at OpenAI headquarters in San Francisco. Friday, to everyone’s surprise, the company which triggered an institutional crisis which saw with . Now the board faces calls for its own resignation, even after for its own AI projects. Here’s everything you need to know about the situation to get through Thanksgiving Thursday.
How it started
Thursday November 16
This saga started ages ago by internet standards, or last Thursday in common parlance. By a That’s when Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief researcher and board member, contacted Altman to arrange a meeting the next day at noon. In that same tweet chain (posted Friday evening), Brockman accused the company of also informing the first interim CEO, OpenAI CTO Mira Murati, of the upcoming layoffs:
– Last night, Sam received a text from Ilya asking him to talk Friday lunchtime. Sam joined a Google Meet and the entire board except Greg was there. Ilya told Sam that he was fired and the news would be out very soon.
– At 12:19, Greg received a text message from Ilya asking for a quick call. At 12:23, Ilya sent a Google Meet link. Greg was informed that he was being removed from the board (but was vital to the company and would retain his role) and that Sam had been fired. Around the same time, OpenAI published a blog post.
– As far as we know, the management team was informed of this shortly after, with the exception of Mira who found out the night before.
Friday November 17
It all started during this Friday lunchtime meeting. Brockman was informed that he would be demoted – removed from the board but would remain chairman of the company, reporting to Murati once she was installed. Just ten minutes later, Brockman claims, Altman was informed of his termination when the public announcement was made. Sutskever then sent a company-wide email stating that “change can be scary,” according to .
Later in the afternoon, the OpenAI Board of Directors and new CEO Murati addressed a “” staff during an all-level meeting. During that meeting, Sutskever reportedly told employees that these measures “would make us feel closer.”
At this point, Microsoft, which has just in January, as part of a massive, multi-year investment deal with the company, weighed on the day’s events. CEO Satya Nadella released the following statement:
As you saw at Microsoft Ignite this week, we continue to innovate rapidly for this era of AI, with more than 100 announcements across the entire technology stack, from systems, models and tools to AI in Azure up to Copilot. Most importantly, we are committed to delivering all of this to our customers while building for the future. We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap; and remain committed to our partnership, as well as to Mira and the team. Together, we will continue to bring the significant benefits of this technology to the world.
On Friday night, things really started to heat up. that he resigns in protest. Director of Research Jakub Pachocki and Head of Preparation Aleksander Madry announced that they too were resigning in solidarity.
How are you
Saturday/Sunday November 18/19
On Saturday, November 18, the flashback begins. Altman’s termination notice Friday states that “Mr. Altman’s departure followed a deliberative review process conducted by the Board of Directors, which concluded that he had not always been forthright in his communications with the board of directors, thereby affecting his ability to carry out his responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.
The next morning, OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap wrote in internal communications obtained by that the decision “took (the management team) by surprise” and that management had had a conversation “with the board to try to better understand the reasons and process behind their decision.”
“We can confidently say that the board’s decision was not made in response to any malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety or security/privacy practices,” wrote Lightcap. “This is a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board… We still share your concerns about how the process was handled, we are working to resolve the situation and will provide you with updates in wherever possible.”
A report of Mid-morning Saturday, it was revealed that the potential Thrive Capital-led OpenAI stock sale, valued at $86 billion, was in jeopardy following Altman’s firing. According to three anonymous sources within the company, even if the sale goes through, its valuation will likely be lower. OpenAI’s stock price has tripled since the start of the year and quadrupled since 2021, so current and former employees, many of whom were offered stock as a hiring incentive, were in line to a big payment. A payment might no longer arrive.
We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and are confident in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and to continue supporting our customers and partners. We can’t wait to get to know Emmett…
– Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) November 20, 2023
Microsoft’s Satya Nadella is said to have led this charge. Bloomberg sources say Nadella was “» on the decision to oust Altman – especially since he only received “a few minutes” notice before the public announcement – even going so far as to .
Microsoft also has leverage in the form of its investments, much of which takes the form of cloud computing credits (which the GPT platform requires to operate) rather than hard currency. Denying these credits to OpenAI would effectively hamper the startup’s operations.
Interim CEO Mira Murati’s 48-hour tenure at the helm of OpenAI ended Sunday when the board named Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear as the new interim CEO. According to , Murati planned to rehire Altman and Brockman in an effort to force the board to act. Instead, the board “went into complete silence” and “found its own CEO, Emmett Shear.” Altmann posting an image of himself holding up a green “Guest” badge.
“First and last time I wear one,” he wrote.
Monday November 20
Monday morning, an open letter from broadcast online. The group threatened to leave and join unless the board itself resigns and brings back Altman and Brockman (and probably the other two as well). The number of signatories has .
However, this does not seem to be happening, despite . The board has already passed the deadline to respond to the open letter, Microsoft has already hired Altman and Brockman, and Shear has already been named interim CEO.
Shear left his role as CEO of Twitch in March, where he led the company for more than 16 years and has worked as an associate at Y Combinator for the past seven months. Amazon acquired the live video streaming app in 2014 for just under $1 billion.
“I accepted this position because I believe OpenAI is one of the most important companies in existence today. When the board shared the situation and asked me to take on this role, I did not take the decision lightly,” Shear told OpenAI employees on Monday.
“Ultimately, I felt I had a duty to help if I could,” he added.
Shear was quick to point out that Altman’s firing was “very poorly handled, which seriously damaged our confidence.” As such, he announced that the company would hire an independent investigator to report on preparations for Friday’s SNAFU.
“The board *did not* remove Sam because of a specific disagreement over security, their reasoning was completely different from that,” Shear continued. “I’m not crazy enough to take this position without the support of the board to bring our great designs to market.”
“Incredibly proud of them,” he wrote.
This is a developing story. Please check again for updates.