Amidst an outpouring of love and cheer, Sam Altman is back on the CEO chair and the former OpenAI board is out. After a weekend of ups and downs that saw Altman get ousted, witnessed potential talks of his return that fell flat, and an unexpected move to Microsoft, he was reinstated as the OpenAI CEO. 743 employees of the company fought for the return of Altman and pushed to have the OpenAI board fired and the board eventually succumbed to demands.
Sam Altman Returns, OpenAI Board Fired
A part of the deal for the return of Sam Altman was that the OpenAI board would be fired entirely so a new team could take their place. The entire debacle that made up the OpenAI news this week began because the OpenAI board made the unexpected decision to remove Sam Altman without any prior notice or any sign to the public that such a decision was in the works. The announcement was made through a blog post on the OpenAI website, stating that Altman“ was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”
The OpenAI board was made up 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, according to the post. Many have accused the board of being too inexperienced with the corporate world and having rushed into this decision too quickly.
OpenAI Board Fired—Who’s Left?
Due to the lack of sufficient information to back the decision or any public evidence of mismanagement by Sam Altman, the public has been left to speculate about the potential reasons behind why this chaos has been pursued in the first place. Adam D’Angelo appears to be the only OpenAI board member who has not been fired as yet but rumors suggested that he might have been on board with Altman’s firing because his own company Quora and its chatbot Poe were at risk of being suppressed by Altman and ChatGPT. There is no evidence to suggest this is true and supporters of D’Angelo have spoken out in defense of his judgment.
Along with Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, has been fired from the OpenAI board. Sutskever was considered one of the biggest opponents to Sam Altman’s return to OpenAI. Since then, he has also been the most vocal among the board members, expressing his remorse over the decision that was made and singing the letter that demanded Altman be reinstated to his CEO role. Tweets have been about accusing Sutskever of having initiated the whole chain of events due to conflicts with Altman over the nonprofit of OpenAI’s proceedings.
I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.
— Ilya Sutskever (@ilyasut) November 20, 2023
A Reuters report indicated that the decision to remove Altman could have something to do with a letter to the OpenAI board of directors by staff researchers who warned against powerful AI discovery that could cause more harm than good if explored and commercialized without being understood. Associated with a secret project Q* (Q star), the discoveries were reportedly associated with the company’s investigation into artificial general intelligence (AGI) that could “ surpass humans in most economically valuable tasks”—a concept insufficiently understood but vastly overpowered, if their opinions are to be believed.
OpenAI Board—Who Will Join Sam Altman in Leading OpenAI?
Altman, and co-founder Greg Brockman, are back with a fresh OpenAI board in tow. “I un-quit” Brockman stated in a tweet and the light-hearted approach is what the company team seems to be taking to the situation. With the old OpenAI board fired except for D’Angelo, the new team will include Bret Taylor, former co-CEO of Salesforce, and Larry Summers, former Treasury secretary under the Clinton administration. It is likely that more members will be added to the team over time, with a possible candidate from Microsoft. The tech company remains one of the biggest OpenAI stakeholders, and the recent events have made it evident that there are currently no safeguards to protect the investments in the company.
The addition of Larry Summers to the OpenAI board of directors has been a confusing move by the company, and many remain uncertain of what he can bring to the table for a company like OpenAI. Brett Taylor on the other hand has had an illustrious career in the tech industry and serves on the board for Shopify as well. Their combined performance on the board is going to be interesting to watch as things progress at OpenAI.
The return of the prodigal CEO has been compared to Apple’s decision to fire Steve Jobs in 1985. Jobs returned to the company in 1997, admittedly much later than Sam Altman’s instant return, to launch the iPhone and push the company to where it is today. Altman’s return to OpenAI should hopefully continue the company’s current success streak without any major interruptions.