OpenAI was plunged into disarray by a stunning leadership coup that saw the human face of AI, co-founder and CEO Sam Altman, abruptly ousted by the board. His sudden removal blindsided even top executives like president Greg Brockman, who tweeted he was "shocked and saddened" after being booted from the board himself shortly before Altman's firing.
Now OpenAI faces an existential crisis as the divided board scrambles to entice Altman back amid calls from major investors. However, recent reports suggest that Altman won't return as CEO, and the board has appointed Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear as the interim CEO.
- OpenAI's Coup de Sam: A timeline of events
- 2023 Layoffs: A timeline of job-cuts in top companies
- Pay raises and salary trends for 2024
Employees are questioning whether the board can ethically lead AI development without Altman's visionary leadership. His removal exposed divides between the board and staff.
The earlier discussions about Altman's potential return, contingent on governance changes at OpenAI, now appear as speculative as it is confirmed that he will not be resuming his role at the organization. The board's initial offer to reinstate Altman and Brockman, followed by a subsequent backtrack, has added an additional layer of uncertainty, leaving the direction of OpenAI unclear.
Backers like Tiger Global reportedly led $86 billion employee share offer to support Altman's reinstatement at OpenAI. Meanwhile, Sequoia Capital engaged in talks with Altman, urging Microsoft, OpenAI's largest backer, to assist in facilitating his return.
With Altman's absence and the appointment of an interim CEO, OpenAI seems to lack a clear direction. The aftermath of Brockman's exit and the shock of Altman's removal has led to the resignation of senior researchers, contributing to a decline in morale, particularly within the research community blindsided by Altman's abrupt departure.
The clash between research purity vs profitability
OpenAI burst onto the artificial intelligence scene in 2015 with lofty ambitions - to develop transformative AGI for humanity's benefit. Backed by the likes of Elon Musk and Sam Altman, the nonprofit aimed to advance AI ethically.
Within years, OpenAI achieved marquee results. Models like GPT-3 demonstrated new natural language capabilities. But behind OpenAI’s meteoric rise simmered internal tensions.
While Altman aggressively pursued his AGI vision as CEO, Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever favoured more caution. A dichotomy emerged between OpenAI's nonprofit research roots and its growing commercialisation under Altman.
This came to a head when Sutskever, a company co-founder, reportedly orchestrated Altman's ouster. It highlighted growing divides over research ideals versus profitability goals.
As Sutskever tweeted, "If you value intelligence above all else, you’re gonna have a bad time." Industry observers believe OpenAI's headlong pace made researchers uncomfortable.
Some speculate Sutskever pushed for a quick removal to preempt objections. As Cisco's Jeetu Patel noted, "Developing AGI requires funding hard to raise without commercialisation. Therein lies the conflict."
This struggle between OpenAI's origins and Altman's monetisation drive likely catalysed the coup. Now, with Altman's return uncertain, OpenAI risks losing talent and technical expertise.
The board confronts hard tradeoffs between research, ethics and business needs. Pursuing AGI responsibly has proven fraught with challenges that could fracture even the most promising efforts.
Restoring unity after this divisive coup will be difficult, even if Altman returns.
It's a developing story, check back for the latest updates...