALESFORCE CO-CEO BRET TAYLOR ARE ADDED. ACCORDING TO THE VERGE, THAT BOARD IS RESPONSIBLE FOR BUILDING A LARGER ONE, WHICH WILL HAVE UP TO 9 PEOPLE.

THERE IS A HISTORY OF DIFFERING OPINIONS AMONG ALTMAN AND THE FORMER BOARD MEMBERS REGARDING HOW TO HANDLE POTENTIAL RISKS THAT COME WITH AI. ALTMAN WAS REPORTEDLY MORE AGGRESSIVE ABOUT DEVELOPMENT THAN FORMER BOARD MEMBER ILYA SUTSKEVER, WHO PRIORITIZED SAFETY CONCERNS.