After the unexpected termination of former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on Friday, it appears that he may not be without a job, as initially presumed. A report from The Verge on Saturday suggests that sources close to Altman indicate a remarkable turn of events— the board, in a surprising reversal, has purportedly “agreed in principle” to step down while reinstating him to his former role. However, the board has allegedly missed a deadline set at 5 pm PT for finalizing this decision.
Following Altman’s dismissal on Friday, a number of high-ranking staff, including former Chairman and President Greg Brockman, Director of Research Jakub Pachocki, Head of Preparedness Aleksander Madry, and Senior Researcher Szymon Sidor, submitted their resignations in protest. There were indications that additional OpenAI employees were prepared to resign in solidarity at the same meeting. These individuals are reportedly willing to join Altman in a new AI startup venture if he chooses to launch one, akin to the narrative of Jerry Maguire.
An internal memo circulated after Altman’s ousting argued that his firing was unrelated to any “malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices,” as reported by Axios.
Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today.
Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.
We too are still trying to figure out exactly…
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
Microsoft, a significant investor in the OpenAI venture, injected an additional $10 billion into the project in January as part of a long-term partnership, bringing its total investment to around $13 billion. In a statement, Microsoft expressed “utmost confidence” in OpenAI’s interim CEO, Mira Murati, and maintained assurance in the partnership as a whole.
Despite these assurances, employees at the grassroots level were given minimal notice before the official announcement of Sam Altman’s removal, with Altman himself reportedly receiving just 5 to 10 minutes notice. In the days leading up to his termination, Altman had actively supported and recruited for the firm, even participating in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum less than a day before his firing.
The New York Times reports that the return to power for Altman and Greg Brockman is not guaranteed due to the company’s non-profit origins, which restrict investors from dictating company-wide decisions. Such decisions are entrusted to members of the board. Altman and Brockman, both part of the OpenAI board, have now departed, leaving lead researcher Ilya Sutskever, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology Helen Toner, and computer scientist Tasha McCauley as the remaining members—at least, as of the weekend.
Chief Strategy Officer Jason Kwon communicated optimism in a Saturday memo, stating, “We are still working towards a resolution and we remain optimistic. By resolution, we mean bringing back Sam, Greg, Jakub [Pachocki], Szymon [Sidor], Aleksander [Madry], and other colleagues (sorry if I missed you!) and remaining the place where people who want to work on AGI research, safety, products, and policy can do their best work.”