New York CNN –
Sam Altman has returned to OpenAI. Well… anyway, he’s back at OpenAI headquarters in San Francisco. Whether or not he returns as CEO of parent company ChatGPT is still up in the air.
Posted on X a photo of himself Sunday holding a green guest badge attached to a lanyard labeled “OpenAI,” the newly ousted CEO wrote, “first and last time I wear one of these.”
Altman didn’t say why he was in OpenAI’s office on Sunday, but several news reports have reported, including the Wall Street Journal AND New York Times, said the board that fired him had second thoughts and engaged with him and Greg Brockman, the company’s co-founder and former president, on a return. Brockman resigned Friday moments after the company showed Altman the door.
It was unclear until Sunday whether Altman would consider a return just days after being ousted. But his appearance at OpenAI suggests he is at least mulling a return.
Still, negotiations between the board and Altman They have not yet produced any results, and it is unclear whether Altman will accept the board’s return offer. He may impose conditions, according to multiple reports, including insisting that Microsoft, OpenAI’s largest investor, take a seat on the board of directors. He also reportedly wants to add more allies as directors.
OpenAI inexperienced advice it fell to just four members after Altman and Brockman left the company: Ilya Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist; Adam D’Angelo, the founder of Quora; Tasha McCauley, CEO of 3D modeling company GeoSim Systems; and Helen Toner, director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technologies.
THE the board had said on Friday Altman “was not always truthful in his communications” with them, an opaque phrase that left much to the imagination. Brockman said in a post on X on Friday that the board gave virtually no warning to Altman and other strategic partners about the decision. This reportedly included Microsoft, which does not hold a seat on the board of directors, but has invested $13 billion in the company.
Microsoft shares (MSFT) collapsed after Altman’s ouster on Friday, and the company’s leadership likely wants the wunderkind leader of its most promising (and very expensive) investment back at the helm before the market opens on Monday.
The company is non-profit. But Altman, Brockman and Sutskever in 2019 formed OpenAI LP, a for-profit entity that exists within the company’s broader structure. That for-profit company took OpenAI from worthless to a $90 billion valuation in just a few years — and Altman is widely credited as the mastermind of that plan and the key to the company’s success.
Altman had pushed the for-profit company to innovate more quickly and get its products to market. This reportedly spooked the company’s board of directors, which remained majority-controlled by the company’s nonprofit wing. CNN contributor Kara Swisher reported that OpenAI’s recent developer conference served as a turning point: Altman announced that OpenAI would make tools available so anyone can create their own version of ChatGPT.
If Altman gets his wishes and returns to OpenAI, the company could look very different than it does today, with a board of directors more focused on profitability and growth, like most Silicon Valley startups. If not, Altman may reportedly opt for another venture, perhaps drawing away OpenAI loyalists to his new landing spot.
In any case, the OpenAI board of directors has made a consequential decision that will have enormous repercussions in the artificial intelligence sector for years to come.