OpenAI says Sam Altman exits as CEO after board loses confidence

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Sam Altman, Chief Executive Officer of OpenAI, and Mira Murati, Chief Technology Officer of OpenAI, speak during The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Tech Live Conference in Laguna Beach, California on October 17, 2023. 

Patrick T. Fallon | Afp | Getty Images

OpenAI’s board of directors said Friday that Sam Altman will step down as CEO and will be replaced on an interim basis by technology chief Mira Murati.

The company said it conducted “a deliberative review process” and “concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”

“The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI,” the statement said.

OpenAI’s board includes chief scientist Ilya Sutskever and independent directors such as Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology. OpenAI says the board of its 501(c)(3) is the “overall governing body for all OpenAI activities.”

The board also said that Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president, “will be stepping down as chairman of the board and will remain in his role at the company, reporting to the CEO.”

Sam Altman acknowledged that he was leaving OpenAI in a post on X on Friday, but did not mention any accusations by the firm’s board that he failed to be candid during unspecified reviews. He said he loved working at the company and that he would talk more about “what’s next later.”

Regarding the appointment of Murati, OpenAI said, “As the leader of the company’s research, product, and safety functions, Mira is exceptionally qualified to step into the role of interim CEO. We have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead OpenAI during this transition period.”

OpenAI, which has raised billions of dollars from Microsoft and ranked first on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list this year, jumped into the mainstream in late 2022 after releasing its AI chatbot ChatGPT to the public. The service went viral by allowing users to convert simple text into creative conversation and has pushed big tech companies such as Alphabet and Meta to step up their investments in generative AI.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (R) speaks as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (L) looks on during the OpenAI DevDay event on November 06, 2023 in San Francisco, California. Altman delivered the keynote address at the first ever Open AI DevDay conference. 

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Microsoft shares slipped after the announcement, closing the day down 1.7% at $369.84.

A Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement that the company has “a long-term partnership with OpenAI and Microsoft remains committed to Mira and their team as we bring this next era of AI to our customers.”

In a post on X, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella commented about his company’s “long-term agreement with OpenAI,” explaining that it would “remain committed to our partnership, and to Mira and the team.” Nadella did not address Altman’s departure.

Brockman also shared a post on X that included the message he sent to his former OpenAI colleagues, informing them that he “quit” after he learned about “today’s news.”

Later in the evening, Brockman said in an X post that both he and Altman were “shocked and saddened by what the board did today.”

Sutskever instigated a virtual meeting with Altman that the rest of the OpenAI board attended except Brockman, the now-former OpenAI president claimed in the X post. It was during this meeting that Sutskever allegedly fired Altman, telling him “that the news was going out very soon,” Brockman wrote.

Less than half-an-hour later, Brockman claimed to have received a text message from Sutskever, in which the chief scientist summoned for another virtual meeting. At this meeting, Brockman said he learned of Altman’s firing and that he was being removed from OpenAI’s board, but was assured to be “vital to the company and would retain his role.”

“As far as we know, the management team was made aware of this shortly after, other than Mira who found out the night prior,” Brockman said in the post, which was quickly followed by a separate message from Altman.

Altman said in an X post that “today was a weird experience in many ways. but one unexpected one is that it has been sorta like reading your own eulogy while you’re still alive.”

“if i start going off, the openai board should go after me for the full value of my shares,” Altman said in another X post.

OpenAI debuted in 2015 as a nonprofit and employed Sutskever as research director and Brockman as chief technology officer. The firm’s original investors included several prominent Silicon Valley luminaries like Altman, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who reportedly committed $1 billion to the project.

Before taking over as CEO, Altman, 38, was president of startup accelerator Y Combinator and gained prominence in Silicon Valley as an early-stage investor. Earlier in his career, he started the social networking company Loopt.

As OpenAI’s popularity grew this year alongside ChatGPT, so too did Altman’s profile. He became an ambassador of sorts, representing the ballooning AI industry across the globe.

Altman’s big year as OpenAI’s CEO

In September, Indonesia awarded Altman the so-called “Golden Visa,” providing him with 10 years worth of various travel accommodations and perks intended to help the country gain more foreign investors.

Altman visited several Asia-Pacific countries over the summer including Singapore, India, China, South Korea and Japan, meeting with government leaders and officials and giving public speeches on the rise of AI and the need for regulations.

The technologist testified before the U.S. Senate in May, calling on lawmakers to regulate AI, citing the technology’s potential to have a negative impact on the job market, the information ecosystem, and other societal and economic concerns.

“I think if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong,” Altman said at the time. “And we want to be vocal about that. We want to work with the government to prevent that from happening.”

In a prelude to his Senate testimony, Altman also spoke at a dinner with roughly 60 lawmakers, who were reportedly wowed by his speech and demonstrations.

Open AI’s CEO Sam Altman testifies at an oversight hearing by the Senate Judiciaryâs Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law to examine A.I., focusing on rules for artificial intelligence in Washington, DC on May 16th, 2023. 

Nathan Posner | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

“It’s not easy to keep members of Congress rapt for close to two hours,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, who co-hosted the dinner with GOP Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson, R-La., now House speaker. “So Sam Altman was very informative and provided a lot of information.”

More recently, Altman spoke this week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in San Francisco, along with various technology executives and world leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

OpenAI held its first developer conference in early November, underscoring the startup’s rising popularity in the technology industry. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made a surprise guest appearance during the event, joining Altman on stage to discuss the startup’s AI technologies and its partnership with Microsoft.

Altman didn’t immediately respond to a request for more information.

— CNBC’s Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.

WATCH: OpenAI says Altman exiting as CEO

OpenAI says Sam Altman exits as CEO after board loses confidence





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