In a series of events that shook the tech world, Sam Altman, the co-founder and CEO of OpenAI, faced an abrupt termination from the company he helped build. This timeline article delves into the intricate details of Altman’s sudden departure from OpenAI, a leading force in AI innovation, and his rapid transition to a new role at Microsoft. We will explore the behind-the-scenes dynamics, the decisions made by OpenAI’s board, and the subsequent reactions and actions by key players in this unfolding drama.
November 22, 2023 – Altman’s Return and New Board Formation
- OpenAI’s Announcement: OpenAI confirms via Twitter that Sam Altman will return as CEO, with a new board comprising Bret Taylor as Chair, Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo.OpenAI Tweet: “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.”
- Altman’s Reflection: Altman shares insights into his brief time with Microsoft and the influence of the new board’s formation on his decision to return to OpenAI.
November 21, 2023 – Board Discussions and Internal Conflict
- Negotiations for Altman’s Return: Bloomberg reports on ongoing discussions between Altman and Adam D’Angelo, with potential involvement from other board members.
- Board Conflict over a Paper: The New York Times sheds light on internal conflicts, reporting Altman’s attempted removal of board member Helen Toner due to her co-authored paper critical of OpenAI.
November 20, 2023 – Microsoft Move and Employee Reaction
- Joining Microsoft: Altman and Brockman announce their plans to join Microsoft to lead a new AI research team.
- Sutskever’s Regret: Ilya Sutskever expresses his regret over the board’s decision in a tweet.Sutskever’s Tweet: “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI.”
- Employee Threats to Resign: Over 650 OpenAI employees threaten to resign unless the board steps down and reinstates Altman.
- Merger Considerations with Anthropic: Discussions about a potential merger with Anthropic, including an offer to Amodei to replace Altman as CEO, take place.
November 19, 2023 – Altman at OpenAI HQ and Board Resistance
- Altman’s Expected HQ Meeting: Reports indicate Altman is scheduled to meet at OpenAI’s San Francisco headquarters, with expectations of his reinstatement.
- Stalled Board Negotiations: Bloomberg reports on resistance within the board against reinstating Altman.
November 18, 2023 – Brockman’s Demotion and Investors’ Pressure
- Murati Informed of Altman’s Firing: Brockman reveals that CTO Mira Murati was informed of Altman’s impending dismissal.
- Investors Demand Altman’s Return: Investors, reportedly furious, exert pressure on OpenAI’s board to reinstate Altman, with Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella showing sympathy.
November 17, 2023 – The Initial Shake-Up
- Brockman Demoted: Greg Brockman is demoted from his role as chairman after a call with Sutskever.
- Altman’s Firing Announced: OpenAI’s blog post officially announces Altman’s firing.
- All-Hands Meeting: Sutskever defends the decision to oust Altman in an all-hands meeting, dismissing suggestions of a hostile takeover.
- Microsoft’s Statement: Nadella reaffirms Microsoft’s commitment to its partnership with OpenAI.
- Brockman Announces Resignation: Following the day’s events, Brockman announces his resignation from OpenAI.
- Senior Researchers Resign: Senior researchers, including Jakub Pachocki and Aleksander Madry, resign from OpenAI in response to the board’s decisions.
November 16, 2023 – The Prelude to the Crisis
- Sutskever Initiates Discussion with Altman: A crucial meeting is scheduled between Sutskever and Altman, setting the stage for the subsequent events.
- Return of Sam Altman: Sam Altman, who co-founded OpenAI, has returned as its CEO. This move came after a dramatic and tumultuous week, which saw his sudden dismissal and subsequent reinstatement. Altman’s return was marked by intense discussions and debates within the organization.
- New Board Formation: Accompanying Altman’s return is the formation of a new board. This board includes Bret Taylor, former co-CEO of Salesforce, as the chair, and Larry Summers, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and Adam D’Angelo, the founder of Quora, as directors. Notably, D’Angelo was part of the original board that had dismissed Altman.
- Microsoft’s Involvement: Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI with a 49% ownership stake, was instrumental in the recent changes. After Altman was dismissed, Microsoft quickly offered him a role leading a new AI group. This move, along with the resignation of several OpenAI members including Greg Brockman, signaled strong support for Altman. Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, has expressed encouragement about the new changes at OpenAI, hinting at a strengthened partnership between the two companies.
- The Board’s Earlier Decision: The previous board of OpenAI had faced intense scrutiny over the decision to dismiss Altman, with no comprehensive explanation provided for their action. Analysts suggest that the recent reshuffle will favor both Altman and Microsoft, raising questions about the role and influence of Microsoft in OpenAI’s future.
- Future Direction of OpenAI: Altman’s return is expected to usher in a new era for OpenAI, balancing concerns about AI’s potential dangers with its commercialization prospects. The company, valued at over $80 billion, has been a leader in AI development and has a significant impact on the broader technology and startup ecosystem.
- Employee and Investor Reactions: The upheaval following Altman’s firing and subsequent return caused significant reactions among OpenAI’s staff and investors. Over 700 employees threatened to resign, leading to rapid negotiations for Altman’s reinstatement. Investors, too, showed their support for Altman, with some even exploring legal options against the previous board members.
- Microsoft’s Potential Board Role: In light of these events, Microsoft is reportedly considering taking a role on OpenAI’s board, either as a director or as a board observer without voting power. This consideration underscores Microsoft’s deep investment and interest in the future of OpenAI.
Context and Implications
- OpenAI’s Evolution: Founded in 2015 by Altman and others, including Elon Musk, OpenAI initially pledged open access to its research but shifted to a profit-led model in 2019.
- Microsoft’s Role: As a major shareholder in OpenAI, Microsoft’s decision to employ Altman and Brockman represents a significant move in the AI industry.
- Sam Altman’s Influence: Altman is a key figure in AI research, and his move to Microsoft, along with Brockman, positions Microsoft as both a major shareholder in OpenAI and a direct competitor with its own AI research team.
- Future of AI Research: This development underscores the dynamic and competitive nature of AI research and commercialization, signaling more intense competition in the field.
Issues inside OpenAI
- CEO Candidate Offers Rejected: Before Emmett Shear was appointed as interim CEO, OpenAI’s remaining board members offered the position to two other prominent figures: Nat Friedman, former CEO of GitHub, and Alex Wang, CEO of Scale AI. Both declined the offer. Additionally, the board considered Dario Amodei, CEO of Anthropic, a competitor to OpenAI, proposing a possible merger between the two companies.
- Reasons Behind Altman’s Firing: Ilya Sutskever provided two reasons to employees for Sam Altman’s firing: firstly, Altman had assigned the same project to two different people; secondly, he allegedly gave conflicting opinions about a staff member to two board members.
- Sutskever’s Change of Heart: After a deeply emotional conversation with Anna Brockman, the wife of Greg Brockman, Sutskever, who had initially voted for Altman’s firing, began advocating for Altman’s reinstatement. It’s noteworthy that Sutskever officiated the civil ceremony of the Brockmans at OpenAI’s offices in 2019.
These updates continue to underscore the tumultuous and complex situation within OpenAI, reflecting the dynamic and often unpredictable nature of leadership and decision-making in high-tech industries, especially in the rapidly evolving field of AI.
The departure of Sam Altman from OpenAI and his subsequent move to Microsoft marks a significant shift in the landscape of AI research and development. This transition not only highlights the volatile nature of leadership within tech giants but also signifies a potential change in the direction of AI innovation and collaboration. As the industry continues to evolve at a breakneck pace, the impact of these events will be closely watched by those invested in the future of artificial intelligence.
This is an ongoing story, stay tuned to this page to find more.