On Friday, OpenAI fired CEO Sam Altman in a surprise move that led to the resignation of CEO Greg Brockman and three senior scientists. The move also blinded key investor and minority shareholder Microsoft, reported making CEO Satya Nadella angry. As Friday night wore on, the news appeared that the outing was likely to be organized by Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever over concerns about the security and speed of OpenAI technology deployment.
“This is the board doing its duty to the nonprofit’s mission, which is to make sure that OpenAI builds AGI that benefits everyone,” Sutskever told employees at an emergency all-hands meeting this afternoon. Friday, as reported by The information.
Since its inception, OpenAI has pursued the development of artificial general intelligence (or AGI), which is a theoretical technology that will be able to perform any intellectual task that a human can perform, potentially replacing a large number of people in the their work.
Internally at OpenAI, insiders say disagreements have emerged over the pace at which Altman is pushing for commercialization and company development, with Sutskever arguing to slow things down. The sources tell him reporter Kara Swisher of OpenAI’s Dev Day event on November 6, with Altman front and center in the key push of consumer products, was “the inflection point of Altman pushing too much, too fast.”
In a total statement released Friday night, Altman and Brockman said they were “surprised and saddened” by the committee’s actions. And they weren’t the only ones shocked by the news, as tech giants took to social media on Friday to share their reactions. Angel investor Ron Conway wrote“What happened in OpenAI today is a board meeting that we haven’t seen the likes of since 1985 when the board of Apple then fired Steve Jobs. It’s shocking; it’s reckless; and it’s not done by Sam & Greg or all the headlines in OpenAI.”
OpenAI has it it’s unusual where its for-profit arm is owned and directed by a non-profit 501(c)(3) public entity. Before yesterday, the non-profit led by the board of directors available Altman, Brockman, Ilya Sutskever and three other non-OpenAI employees: Adam D’Angelo, CEO of Quora; Tasha McCauley, senior management scientist at the RAND Corporation; and Helen Toner, director of policy and basic research grants at the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technologies. Now, only Sutskever, D’Angelo, McCauley, and Toner remain.
He was surprised and confused
According to a joint statement from Brockman and Altman, Altman’s shooting came as a complete shock to the couple, and they provided a rough timeline of what happened. On Wednesday night, Altman was asked to attend a remote board meeting on Friday afternoon. The next day, Brockman, who was the Chairman of the OpenAI board, was not invited to this board meeting, where Altman was fired.
Around 30 minutes later, Sutskever told Brockman that he had been removed from his board role but could remain at the company, and Altman was fired (Brockman refused, and resigned later on Friday ). According to Brockman, the OpenAI management team only became aware of these moves shortly after the fact, but former CTO (now interim CEO) Mira Murati was informed on Wednesday night.
There are serious questions about the allegations made against Altman in the book Open AI blog post who announced his departure, where the board said that Altman “did not act appropriately in his communications with the board, hindering his ability to exercise his responsibilities.” That hasn’t been explained by the company, but insiders say the move is largely a power play resulting from a cultural rift between Altman and Sutskever over Altman’s self management and drive for high-profile publicity. On September 29, Sutskever tweeted“Ego is the enemy of growth.”
The schism caused further turmoil on the inside. Three AI researchers who were loyal to Altman left the company as well on Friday, leaving behind a reaction to the news: Jakub Pachocki, GPT-4 leader and OpenAI director of research; Aleksander Madry, head of a group assessing AI risk, and Szymon Sidor, an open source researcher.
Push the “screen of ignorance” back
Rumors have already started circulating about potential internal breakthroughs in OpenAI that may have increased the slowness/speed within the company, due to Sutskever’s role as the leader of “Superalignment“The team that is tasked with talking about how to manage hypothetical AI supervisors. At the APEC Summit on Thursday, Altman tell“Four times now in the history of OpenAI—the most recent time was just in the last two weeks—I’ve gotten to be in the room when we pushed the veil of ignorance back and the front of discovery forward. And having to do that is like the professional honor of a lifetime.”
The concern here is not necessarily that OpenAI has developed superintendent intelligence, which experts say is unlikely, but that the latest success Altman mentioned may have added pressure to the industry fighting among itself to continue safely (from the category of not make profit) but also make money (from its for-profit subsidiary). Altman also said recently that GPT-5, thought to be a strong successor to the alarming GPT-4, is now in development.
As the news spread, some predictions were shared on social media. X user shaurya wrote, “This is like the Roman Empire for people who do matrix multiplication.” And AI futurist Daniel Jeffries tell“The entire AI industry would like to thank the OpenAI board for giving us all a chance to take it.“
But not all reactions are doom and gloom. As Friday night continued, some OpenAI made forward-looking statements. Evan Morikawa, Technical Manager at OpenAI wrote on X“For those wondering what will happen next, the answer is that we will continue shipping. @sama & @gdb are not micro managers. The consensus among these leaders is that we are here for the bigger mission.”
Expect to hear more on the OpenAI board of the story as more details emerge.
Update: 18/11/2023 – 2:30 Eastern
“Decision not made in response to injustice”
Internal note written by OpenAI Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap received by Axios said the board’s decision to fire Altman “was not made in response to wrongdoing or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/security services. This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.”
The memo said the announcement to fire Altman “came us all by surprise,” and that Lightcap has made efforts to better understand “the reasons and process behind their decision.”
“I’m sure you’re all feeling confused, sad, and maybe a little scared,” Lightcap wrote. “We are fully focused on handling this, pushing for resolution and clarity, and getting back to work. Our collective responsibility is now to our colleagues, partners, users, customers, and the wider world that shares our vision. of AGI’s broad advantage. Hang in there, we’re behind you all 1000%.”
After reassuring employees that the company’s position is strong and expressing support for Mira Murati as interim CEO, he said, “We also share your concerns about how the process was handled, working to resolve the situation, and will provide updates as we. can benefit.”