Return of Sam: Has OpenAI resolved its core schism?

Sources said Sam Altman and his team are actively advocating for increased control over the organisation, which includes seeking the removal of the board responsible for his initial termination

Sam Altman co-founded OpenAI, one of the world's leading AI companies (photo: DW)
Sam Altman co-founded OpenAI, one of the world's leading AI companies (photo: DW)
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Aditya Anand

In a surprising turn of events, Sam Altman has reclaimed his position as CEO of OpenAI after a tumultuous period marked by unexpected corporate manoeuvres and internal upheaval. The reinstatement follows a controversial attempt to remove Altman from his role despite significant backing from Microsoft and most of the OpenAI workforce. The rollercoaster of events, while chaotic, is expected to pave the way for a stronger and more focused OpenAI with a renewed sense of mission.

Altman, who will be returning as OpenAI CEO, has agreed to an internal investigation into his conduct, according to a report in the Indian Express. A Tuesday report by The Information also was revealed that Altman has consented to an internal investigation.

This information comes from a source familiar with the situation, who shared that Altman and his team are actively advocating for increased control over the organisation, which includes seeking the removal of the board responsible for his initial termination.

The recent shake-up unfolded unexpectedly, beginning with Microsoft's offer to hire Altman and Greg Brockman, followed by the sudden appointment of Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear as interim CEO.

Despite the apparent disorder in the process, industry observers anticipate that the outcome will lead to a more robust OpenAI with clarified objectives. Restructuring OpenAI's governance will likely foster a more amicable relationship with Microsoft, providing stability and predictability in their collaborative efforts in the generative AI field.

Microsoft's steadfast support for Altman and Brockman during the turbulent period positions its CEO Satya Nadella as a critical ally and confidant, securing a strategic advantage for Redmond in the competitive generative AI landscape. While the acquisition of the entire company did not materialise, the strengthened partnership is expected to benefit both parties.

The internal strife at OpenAI triggered a rallying of its workforce, as evidenced by over 700 out of 770 employees signing an open letter to the board advocating for Altman's return. Though influenced by polarised circumstances and employment dependencies for immigration purposes, the substantial support underscores a collective endorsement of Altman's leadership and the company's business strategy.

Greg Brockman's leadership and commitment throughout the crisis have garnered additional loyalty from the OpenAI employee base. His active role, even while technically not an employee and the company's continued product updates during the upheaval have solidified his standing within the organisation.

Contrary to the outgoing board's concerns about the pace of progress toward OpenAI's Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) goal, the recent events have resulted in a more unified organisation with a renewed dedication to achieving Altman's vision of leading the emergent generative AI mega-industry.


A whirlwind week at OpenAI:

Friday, 17 November: CEO Sam Altman was blindsided by termination during a Google Meet call.

Saturday, 18 November: OpenAI cites loss of confidence and transparency issues and appoints Mira Murati as Interim CEO.

Sunday, 19 November: Microsoft's Satya Nadella supports Altman and Brockman's move to Microsoft; Emmett Shear becomes OpenAI CEO.

Monday, 20 November: OpenAI employees threaten to leave in an open letter, demanding Altman's reinstatement and board resignations.

Wednesday, 22 November: Plot twist - Altman returns as CEO; new board members announced. Altman aims to put recent chaos behind and steer OpenAI toward stability.

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