Turbulent few days for OpenAI ends, after new board of directors is announced and Sam Altman returns as CEO
The turbulence that has rocked OpenAI and the artificial intelligence (AI) community in the past five days is coming to an end.
OpenAI has agreed for ousted CEO Sam Altman to return to the ChatGPT-maker, with a new board of directors being appointed.
It comes after OpenAI’s non-profit board of directors had on Friday shocked the entire tech industry, when they unexpectedly fired CEO Sam Altman, who has been the public face of the firm since 2019.
The four-person non-profit board that governed the for-profit subsidiary of which Altman had been chief executive, said on Friday afternoon (UK time) that Sam Altman had been fired after an internal review found he “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board”.
No other reason or details was given.
However OpenAI co-founder and former president Greg Brockman, then resigned on Friday in solidarity with Altman.
Multiple reported stated that Sam Altman had been seeking to raise billions from some of the world’s biggest investors for an AI chip venture in the weeks before his shock ouster.
Altman has also reportedly been looking to raise funds for an AI-focused hardware device he has been developing with former Apple designer Jony Ive.
But the Altman firing had surprised and shocked investors including Microsoft, Tiger Global, Thrive Capital and Sequoia Capital – all of which lobbied for Altman to return to OpenAI.
However negotiations between OpenAI’s board and Altman failed on Sunday evening.
That led to Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella on Monday morning to announce that both Altman and Brockman would be joining Redmond – in a move that ensured that Altman would not be lured to work for a competitor such as Amazon, Apple or Google.
Redmond, is by far OpenAI’s biggest investor and OpenAI depends on Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure for its costly computing infrastructure.
The software giant expressed its displeasure at OpenAI’s board, with reports suggesting it was offering jobs to all OpenAI staff.
And the pressure on the OpenAI board continued to mount, when OpenAI chief technology officer Mira Murati, who had been appointed as interim chief executive, said she was lobbying for Altman’s return to the company.
And one of the four board members who participated in Altman’s ouster, OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, later expressed regret and joined the call for the board’s resignation.
It also emerged that 743 out of 770 staff at OpenAI had threatened to resign en masse, after they signed a letter demanding that Altman and Brockman return to their positions at the firm and that the current board resign, or else they will move over to Microsoft.
Satya Nadella added to the pressure when he called for a “change” in the governance of OpenAI. “At this point, I think it’s very, very clear that something has to change around the governance” of OpenAI, Nadella told CNBC.
Microsoft is rapidly integrating AI into its product suite, and only last week at its Ignite conference revealed it had developed a custom AI chip called Maia, along with an ARM-based CPU called Cobalt for general-purpose cloud workloads.
The AI chip is designed to reduce the company’s reliance on Nvidia, although Microsoft was quick to downplay the chip’s impact on its partnership with Nvidia.
Now on Wednesday, OpenAI confirmed that Sam Altman is returning as CEO, and a new board of directors has been appointed.
We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam Altman to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo.
We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this.
— OpenAI (@OpenAI) November 22, 2023
Sam Altman then confirmed he was returning to OpenAI, in which he thanked Satya Nadella for his support.
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 msft on sun evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team. with the new board and w satya’s support, i’m…
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 22, 2023
The new board will be led by former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor, who also chaired Twitter’s board before its takeover by Elon Musk last year. The other members will be former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo.
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 22, 2023