Ousted Sam Altman to return as OpenAI chief executive

By John Mercury November 22, 2023

ChatGPT maker OpenAI says it has agreed a deal for Sam Altman to return as chief executive after he was ousted by its board.

The agreement “in principle” involves a new board being installed, the company said.

In a post on X, OpenAI said: “We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam Altman to return to OpenAI as CEO.”

“We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this.”

It followed a threatened mutiny by OpenAI staff, who worked on ChatGPT, the generative AI model which gave millions of people the ability to have questions answered by artificial intelligence (AI) after it launched last year.

The vast majority of them said they would quit and work for Microsoft if the board did not resign and if Mr Altman and his ally and company president Greg Brockman, who left in solidarity with Mr Altman, were not reinstated.

The pair had been hired to work at Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest investor, on a new AI research project.

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CEO of OpenAI Sam Altman speaks to Sky News

The new board of directors, which operates on a not-for-profit basis, unlike conventional boards, will include the former US Treasury secretary and economics professor, Larry Summers.

It will be chaired by the former CEO of Salesforce and co-creator of Google Maps Bret Taylor, with the CEO of question and answer site Quora Adam D’Angelo remaining on the board.

Read more:
How the chaos at OpenAI has unfolded – and why it matters
Who is Sam Altman?

OpenAI’s board operates on a non-commercial basis, unlike the company, as it was originally founded as a not-for-profit with the goal of building safe and beneficial AI “for the benefit of humanity”.

Mr Brockman said of his return, which came on Tuesday night west coast America time, that he was “getting back to coding tonight”.

Sam Altman exerts a strong hold on the tech world

Just three days after Sam Altman was ousted as chief executive of OpenAI by its board members, he has upturned the decision and even been offered the chance to select the first members of a new board of directors.

Such is the hold he has on the tech world and on one player in particular.

Microsoft is key to this power struggle – the company has invested more than $10bn into OpenAI and was reportedly informed of the previous board’s decision to dismiss Altman just minutes before the announcement was made publicly.

The tech giant then offered jobs to not only Altman and fellow OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman, who resigned in solidarity, but to more than 700 of the company’s staff.

Executives at the company are now pushing for a position on the new board and have warned that they do not want any more “surprises”.

OpenAI is the company behind ChatGPT, which earned its name for making generative AI available to the public.

The chatbot was used by hundreds of millions of users in just the first couple of months after its launch last year, positioning the non-profit at the forefront of AI and giving it significant influence over how the technology impacts our daily lives.

Mr Altman said: “I love OpenAI, and everything I’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together.

“When I decided to join Microsoft on Sunday evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team.

“With the new board and with Satya’s [the CEO of Microsoft’s] support, I’m looking forward to returning to OpenAI, and building on our strong partnership with Microsoft.”

The reason for Mr Altman’s sacking on Friday night remains unclear.

The board had said he “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board”.

But in a letter to the board, employees said: “Despite many requests for specific facts for your allegations, you have never provided any evidence.”

The company’s interim chief executive Emmett Shear said Mr Altman was not removed over “any specific disagreement on safety”.

“Their reasoning was completely different,” he added.

It was not immediately clear what the future will hold for Mr Shear.

He posted on X (Twitter) that he was “deeply pleased by this result, after [around] 72 very intense hours of work”.

The former head of game streaming platform Twitch added: “Coming into OpenAI, I wasn’t sure what the right path would be. This was the pathway that maximized safety alongside doing right by all stakeholders involved. I’m glad to have been a part of the solution.”


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