OpenAI reportedly considering reinstating freshly-ousted CEO Sam Altman

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Following his surprise firing on Friday, former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman might not be as out of a job as we initially thought he was, according to new word from The Verge on Saturday. Reportedly, sources close to Altman say that the board itself, in a stunning reversal, have “agreed in principal” to resign while reinstating him to his former position. However, the board has since reportedly missed a 5pm PT deadline regarding the decision.

Shortly after Altman’s firing on Friday afternoon, several senior staffers, including former Chairman and President Greg Brockman, Director of Research Jakub Pachocki, Head of Preparedness Aleksander Madry and Senior Researcher Szymon Sidor, tendered their resignations in protest. Additional OpenAI staffers were supposedly set to quit in solidarity at that meeting as well. They’re reportedly willing to follow Altman, a la Jerry Maguire, to a new AI startup venture, should he decide to launch one.

An internal memo circulated after Altman’s dismissal argued that his termination was not related to “malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety or security/privacy practices,” per Axios’ reporting.

Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today.

Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.

We too are still trying to figure out exactly…

— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023

Microsoft is a major investor in the OpenAI venture, having injected some $10 billion into the project’s coffers this past January as part of a long term partnership between the two. It maintains the “utmost confidence” in OpenAI interim-CEO Mira Murati, and “remains confident” in the partnership overall.

Despite those assurances, rank-and-file employees were given little notice prior to the official announcement going out (Altman himself receiving even less, reportedly, just 5 – 10 minutes) of the change in leadership. Altman had, in the days leading up to his termination, remained an active supporter and recruiter for the firm, appearing at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum less than a day prior to his firing.

According to the New York Times, neither Altman nor Brockman are guaranteed a return to power, largely on account of the company’s non-profit origins, which preclude investors from directing company-wide decisions. They instead leave those choices to members of the board itself. Altman and Brockman were both members of the OpenAI board. However, with their departures, only lead researcher, Ilya Sutskever; Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo; director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology Helen Toner; and computer scientist Tasha McCauley remain members — at least, through the weekend.

“We are still working towards a resolution and we remain optimistic,” Chief Strategy Officer Jason Kwon wrote to company staff in a Saturday memo, per The Information. “By resolution, we mean bringing back Sam, Greg, Jakub [Pachocki], Szymon [Sidor], Aleksander [Madry] and other colleagues (sorry if I missed you!) and remaining the place where people who want to work on AGI research, safety, products and policy can do their best work.”




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