OpenAI announces return of Sam Altman as chief executive days after sacking

Who is Sam Altman, why was he sacked before being reinstated days later?

Sam Altman will return to OpenAI after an agreement in principle was reached, the company has announced.

Posting on X, formerly known as Twitter, OpenAI also announced a “new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo”.

Mr Altman also posted, saying “i love openai, and everything i’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together.”

Last week the board of OpenAI, which created the ChatGPT artificial intelligence tool, said it had pushed Mr Altman out after a review found he was “not consistently candid in his communications” with the board.

Greg Brockman, the company’s president and co-founder, who left in protest at Mr Altman’s sacking said on X: “Amazing progress made today. We will come back stronger and more unified than ever.”

“Returning to AI & getting back to coding tonight,” Mr Brockman added.

The previous board of directors, which included Mr D’Angelo and Mr Brockman, refused to give specific reasons to why they fired Mr Altman last Friday.

This led to mounting pressure within the company to reinstate Mr Altman, including a threatened exodus of nearly all of the company’s 770 employees.

Microsoft, which has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI, moved to hire Mr Altman and Mr Brockman on Monday.

In a post on social media on Wednesday morning, the chairman and chief executive of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, said he is “encouraged by the changes to the OpenAI board”.

“We believe this is a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance.”

An investigation will now ensue to assess how and why the events on Friday transpired, here is a roundup of how it unfolded, by ITV News' Shalet Serrao.

Friday November 17

  • Sam Altman, OpenAI’s CEO, gets sacked by the company’s board through an online Google Meet

  • Hours later, OpenAI’s co- founder Greg Brockman quits after being asked to step down from his role.

  • Mira Murati, Technology Chief of OpenAI is placed as an interim CEO.

  • OpenAI’s key investors begin to express outrage calling for their reinstatement.

November 18/19

  • Discussions to bring back Altman and Brockman begin, with the major shareholders and Microsoft (the non-profit’s primary financial backer) helping efforts.

  • Meanwhile, three of OpenAI’s top researchers quit, fuelling worries of a mass walkout.

Monday November 20

  • Weekend talks to reinstate Altman as CEO fail, and the board appoints Emmett Shear, former CEO and co-founder of Twitch to replace interim CEO, Mira Murati

  • 747 of OpenAI’s 770 staff publish an open letter threatening to quit and join Altman at Microsoft unless both Altman and Brockman are reinstated. This includes Mira Murati and the chief scientist Ilya Sutskever who was initially responsible for Altman’s exit.

Tuesday November 21

  • Negotiations to reinstate Altman at Open AI continue

  • Meanwhile, Microsoft offers to match OpenAI’s compensation to employees who want to be a part of Altman’s new advanced AI team

Wednesday November 22

  • Altman returns and comes back to an altered board, comprising of Bret Taylor (Salesforce chief executive), Larry Summers (former US Treasury secretary), and Adam D’Angelo who was part of the initial board responsible for Altman’s sacking.

  • The decision is welcomed by both Microsoft and other key investors.

  • An investigation will now ensue to assess how and why the events on Friday transpired.

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