Sam Altman returns to OpenAI as board moves out

  • The whirlwind events of the past few days at OpenAI are not over, as Sam Altman has said he’s coming back.
  • Greg Brockman, former president who resigned after Altman’s firing, joins him.
  • Board that fired Altman is gone, save Adam D’Angelo, who retains a seat.

He was pushed out, he was brought back for talks, he was named CEO of a new Microsoft AI research lab, and now Sam Altman, the former former CEO of OpenAI who was shoved out the door last week, is once again CEO, as the board members who gave him the boot themselves are pushed out.

OpenAI has gone through three CEOs in three days, only to return to the original incumbent. The board who tried to dismiss him are now gone instead, save one member, Adam D’Angelo, who retains a place to give the previous board some representation.

Also read: OpenAI boardroom coup: Sam Altman fired, hired by Microsoft to head new advanced AI research unit

It puts OpenAI, which was the beacon for generative AI advances, in a rather dour light.

Emmett Shear, who is the new former CEO, will make way and have to beat a meek retreat back to Twitch, where he started, unless he is offered the role Altman just vacated, as CEO of a new Microsoft-owned AI lab.

Also read: Who is Sam Altman? A tech and venture capital visionary whose rapid rise in AI signalled the start of a new digital era

What’s the future for OpenAI?

It all raises serious questions about the future of OpenAI, and whether a leadership as whimsical as this can be trusted to lead one of the biggest names in AI. No doubt this is one of the reasons Altman asked for their removal when he returned.

Shear, when he thought he was going to be the OpenAI CEO, made it clear the whole thing had been a bit of a disaster. Two days ago he pointed out that the process and communication of Altman’s termination were poorly handled, shaking the public’s trust in the company. He proposed three plans for the next 30 days:

  • Engage an independent investigator to examine Altman’s firing and produce a comprehensive report.
  • Maintain open communication with our employees, partners, investors, and customers.
  • Reorganize the management and leadership team following recent departures to ensure they continue to effectively deliver results for our customers.

Will Altman heed these words? The new board will have his back, as did most of the company. On November 21, Evan Morikawa, management engineer at Open AI, said that 743 employees (more than 95% of the company) of OpenAI had jointly signed a letter to the board, asking the board to resign to allow Altman to return.

Microsoft involvement at OpenAI

This latest move would appear to push back against an offer Microsoft had made to Altman, to head up a new AI research lab they would create. CEO Satya Nadella announced on X that Altman and former president Greg Brockman would join Microsoft to lead a new senior AI research team. Could Shear now step into this newly formed hole?

Also read: ChatGPT went down due to DDoS attack, not its popularity

Nadella may also be disappointed for another reason. It had been noted that an offer to all remaining OpenAI employees had been extended, and that while they were proffered a $10 million signing bonus, this would have been equivalent to buying the entire OpenAI team for just 8% of the company’s value on November 17. That bargain has now been whipped away.

Extra reporting by Coco Yao


James Durston

James Durston is the Editor-in-Chief for Blue Tech Wave, and a former editor and journalist for some of the world's biggest international media organisations.

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