OpenAI guru and founder reinstated as CEO just one day after he got fired

Written by Jeppe W

Nov.22 - 2023 2:16 PM CET

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Sam Altman, the co-founder of OpenAI, is set to return as the CEO just days after his unexpected dismissal by the board, as confirmed by the company.

This surprising reversal follows a tumultuous period marked by staff threats of mass resignations and industry astonishment.

The reinstatement, agreed upon "in principle," involves appointing new members to the OpenAI board. The initial decision to remove Altman last Friday led to co-founder Greg Brockman's resignation and plunged the leading AI company into chaos.

The move was executed by non-employee board members Adam D'Angelo, Tasha McCauley, Helen Toner, and co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever.

However, the dynamics shifted rapidly. Sutskever apologized publicly and supported the staff's demand for Altman's return. Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI, had offered Altman a role leading a new advanced AI research team, but OpenAI confirmed Altman's return and the partial reconstitution of its board on Wednesday.

The new board will include former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor and former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, alongside current director Adam D'Angelo.

Brockman also announced his return to OpenAI. Interim CEO Emmett Shear expressed relief over Altman's reinstatement after intense deliberations, highlighting that this move maximized safety and fairness for all stakeholders.

Microsoft's Satya Nadella responded positively, emphasizing the importance of this step towards more stable and effective governance at OpenAI.

However, industry experts like Nick Patience of S&P Global Market Intelligence warn that the recent events have potentially damaged OpenAI's reputation and could impact its future investments and recruitment.

The original decision to fire Altman cited a loss of confidence and lack of candor in his communications, though specifics remain unclear. Over 700 OpenAI staff had signed an open letter threatening to leave unless the board resigned, with Microsoft assuring job opportunities for them.

This episode not only reflects on OpenAI's internal dynamics but also raises broader questions about governance in such high-stake technology companies. OpenAI, initially a non-profit aimed at developing safe AI for humanity, later added a for-profit arm while maintaining its original mission, leading to a unique organizational structure.

The board members responsible for Altman's initial dismissal have not yet elaborated on their decision. In response to the reinstatement news, board member Toner simply expressed a need for rest after the upheaval. The event underscores the complexities and challenges of leadership and governance in pioneering technology firms.