OpenAI fires CEO Sam Altman as 'board no longer has confidence' in his leadership

CTO Mira Murati has been tapped to serve as interim CEO, effective immediately.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

In a surprise shakeup of its c-suite Friday, OpenAI's board of directors announced that CEO Sam Altman has been fired and will be leaving both the company and the board, effective immediately. Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati has been named interim CEO.

Altman's oustering reportedly follows an internal "deliberative review process" which found he had not been "consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities," the company announced. As such, "the board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI."

OpenAI, which owns popular AI chatbot ChatGPT, thanked Altman for his "many contributions to the founding and growth of OpenAI," but believes that "as the leader of the company’s research, product, and safety functions, Mira is exceptionally qualified to step into the role of interim CEO." The board added it has "the utmost confidence in her ability to lead OpenAI during this transition period.”

OpenAI's board is comprised of the company's Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, as well as Chairman and President Greg Brockman. Independent advisors, who hold no equity in the company, are also board members: Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and privacy advocate Helen Toner of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology. Altman was also considered an independent advisor on the board, despite being CEO of the company prior to his departure.

Altman's personal profile has grown alongside the meteoric rise of generative AI technologies over the past year, making him something of the unofficial face for both OpenAI and the burgeoning industry as a whole. Previously the president of Y Combinator, Altman has appeared before Congressional panels and committees, attended Senate AI Insight forums and made numerous rounds at industry conferences.

The suddenness of Friday's announcement is certainly surprising given how steadily, and heavily, Altman has been promoting his company and its products in the days leading up to his termination.

Just last week, Altman took the stage at OpenAI's 2023 DevDay to announce a faster and more responsive GPT-4 Turbo platform as well as smaller, application-specific models simply dubbed GPTs. On Thursday Altman attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in San Francisco. "Something has qualitatively changed,” he said during the event. “Now I can talk to this thing. It’s like the ‘Star Trek’ computer I was always promised… I think a lot of the world has collectively gone through a lurch this year to catch up.”

Altman and Murati aren't the only ones caught in this shuffle. Brockman was also notified that he would have to step down from his role as board President, however, "based on today's news, I quit," he wrote to OpenAI employees in a company-wide email Friday.

Microsoft, which signed a "multibillion-dollar" partnership extension with OpenAI in January, was down in market trading Friday afternoon. Despite the stock price hit, Microsoft will maintain its existing partnership with OpenAI, a company spokesperson told Engadget via email. “We have a long-term partnership with OpenAI and Microsoft remains committed to Mira and their team as we bring this next era of AI to our customers.” the spokesperson said. However, according to an report by The Information, few people within the Microsoft organization were warned of Altman's sacking prior to the public news release, including teams tasked with developing products based on OpenAI tech.

The software giant's stance isn't surprising given the reported details of its $10 billion investment this past January, which bumped OpenAI's valuation to $23 billion. Microsoft will reportedly receive a lion's share of OpenAI's profits, some 75 percent, until that investment has been repaid, whereupon that figure will reportedly drop to 49 percent.

"We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap; and remain committed to our partnership, and to Mira and the team," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a prepared statement Friday. "Together, we will continue to deliver the meaningful benefits of this technology to the world."

Altman co-founded OpenAI with Elon Musk in 2015 as a nonprofit and has served as the CEO for the for-profit arm since 2019. The release of the company's ultra-popular ChatGPT conversational AI last November is credited with kickstarting the generative AI boom.

The system, originally built atop the GPT-3.5 platform, initially enabled users to converse with a digital agent — one more capable than the previous generation of Siri, Alexa and Assistant — using natural language. Those capabilities quickly expanded to include myriad languages and modalities, as well as the ability to output programming code and control remote processes and devices through API access.

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