By Aaron Pan
Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, the company behind the popular chatbot ChatGPT, was fired, the company’s board of directors announced on Nov. 17.
Mr. Altman’s dismissal is unexpected and shocks the tech industry.
“Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities,” the company said. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati will lead the company as interim CEO while the search for a new CEO is underway, OpenAI said in a statement.
Mr. Altman, 38, the face of artificial intelligence, posted on X shortly after his dismissal: “I loved my time at OpenAI. It was transformative for me personally and, hopefully, the world a little bit. Most of all, I loved working with such talented people. Will have more to say about what’s next later.”
OpenAI president and co-founder Greg Brockman said that he’s leaving the company after OpenAI removed him from the board, along with Mr. Altman’s dismissal announcement. “Based on today’s news, I quit,” he wrote on X.
Mr. Altman has started several startups, including startup accelerator Y Combinator and social networking company Loopt. He, together with others, started OpenAI as a nonprofit lab in 2015.
OpenAI received billions of dollars from Microsoft since the company switched to a for-profit model in 2018. Microsoft has invested over $10 billion in the company.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella posted on the company’s blog that Microsoft remained a partner with OpenAI despite the management shuffle. “We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap; and remain committed to our partnership, and to Mira and the team. Together, we will continue to deliver the meaningful benefits of this technology to the world,” Mr. Nadella wrote.
When OpenAI launched ChatGPT to the public last November, the chatbot swiftly became a global phenomenon, attracting hundreds of millions of users. Users were impressed by ChatGPT’s ability to answer questions and engage with them across a wide array of topics. Mr. Altman became regarded as a prominent figure in the generative AI industry. The move also drove tech giants like Google and Facebook to jump into generative AI.
Just a week before his removal, at OpenAI’s inaugural developer conference, Mr. Altman said ChatGPT had more than 100 million weekly users and two million developers.
As late as Thursday evening, Mr. Altman showed no signs of concern at two public events. He joined colleagues in a panel on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in San Francisco.
OpenAI said its board of directors “consists of OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, independent directors Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Helen Toner.”
Shocking the Tech World
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt called Altman “a hero of mine” on X, adding: “He built a company from nothing to $90 billion in value and changed our collective world forever. I can’t wait to see what he does next. I, and billions of people, will benefit from his future work—it’s going to be simply incredible.”
“This is a shocker, and Altman was a key ingredient in the recipe for success of OpenAI,” Daniel Ives, analyst at Wedbush Securities, said. “That said, we believe Microsoft and Nadella will exert more control at OpenAI going forward with Altman gone.”
The full impact of the OpenAI surprise will unfold over time, but its fundraising prospects were an immediate concern. Altman was considered a master fundraiser who managed to negotiate billions of dollars in investment from Microsoft and led the company’s tender offer transactions this year that fueled OpenAI’s valuation from $29 billion to over $80 billion.
Call to Pause AI Development
In March, X CEO Elon Musk joined dozens of artificial intelligence experts and industry executives in signing an open letter calling on all AI labs to “immediately pause” training of systems more powerful than Chat GPT-4 for at least six months.
The letter, issued by the nonprofit Future of Life Institute, has been signed by over 1,100 individuals, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Stability AI founder and CEO Emad Mostaque, and engineers from Meta and Google, among others.
They argue that AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose “profound risks to society and humanity” and change the “history of life on Earth,” citing extensive research on the issue and acknowledgments by “top AI labs.”
In May, Mr. Altman testified before the U.S. Senate and called on Congress to regulate the technology, citing its potential negative impact on multiple aspects of society.
“I think if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong,” he said at the time. “We want to be vocal about that. We want to work with the government to prevent that from happening.”
Reuters and Katabella Roberts contributed to this article.