Open AI fires Sam Altman - The weekend drama summarized.
OpenAI fired its CEO Sam Altman on Friday. Since then, combined seasons of Succession and Silicon Valley have happened leading up to Sam Altman, Greg Brockman and other top researchers from Open AI joining Microsoft and Emmett Shear (co-founder of Twitch) as the Interim CEO of Open AI.
We’ve got a quick overview of the timeline, what really went down, and the rumours/opinions of the weekend. If you’re already caught up, you can follow real-time updates from Monday morning here.
Open AI board fires Sam Altman
Friday noon, 17th Nov 2023: OpenAI releases a blog post announcing changes in OpenAI’s leadership.
Open AI has a weird company structure. In short, a non-profit board has all the decision-making powers and their duty doesn’t lie with shareholders, but with the creation of AGI that’s safe for all of humanity.
In the blog post, this board:
1) Fires Sam Altman from the company. The board says that Sam has not been candid in his communications with the board. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.
2) Removes Greg Brockman from his position as Chairman of the board (not the Company).
3) Announces CTO Mira Murati to be Interim CEO.
Following this, Sam tweets his exit.
The speculations about what Sam might have done ranged from a security breach, being too fast and profit-driven, and achieving/pushing for AGI with others in the dark. People dig into Sam Altman’s personal and professional history.
Friday noon, 17th Nov 2023: Satya Nadella responds.
A key line from his tweet:
“We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap; and remain committed to our partnership, and to Mira and the team.”
Greg exits with Sam, and old friends join them
Friday night, 17th Nov 2023: A couple of hours after, Greg Brockman quits Open AI. Greg Brockman shares Sam and his POV. Still, no clear reasons.
lowercase resignation by gdb
Last night (16th Nov), Sam got a text from Ilya asking to talk at noon on Friday. Sam joined a Google Meet and the whole board, except Greg, was there. Ilya told Sam he was being fired and that the news was going out very soon.
At 12:19 pm (17th Nov), Greg got a text from Ilya asking for a quick call. At 12:23 pm, Ilya sent a Google Meet link. Greg was told that he was being removed from the board (but was vital to the company and would retain his role) and that Sam had been fired. Around the same time, OpenAI published a blog post.
As far as they know, the management team was made aware of this shortly after, other than Mira who found out the night prior.
Sam reposts this, shares his feelings and jokes(?) about going off.
The move is compared to a coup staged by Ilya Sutskever (Chief Scientist) and the board in an attempt to slow down the pace of the company. Previous news about Sam’s fundraising plans and hardware discussions linked to being the motivation.
Friday late night, 17th Nov 2023: Three senior researchers at OpenAI leave.
Jakub Pachocki - The company’s Director of Research.
Szymon Sidor - Seven-year researcher at the startup.
Aleksander Madry - Head of a team evaluating potential risks from AI.
People want Sam back in charge
Saturday morning, 18th Nov 2023: COO Brad Lightcap claims no safety issues or wrongdoing* in an internal memo.
“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. This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.”
*Report from Axios. The memo is not publicly shared.
Saturday, 18th Nov 2023: The Board reconsiders bringing Sam and Greg back
Throughout the day, Microsoft, other Investors and (not yet public) staff willing to leave pressured the board to resign and bring Sam back as CEO. People at OpenAI are optimistic that Sam will be back. The board agreed in principle but missed the 5 PM deadline to execute on it.
Saturday night, 18th Nov 2023: Dozens of OpenAI employees repost Sam’s tweet: i love the openai team so much
X feeds are filled with OpenAI employees including execs and heads of departments reposting Sam’s tweet with heart emojis. COO Brad Lightcap, CSO Jason Kwon and CTO Mira Murati are among them.
Show of immense negotiating power from team Sam. Along with OpenAI employees, tech and startup X (Twitter) were on Sam’s side. Apart from affiliations with Sam Altman, another leading cause is the danger of OpenAI’s $86B share sale by this decision.
Sam is back in the Open AI office
but with a guest tag.
Sunday noon, 19th Nov 2023: Altman, Brockman arrive at OpenAI Headquarters as execs push to reinstate them.
The board wants more say in the new members before they resign. Microsoft wants a seat on the board. Bret Taylor (ex-CEO of Salesforce) is one of the almost confirmed members of the new board. The board is working with another deadline of 5 PM. Sunday is leading to a stalemate.
Sama needs to give lessons: “How to up your twitter game for multibillion founders”
New OpenAI CEO, Sam joins Microsoft
Sunday Night, 19th Nov 2023: (in the order of public reveal)
1) Sam Altman is NOT returning as CEO of OpenAI. Emmet Shear is the new interim CEO of OpenAI.
People dismiss Emmett on the basis of his previous comments to slow the pace of AI work.
2) Satya Nadella brings Sam Altman, Greg Brockman and colleagues to join Microsoft.
Satya on the new team:
“We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”
“I’m super excited to have you join as CEO of this new group, Sam, setting a new pace for innovation.”
Satya on the new Open AI:
“We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI's new leadership team and working with them.”
The mission continues for Sam Altman.
So what’s next?
Sunday late night, 19th Nov 2023: everything is happening too fast
Statement from Emmett on his decision:
Emmet has a three-point plan for his first 30 days
Get a report on “whatever this was” from an independent investigator.
Talk to employees, partners, investors, and customers and share takeaways.
Reform the management and leadership team.
Clarifies that Sam wasn’t fired because of any safety issues. Say he got full board support for the commercialization of models.
Greg Brockman shares the details about Sam and Greg’s new team inside Microsoft:
“We are going to build something new & it will be incredible,” adding that the initial management team also includes Jakub Pachocki, Szymon Sidor, and Aleksander Madry. (The researchers who left on Friday night, just after Sam and Greg)
Mira Murati - CTO
Brad Lightcap - COO
Jason Kwon - CSO
Boris Power - Head of Applied Research
Jason Wei - AI researcher
Aliisa Rosenthal - Head of Sales
That’s until now, the sun is coming up in SF, you can follow me on Twitter @bentossell for what happens next in real-time. Of course, the summary will be there tomorrow, if you prefer staying sane and getting work done.
According to Wired: Nearly 500 employees of OpenAI have signed a letter saying they may quit and join Sam Altman at Microsoft unless the startup's board resigns and reappoints the ousted CEO. Ilya has also signed this letter.