Sam Altman, OpenAI’s CEO and a public figurehead for the artificial intelligence (AI) community, may not have heard the last of his shock (and brief) firing last November.

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported that the US financial regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), is examining Altman’s internal communications to see whether he had misled investors.

The previous non-profit board of directors had shocked the tech world last November, when they suddenly fired Sam Altman for alleged lack of candor in his communications with the board.

US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) logo.

Altman firing

The board at the time said that Sam Altman had been fired after an internal review found he “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board”.

OpenAI co-founder and former president Greg Brockman, immediately resigned in solidarity with Altman.

The Altman firing shocked the tech world, as well as notable OpenAI investors including Microsoft, Tiger Global, Thrive Capital and Sequoia Capital – all of which publicly lobbied for Altman to return to OpenAI.

When negotiations between OpenAI’s board and Altman failed, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella announced that both Altman and Brockman would be joining Redmond.

Image credit: Sam Altman/X

The software giant also continued to express its displeasure at OpenAI’s board and called for a change of governance at the firm, with reports suggesting it was offering jobs to all OpenAI staff.

Then it 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.

Days later Sam Altman was reinstated as CEO, and a new board of directors was appointed.

SEC investigation

Now the WSJ has reported that the SEC is scrutinising internal communications by Sam Altman as part of an investigation into whether the company’s investors were misled.

The regulator has been seeking internal records from current and former OpenAI officials and directors, and sent a subpoena to OpenAI in December, the WSJ reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

SEC officials in New York have asked that some senior OpenAI executives preserve internal documents as they conduct the investigation, WSJ said.

Chip venture

The SEC probe comes as multiple reports suggested that Altman was in talks to raise huge sums of money for a chip venture to expand OpenAI’s ability to power AI, among other things.

For example, in the weeks before his shock ouster last November, reports had suggested that Sam Altman had been seeking to raise billions from some of the world’s biggest investors for an AI chip venture

Altman had also reportedly been looking to raise funds for an AI-focused hardware device he was apparently developing with former Apple designer Jony Ive.

Then in January Sam Altman was reportedly courting investors in the Middle East and elsewhere to set up a network of fabrication plants for advanced AI chips.

The project would involve working with top chip manufacturers and would focus on the capital-intensive business of chip manufacturing as well as design.

Then in February the WSJ had reported that OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman was seeking a major overhaul of the semiconductor industry that could cost trillions of dollars.

Altman had reportedly been pursuing investors including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government for a project possibly requiring as much as $7 trillion.

This project reportedly requires such a huge investment in order to reshape the global semiconductor industry, to overcome current limitations with AI chips.

Nvidia challenge?

Nvidia of course currently controls about 80 percent of that AI chip market.

Nvidia’s H100 and A100 chips serve as a generalised, all-purpose AI processor for many of those major customers, and while Nvidia does not disclose H100 prices, each chip can reportedly sell from $16,000 to $100,000 depending on the volume purchased and other factors.

Meta for example has reportedly said it plans to bring its total stock to 350,000 H100s chips this year, demonstrating the hefty financial investment required to compete in this sector.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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