In a surprise turn after Friday’s unexpected firing of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, the artificial intelligence leader may be mulling a return.
Multiple news items, including the Wall Street Journal AND New York Times, cited anonymous sources who said the board is rethinking the firing and asked Altman to return. Altman is considering the offer, those sources said.
That would mark a shocking reversal of one of the most bizarre chapters in Silicon Valley’s leadership changes — and a key decision that could sway control over the future of artificial intelligence, one of the key technologies expected to pave the way for decades to come.
OpenAI did not respond to requests for comment.
The change of leadership bombthat shook up a giant in the AI industry, happened extremely quickly, said Greg Brockman, the company’s co-founder and former president, in a post on Xformerly known as Twitter.
Altman’s firing unfolded Friday as quickly as it did public, according to one of the company’s co-founders, who said he, too, was demoted and then later resigned.
A key factor in Altman’s ouster was the presence of tensions between Altman, who favored pushing AI development more aggressively, and OpenAI board members, who wanted to move more cautiously, according to CNN contributor Kara Swisherwho spoke to sources knowledgeable about the crisis.
Brockman’s post, which appeared to be a joint statement speaking on behalf of himself and Altman, said the two were “still trying to figure out exactly what happened” but summarized the sequence of events that led to Altman’s firing.
On Thursday evening, Altman received a text message from Ilya Sutskever, another co-founder of OpenAI and its chief scientist, Brockman said. The text message asked Altman to attend a meeting the next day.
“Sam joined a Google Meet and the entire board except Greg was there,” Brockman said, referring to himself. “Ilya told Sam that he would be fired and that the news would be out very soon.”
“At 12:19 p.m., Greg received a text from Ilya asking for a quick call,” Brockman continued. “At 12:23 Ilya sent a link to Google Meet. Greg was told that he was being removed from the board (but he 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.”
According to SwisherAltman only learned of the subject of the meeting 30 minutes earlier.
After receiving news of his ouster as chairman of the board, Brockman subsequently announced he was leaving the company.
Driving the board’s decision were Sutskever’s concerns, which appear to have been exacerbated by OpenAI’s recent developer conference and announcement of a way for anyone to create their own version of ChatGPT, Swisher said, citing his sources. Swisher added which represented “an inflection moment of Altman pushing too far, too fast” for Sutskever, who “got the board on his side.”
In the announcement of Altman’s firing, OpenAI said that Altman had not been sufficiently “candid” with the board and that he had hindered the board’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities.
The suddenness of the decision was reflected in how some of OpenAI’s most important partners were left in the dark.
Microsoft, which has invested billions in OpenAI and integrated its technology into the Bing search engine, was only informed of Altman’s firing “shortly before” the public announcement, Swisher saidwhile the employees were not given any notice.
On Friday evening, Altman posted on X that he “enjoyed working with such talented people” at OpenAI and that he “will have more to say about what comes next.”
He added that “if I start walking away, Openai’s board of directors should come after me for the full value of my shares.”
In his post, Brockman hinted that he and Altman may already be moving on. “Please don’t waste time worrying. We’ll be fine,” Brockman said. “Greater things are coming soon.”
CNN has reached out to OpenAI for comment on Brockman and Swisher’s accounts of how the events occurred.
In announcing Altman’s firing, OpenAI said Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati will serve as interim CEO.
In a statement on its website, OpenAI said that Murati is “exceptionally qualified” and that the company has “the utmost confidence in her ability to lead OpenAI during this transition period.”
Murati, 34, has been part of OpenAI’s leadership team for five years, according to the company. The statement said she will step in while the board “conducts a formal search for a permanent CEO.”
The move immediately catapults Murati – already a significant figure in the field of artificial intelligence – as one of the most high-profile and recognizable women in tech.
And that puts her at the top of the company as questions swirl about what Altman’s ouster means, the direction of the board of directors and even the purpose of the company and artificial intelligence itself.
But in some ways, this is familiar ground for Murati, a Dartmouth-trained engineer. In July, when OpenAI’s head of trust and safety announced plans to step down, Murati took over as interim manager of that team.
Murati has spoken before about his high hopes for artificial intelligence. In 2022, for example, he told CNN that artificial intelligence “is really an extension of the human mind, and I hope we can figure out how to implement it in ways that are highly beneficial and effective.”
Regardless of who is in charge, OpenAI has faced a number of challenges even before the senior management shake-up. There are a growing number of them competitors and startups in the artificial intelligence space and increased regulations by governments could hinder the growth of the sector.