Sam Altman, the face of the artificial intelligence revolution, will not return as OpenAI chief executive despite talks to negotiate his return Sunday, two people familiar with the matter said, the latest twist in one of Silicon Valley’s most dramatic boardroom showdowns.
“We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” Nadella said in the post.
Emmett Shear, the co-founder of Twitch, a popular video game streaming platform Amazon acquired in 2014, will be named OpenAI’s interim CEO, replacing Mira Murati, who was named interim CEO Friday in a management reshuffle, the people said. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. Interim CEO Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.)
The latest development came after a chaotic weekend, where OpenAI investors and employees, blindsided by the board’s move to fire Altman on Friday, mounted a campaign to get him reinstated. In its vague statement explaining the rationale for his ouster, OpenAI had only said Altman wasn’t always “candid” in his communications with the board. The news reverberated through Silicon Valley and the halls of government, where Altman had become a major influencer of policy and regulation on AI.
According to a person familiar with the board’s proceedings, the board did not take issue with the company’s products or services, nor was their decision to push out Altman prompted by a debate over safety versus commercialization. Given that Altman is talented, powerful and so well-liked, opposing him was a challenge, this person said, but the board felt that pressure on OpenAI’s chief executive would only increase as the company grows closer to its goal of building “artificial general intelligence,” which the company defines as AI systems that are generally smarter than humans.
On Sunday, Altman had gone into the OpenAI office for discussions about his return to the company, posting on X, formerly Twitter, a photo of himself with a visitor badge and writing “first and last time i ever wear one of these.” Altman, the board and investors including Microsoft and venture capital firms discussed bringing him back and replacing the current board with new directors, floating names including Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and former Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But by late Sunday night, those talks had broken down and the board announced Shear’s appointment as interim CEO to employees. A spokesperson for OpenAI did not return a request for comment. Shear and Altman did not return requests for comment. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a post on X: “We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI’s new leadership team and working with them.”
“It is nuts for sure,” one of the people said, describing the latest twist. “So much value and mission destroyed overnight.”
Altman’s ouster highlights a major rift in the artificial intelligence world, where some people believe that the tech should be rushed forward with minimal government regulation, in order to make money and provide helpful tools to people, while others are concerned that AI could soon surpass human intelligence and turn on its creators. OpenAI had initially been founded to provide a counter to Big Tech’s power in AI, but as the company took on more investment money and began developing consumer products, some in the industry said it had abandoned its original mission.
“Honestly, it is heartbreaking to see such a world-changing organization be ripped apart,” said Sarah Guo, a venture capitalist and founder of Conviction. “The previous standard-bearer for the AI revolution, the unassailable giant in the room is vulnerable, and new leadership will have their work cut out for them to build customer and employee trust. This completely changes the strategic landscape and emboldens every other player.”
In an interview with tech podcaster Logan Bartlett posted in June, Shear said he was generally an optimist about technology, and that regulators should be careful not to hurt innovation when making tech guardrails. At the same time, he said supersmart AI taking over the world and eradicating human civilization was a real risk. In the podcast, Shear said he believed the chances of such an event happening were between 2 percent and 50 percent.
“It’s like a universe destroying bomb,” Shear said of a hypothetical hyper-intelligent AI that gets out of human control. “It’s bad in a way that makes global warming not a problem.”
Shear stepped down as Twitch’s CEO in February, and was named a part-time adviser to companies at Y Combinator, an influential San Francisco start-up incubator that Altman himself was head of from 2014 to 2019.
In recent days, Altman’s ouster and the boardroom drama at OpenAI has transfixed the tech industry. Under Altman’s leadership, the company transitioned from a nonprofit research lab into a moneymaking corporation that has become one of the most powerful players in artificial intelligence. After it launched its chatbot, ChatGPT about a year ago, it has ignited an AI arms race with Big Tech giants like Google and Microsoft, which is an investor in OpenAI.
Since Altman’s firing, a number of OpenAI executives and employees have either quit or signaled their intention to leave in solidarity. Greg Brockman, one of OpenAI’s founders, quit the company in protest, explaining that he and Altman were shocked at the board’s move. On Saturday, OpenAI executives told workers that they had also been surprised by the news and assured them the ouster had nothing to do with financial or privacy irregularities. By Saturday afternoon, investors and employees who supported Altman launched a campaign to get him reinstated.
Many employees posted their support for Altman on X, formerly known as Twitter. Prominent venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who was an early investor in OpenAI, said he wanted Altman back as CEO but would also “back him in whatever he does next.”
As news of the circumstances around Altman’s ouster began to come out, Silicon Valley circles have turned to anger at OpenAI’s board.
“What happened at OpenAI today is a board coup that we have not seen the likes of since 1985 when the then-Apple board pushed out Steve Jobs,” Ron Conway, a longtime venture capitalist posted on X on Friday. “It is shocking, it is irresponsible, and it does not do right by Sam and Greg [Brockman] or all the builders in OpenAI.”
Alice Crites contributed to this report