Shear Takes Over As OpenAI Interim Chief, Promises Independent Probe

The board of directors of OpenAI has named former Twitch chief executive and co-founder Emmett Shear as interim chief executive of the company following the shock ouster of Sam Altman, who has been the public face of the firm during its rise to prominence over the past year.

Shear’s appointment, which he confirmed in a post on X (formerly Twitter) on Monday morning GMT, came after the board initially appointed OpenAI chief technology officer Mira Murati as chief executive after firing Altman on Friday.

“I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence,” Shear wrote on X in a post published at 1 am Pacific Time (9 am GMT).

He said he had spent the day in talks with the board, a “small number” of major partners and listening to employees, adding that “our partnership with Microsoft remains strong”.

Image credit: Sam Altman/X

‘Handled very badly’

Microsoft, which invested billions in OpenAI in January, was reportedly taken by surprise by Altman’s ouster and, along with venture capital investors, had lobbied for Altman’s return.

Shear wrote that it was “clear that the process and communications around Sam’s removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust”.

He said he would appoint an independent investigator to “dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report”, as well as communicating with employees, partners, investors and customers.

He said he would also reform management and leadership in light of the departures of figures including co-founder Greg Brockman, who quit on Friday in protest against Altman’s firing.

Shear said based on what he learned he would “drive changes in the organisation – up to and including pushing strongly for significant governance changes if necessary”.

Image credit: Ilgmyzin/Unsplash

Disruption

He said he plans to roll out such changes “as they become clear” over the next 30 days.

“OpenAI’s stability and success are too important to allow turmoil to disrupt them like this,” he wrote, adding that he has “nothing but respect” for what Altman and the OpenAI team has built.

Altman held unsuccessful talks with the board on Sunday over a possible return to the company, which would have been conditional on significant changes to the board and to the company’s governance structure, the Wall Street Journal reported.

On Sunday Altman posted a photo of himself at OpenAI’s headquarters wearing a guest badge, writing, “First and last time I ever wear one of these.”

But the board opted to stick by its actions and employees were told in an internal memo, seen by The Information, that removing Altman was the “only path” to achieving the company’s mission of “broadly beneficial” artificial intelligence.

Such statements have led to speculation that Altman’s ouster was motivated by a disagreement over the company’s direction between the board and Altman. The board said Altman had not been “consistently candid in communications” with it.

‘Beneficial’ AI

OpenAI is governed by a non-profit board, with a for-profit subsidiary that had been led by Altman.

The board and Altman had disagreed about the commercialisation of the company, AI safety and the speed of development of the technology, Bloomberg reported, citing an unnamed source.

OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who is one of four members of the board, reportedly played a key role in ousting Altman. He told OpenAI staff Altman’s behaviour and board interactions had undermined the board’s ability to supervise AI development, The Information reported.

Shear addressed these speculations directly in his post on X, writing, “The board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that.”

He added that he was “not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercialising our awesome models”.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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