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A timeline of events at OpenAI: From Sam Altman’s dismissal to second interim CEO, and staff rebellion


OpenAI is the start-up that has produced the generative artificial intelligence platform ChatGPT.

Here is a look at the ongoing saga:

— On November 17, OpenAI said it had ousted CEO Sam Altman after a review found he was “not consistently candid in his communications” with the board of directors. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI,” the statement read.

— In the same statement, the board announced that Mira Murati, OpenAI’s chief technology officer, will take over as interim CEO effective immediately.

— After Altman’s exit, Microsoft Chief Satya Nadella reaffirmed the company’s partnership with OpenAI and its commitment to delivering the benefits of AI technology.

— In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Nadella wrote: “As you saw at Microsoft Ignite this week, we’re continuing to rapidly innovate for this era of AI, with over 100 announcements across the full tech stack – from AI systems, models, and tools in Azure, to Copilot. Most importantly, we’re committed to delivering all of this to our customers while building for the future. 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.”

— Soon after Altman’s ouster, co-founder and President Greg Brockman announced that he was also departing the company. “I’m super proud of what we’ve all built together since starting in my apartment 8 years ago. We’ve been through tough & great times together, accomplishing so much despite all the reasons it should have been impossible. But based on today’s news, I quit. Genuinely wish you all nothing but the best. I continue to believe in the mission of creating safe (artificial general intelligence) that benefits all of humanity,” he wrote.

— Various industry voices and tech leaders also took to social media to express support for Altman. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt hailed Sam Altman as a hero as he built the company from nothing to $90 billion in value. In a tweet, Schmidt wrote, “Sam Altman is a hero of mine. 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. Thank you”

— Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky called Altman one of the top founders of his generation, recognizing his significant impact on the industry. “Sam Altman is one of the best founders of his generation and has made an immense contribution to our industry,” he wrote on X.

— Lattice CEO Jack Altman who is Sam’s younger brother called him the most generous and caring person. “More important than being one of the most brilliant and impactful people our industry has ever had. Sam is one of the most generous and caring people I know. I’ve never met someone who has supported and lifted up more people around them than him. Couldn’t be a prouder brother.”

— Wojciech Zaremba, Co-Founder of OpenAI wrote, “It’s been sad for me to see @sama and @gdb go. I love and respect them much. Despite all of these the mission of the OpenAI is bigger than any of us and stays the same – build safe AGI to benefit humanity.”

— Drawing parrel between Altman’s ouster and Apple firing Steve Jobs, Chief of TED Chris Anderson wrote, “I’m stunned by this. OpenAI firing @sama feels like Apple firing Steve Jobs. Who has the real story? Please, we need to know!”

— The next day on November 18 Bloomberg reported that OpenAI’s firing of Sam Altman followed wide-ranging disagreements between the chief executive officer and his board — in particular Ilya Sutskever, an OpenAI co-founder and the company’s chief scientist. The debates included differences of opinion on AI safety, the speed of development of the technology, and the commercialization of the company, the quoted source said.

— OpenAI President Greg Brockman who announced that he is departing the company expressed shock at the board’s move. He reiterated that they were unaware of what was to happen.

— Altman later on November 18 issued a statement thanking the outpouring of love he received. In a post on X, he wrote, “I love you all. 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. The outpouring of love is awesome. One takeaway: go tell your friends how great you think they are. If I start going off, the Openai board should go after me for the full value of my shares.”

— Reports from Bloomberg and The Verge emerged on November 19 of investors urging the OpenAI board to reverse its decision to dismiss Sam Altman.

— Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures, an early backer of OpenAI expressed support for Altman’s future ventures. In an X post, he wrote, “To be clear, Khosla Ventures wants@sama (Sam Altman) back at@OpenAI (OpenAI) but will back him in whatever he does next.”

— On November 19, the board missed a crucial 5 PM PT deadline, leading to fears of the potential resignation of numerous OpenAI employees.

— On November 20, it was reported that Altman will not be returning to OpenAI, despite various rounds of discussions with the Board. The Independent quoted co-founder and board director Ilya Sutskever telling staff late on November 19 that Altman would not be back.

— Later on November 20, Microsoft Satya Nadella informed that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft. “We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and in continuing to support our customers and partners,” Nadella wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

— Nadella also expressed support for new interim CEO Emmett Shear. “We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI’s new leadership team and working with them. We’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team. We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” he added.

— A few hours later, in a post on X, OpenAI’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who was reported to have played a role in the board rebellion against Altman, expressed regret for his part in the events. “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,” Sutskever wrote.

— Around 505 employees of OpenAI on November 20 threatened to resign en masse if the company’s board of directors failed to step down. Citing a letter it has obtained, CNN reported that 505 employees have warned the company that they would switch over to the new Microsoft AI team, whose operations would be headed by Altman and Brockman.

— CTO Murati and Sutskever are believed to be among the signatories of the open letter, CNN reported.

— Sam Altman, in a series of tweets on November 21, communicated a message of unity and commitment towards OpenAI’s ongoing operations and its partnership with Microsoft. In one of the tweets, Altman underscored the shared priority between himself and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to ensure the flourishing future of OpenAI.

“We are committed to fully providing continuity of operations to our partners and customers. The OpenAI/Microsoft partnership makes this very doable. We have more unity and commitment and focus than ever before. We are all going to work together some way or other, and I’m so excited. One team, one mission,” he wrote.

— Reports on November 21 suggested that OpenAI’s investors are considering legal action against the company’s board, following the removal of CEO Sam Altman. They are concerned about a mass exodus of employees and sinking value of their investments. Sources told Reuters that investors are consulting with legal advisors to explore their available options. However, it remains uncertain whether any legal action against OpenAI will be pursued.

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Updated: 21 Nov 2023, 02:16 PM IST

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.