New York CNN –
The AI industry was rocked by tectonic shifts over the weekend.
Sam Altman, the leader of one of the most influential artificial intelligence companies in the world, OpenAI, and perhaps the most visible figure in space — was fired Friday night by the startup’s board of directors in a surprise move. Within about 48 hours, he was hired to head a new division of Microsoft where he will likely be even more powerful, with the resources of one of the world’s largest technology companies and the direct support of his CEO.
And as for OpenAI, the future looks deeply uncertain, with the board appearing to have lost the trust of the company’s staff and employees threatening to head for the exits en masse.
The debacle occurred just over a week after OpenAI took place the first ever developer conferencewhere it unveiled new commercialized versions of its technology, including the ability to customize its ChatGPT AI chatbot.
If you’re just catching up, here’s what you missed from a weekend that could fundamentally change the arms race for AI development:
Around 3pm ET, Altman joined a Google Meet call with most of OpenAI’s board of directors convened by OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, during which Altman was fired and informed that the news would soon be made public.
Over the next half hour, the board also informed Greg Brockman, another co-founder and president of OpenAI, that he would be removed from the board.
Around 3:30 pm ET, OpenAI publicly announced that it had fired Altman over concerns that he was not always truthful with the board. The board said Mira Murati, the company’s chief technology officer, will become interim CEO.
OpenAI’s strategic partners, including investor Microsoft, were also reportedly informed of Altman’s ouster in the minutes before the board’s announcement.
Hours after the company announced his firing, Altman posted on X that he “enjoyed working with such talented people” and that he “will have more to say about what comes next.”
Brockman promptly left. “Please don’t waste time worrying. We’ll be fine,” Brockman he said in a post on Friday on X. “Great things coming.”
A key factor in the CEO’s firing was tension between Altman, who favored more aggressive AI development, and OpenAI board members, who wanted to move more cautiously, according to the CNN contributor Kara Swisher, who spoke to sources familiar with the ongoing events.
In less than 24 hours after his firing, reports emerged that Altman and other former OpenAI loyalists were mulling plans for their own venture and that OpenAI’s board was having second thoughts and considering asking the ousted CEO to return.
On Sunday afternoon, Altman was back in the OpenAI building – this time with a guest badge – to negotiate his potential return with the council. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella reportedly mediated the discussion. A deadline of 5pm PT was reportedly set for the board to accept Altman’s requests, including adding a board seat for Microsoft and reinstating him as CEO.
But those talks apparently broke down.
In the waning hours of Sunday, before it turned into Monday, Nadella tweeted that Altman, along with Brockman, would be joining Microsoft to run a new artificial intelligence research group. At OpenAI, the group has found a new interim CEO: Emmett Shear, former CEO of Amazon’s streaming service, Twitch. Murati will return to his role as chief technology officer of OpenAI.
In a post on He added that the company will hire an independent investigator to report on what happened in the period leading up to Altman’s firing.
But OpenAI employees weren’t convinced. Hundreds of employees signed an open letter Monday morning calling on the company’s board to resign and reinstate Altman and Brockman. They also threatened to follow the cofounders to Microsoft if their demands were not met.
Altman posted on X on Monday, saying, “we have more unity, commitment and focus than ever. we’re all going to work together one way or another and I’m so excited. one team, one mission.”
But the drama may not be over yet. The Verge reported Monday afternoon that Altman and Brockman could still return to OpenAI if the board members who fired him resign.
Regardless, Altman appeared to be trying to reassure OpenAI customers that he would remain involved with the company. In a separate post on X Monday, he said his top priority, along with Nadella, “remains ensuring openai continues to thrive.”
“We are committed to ensuring maximum business continuity for our partners and customers,” Altman said.