On Friday, November 17, OpenAI made a surprising announcement: Sam Altman, one of the founders of the company that gave the world ChatGPT, was fired from his post as CEO without explanation. Investors, including Microsoft Corporation, demanded that Altman be returned to his place, and the board of directors demanded that the situation be clarified.
The firing of Sam Altman, the man who had become synonymous with the revolutionary chatbot ChatGPT, immediately set off a chain of events that put OpenAI in a very difficult situation. The decision of the board of directors, published on Friday evening, did not contain a clear explanation for the high-profile resignation.
“Mr. Altman’s departure was the result of meetings of the company’s board, which concluded that he had not always been forthright in his communications with the board, which prevented him from continuing to perform his duties. The board no longer believes that he can lead OpenAI,” the statement said.
It also reports that Sam Altman is no longer a member of the board.
Mira Murati, who until recently served as technical director, has been appointed interim CEO. The company does not yet know who will become a full-fledged replacement for Altman – the search for a successor began only with the announcement of his dismissal.
As explained The Wall Street Journal, the reason for the conflict may lie in the peculiar nature of OpenAI, which is not a typical startup. The company was founded in 2015 as a non-profit organization (NPO), among its founders was Elon Musk, who later left the company due to a potential conflict of interest.
Sam Altman is the founder of the commercial structure OpenAI, a company that was created to make money necessary to develop products based on AI. It was investors who invested billions of dollars in it. It is 49% of the share capital owned by Microsoft, which invested $10 billion, and another 49% by Thrive Capital and the company’s employees, from whom the investment fund is now preparing to buy back shares.
But being a majority shareholder in OpenAI’s commercial structure gives neither Microsoft nor Thrive Capital control over the business. It is completely controlled by the board of the NPO, which, among other things, can fire the general director of the commercial structure – which is what ultimately happened.
The media and analysts put forward a variety of assumptions as to why the board took such a step. According to the WSJ, disagreements between the board and Mr. Altman began several months ago and grew as OpenAI introduced more and more commercial products based on ChatGPT.
Altman’s actions in the leadership of the NGO were allegedly considered a betrayal of the mission with which OpenAI was created eight years ago – to give the world safe and reliable artificial intelligence, and not to make billions of dollars from it.
OpenAI’s announcement came as a complete surprise not only to outside observers, but also to those associated with the company. As reported by the WSJ and The Information, President Greg Brockman literally immediately announced his resignation from OpenAI. He was followed by three more senior researchers.
Yesterday, a group of investors led by Thrive Capital, which was supposed to buy out shares from the company’s employees, doubted that it should complete the deal, given recent events. We are talking about tens of billions of dollars. A group of investors was ready to buy shares at such a price that the estimated value of OpenAI would more than triple – from $27 billion to $86 billion.
Mr. Altman himself, according to Reuters, is now considering two options. He is ready to submit to the will of the board and found his own AI development company. He may not even have to look for managers and researchers for it for long – all the employees who left OpenAI and many of those who still remained in the company are loyal to Sam Altman and are ready to develop new business with him.
However, Mr. Altman may return to OpenAI. The main shareholders of Microsoft and Thrive Capital are in favor of this. They do not intend to lose their money due to OpenAI’s reputational losses and the mass exodus of the AI developer’s highly qualified employees. American media, citing sources, note that if Sam Altman returns to the position of CEO, those who removed him will leave the company. Therefore, the management of OpenAI is in any case expected to undergo large-scale changes.