Chaos and uncertainty in the world of artificial intelligence. The company creating the ChatGPT conversational agentOpenAI, has been in the midst of a crisis since Friday and the ouster of its CEO Sam Altman. According to American media, he is being criticized for prioritizing the commercial development of artificial intelligence, without taking the time to analyze the associated risks.
How did the crisis start?
The twist came on Friday, when OpenAI President Sam Altman was fired by the company’s board of directors. In addition to the company’s co-founders, Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, the board is comprised of OpenAI Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner, a fellow at the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
A OpenAI press release, published the same day, justifies this decision by the fact that Sam Altman “was not always frank in his communications with the board of directors, which hindered the latter’s ability to exercise his responsibilities”. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue to lead OpenAI,” the statement continued. At the same time, Greg Brockman learns that he is fired from the board of directors, but that he retains his position in the company.
What reaction do employees and investors have?
Sam Altman, co-founder of the company, is extremely popular. The announcement of his ouster therefore led to a burst of resignations, notably from Greg Brockman. “Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board of directors did today,” the latter reacted Friday evening in a tweet. Several employees of the company also expressed their solidarity with Sam Altman on X or regretted that the company had not explained its choice. THE Washington Post and the New York Times then revealed over the weekend that major OpenAI investors, including Microsoft, are moving to bring back Sam Altman.
In an open letter released Monday, several employees threatened to leave the company if Sam Altman is not rehabilitated as CEO. “The process by which you fired Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board of directors jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and our company,” they wrote. They demand the resignation of the members of the board : “Your conduct provided evidence that you did not have the skills to supervise OpenAI,” they continue. “OpenAI is nothing without its collaborators,” several employees also tweeted, suggesting an imminent departure.
Can Sam Altman return to OpenAI?
This weekend, Sam Altman fueled rumors about a possible return to OpenAI. On Sunday, he posted on X a photo of himself with a visitor’s badge on the company’s premises, accompanied by the caption “first and last time I wear one like this”. But negotiations for his return reportedly failed.
According to New York Times, a note confirming his departure was sent to employees on Sunday evening. In it, the company declares that the departure of the ex-CEO is “the only way to move forward and defend OpenAI’s mission”. “Sam’s behavior and lack of transparency in his interactions with the board undermined his ability to effectively lead the company in the manner in which he was mandated to do,” it is also repeated.
However, on Monday, Ilya Sutskever, one of the members of the board of directors, declared on X that he “deeply regrets” his participation “in the actions of the board of directors”. “II will do everything in my power to bring the company together. » Also on Monday, to everyone’s surprise, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that “Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, along with their colleagues, will join Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team.” However, according to several American media, the agreement has not been finalized.
Has a new CEO already been appointed at OpenAI?
Yes. On Monday, Emmett Shear, previously chief executive of video streaming service Twitch, announced in a tweet that he had received a call to “become interim CEO of OpenAI.” “After consulting my family and thinking for a few hours, I accepted,” he wrote, justifying his decision in particular by the fact “that OpenAI is one of the most important companies that currently exists.”
Emmett Shear does not hesitate to comment on the current crisis. “The process and communications around Sam’s removal were very poorly managed,” he wrote in his tweet. He announces that he has a “plan for the next 30 days.” He intends in particular to “hire an independent investigator to examine the entire process that led to this situation and generate a complete report” but also “to reform the management team”. “Depending on the results we obtain, I will drive changes within the organization, up to and including strongly pushing for significant governance changes if necessary,” he continues.
What future for OpenAI?
Despite the new leader’s promises, the future of OpenAI seems uncertain. As of Monday evening, 95% of OpenAI employees had signed the open letter threatening to leave the company, according to the media outlet Wired.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is also said to have pledged to welcome resigning employees to his company. “We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and are confident in our roadmap […] We look forward to getting to know and working with Emmett Shear and the new OAI management team,” he said at the same time.
Sam Altman, for his part, tweeted Monday evening that his “top priority” remained “ensuring that OpenAI continues to thrive.” “We are committed to fully ensuring continuity of operations for our partners and customers. The OpenAI/Microsoft partnership makes this very feasible,” he also writes. It remains to be seen what form this partnership could take if the majority of OpenAI employees migrate to Microsoft.