On Nov. 17 the artificial intelligence startup OpenAI made the shock announcement that CEO Sam Altman — the man behind viral AI-powered tech such as chatbots ChatGPT, GPT4 and image generator DallE-3 — was fired.
The tech world reeled and Altman’s colleagues rallied to his side, with then-OpenAI president and co-founder Greg Brockman announcing his own resignation. With enormous public backlash from shareholders and employees, the board of directors is holding talks to possibly reinstate Altman.
Here’s what’s happened so far.
Thursday, Nov. 16
Ilya Sustekever schedules call with Altman
According to an X (formerly Twitter) post from Brockman, OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever sent Altman a message on Thursday evening to schedule a meeting for Friday afternoon.
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
Additionally, he claimed that OpenAI CTO Mira Murati was made aware that Altman would be fired that evening.
Friday, Nov. 17
Brockman notified Altman was fired
Just after midday on Nov. 17, Brockman said Sutskever texted him asking to jump on a call. After joining the call a few minutes later he was informed he was being removed from OpenAI’s board of directors but would maintain his role as president and that Altman had been fired.
OpenAI publicly says Altman is out
OpenAI announces leadership transition https://t.co/fFYDLwGXQz
— OpenAI (@OpenAI) November 17, 2023
Microsoft issues statement on OpenAI
Microsoft, the largest investor and partner in OpenAI issued a statement concerning Altman’s ousting with CEO Satya Nadella trying to calm the market’s nerves and offer reassurance that Altman’s axing would have no major impact on the partnership moving forward.
“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.”
Following the public announcement of Altman’s departure, Brockman announced his own resignation.
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
Resignations pile up
In the wake of Brockman’s resignation, a number of senior OpenAI executives followed suit, with the company’s head of preparedness Aleksander Madfry, and director of research Jakub Pachoki announcing their respective resignations.
Saturday, Nov. 18
Shock firing was surprise to management
OpenAI chief operating officer Brad Lightcap said the announcement to the entire management by surprise, per an internal memo seen by Axios on Nov. 18.
“We can say definitively that the board’s decision was not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices. This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.”
Altman eyes new venture
The Information reported on Nov. 18 that Altman had already begun discussing a new AI-related venture with investors. Brockman is expected to join Altman in whatever endeavor he moves forward with.
Microsoft “furious” at Altman’s outing, pushes board to bring him back
Bloomberg reported on Nov. 18 that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was “furious” with the decision and began pushing the board to consider reinstating Altman as CEO.
Board agrees to reconsider Altman’s position
The Verge reported on Nov. 18 that OpenAI’s board had “in principle” agreed to resign and bring back both Altman as CEO and Brockman and president.
Multiple sources claimed Sutskever’s “integral role” in Altman’s firing suggested there was a hotbed of tension between the nonprofit and for-profit sides of the company.
Sunday, Nov. 19
Altman at OpenAI ahead of decision deadline
Altman posted a picture to X on Nov. 19 at OpenAI’s headquarters with a guest badge as a deadline for a decision regarding his reinstatement as CEO was set for 5 pm PST.
first and last time i ever wear one of these pic.twitter.com/u3iKwyWj0a
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 19, 2023
Bringing back Altman as CEO may require the board to issue an apology as well as a statement that frees him of wrongdoing, sources told Bloomberg.
Microsoft eyes board seat as insiders push for Altman’s return
The Information reported on Nov. 19 that Microsoft is eyeing either a board seat or board observer role without voting power if Altman returns. Bloomberg reported earlier that OpenAI’s top brass is pushing for Altman to return including interim CEO Mira Murati, chief strategy officer Jason Kwon, and chief operating officer Brad Lightcap.