What you need to know about Sam Altman's OpenAI exit

Last Friday, OpenAI surprisingly fired Sam Altman, saying there was a lack of transparency in his communication style.

What you need to know about Sam Altman's OpenAI exit
Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S. November 16, 2023. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The backstory: Around a year ago, OpenAI's ChatGPT burst onto the artificial intelligence (AI) scene. Everyone wanted a piece of the AI pie, from tech titans like Google to emerging players like Zhipu. Microsoft-backed OpenAI was founded back in December 2015. Since its inception, the company has been on a mission to ensure that artificial general intelligence (AGI) benefits humanity at large.

Enter Sam Altman, the CEO and face of OpenAI since 2019. He's a key player in the AI world, supporting the tech’s advancement while also pointing out its risks. While testifying for US Congress, he said the AI boom is a really important time but candidly admitted he doesn't know everything about how it might affect regular people and the dangers it could bring. 

More recently: At the recent San Francisco developer conference by OpenAI, Altman dropped some major updates. For one, developers can now whip up their own custom versions of ChatGPT. OpenAI also said it has over 100 million weekly users and over 2 million developers on board, with over 90% of Fortune 500 companies using the technology.

The development: Last Friday, OpenAI surprisingly fired Altman, saying there was a lack of transparency in his communication style. Silicon Valley is buzzing about this unexpected change. The company's statement pointed to an internal investigation finding that he wasn’t always truthful or consistent, shaking the board's confidence in his leadership.

Stepping up to fill the gap is Mira Murati, OpenAI's Chief Technology Officer, taking on the interim CEO role while the company looks for a permanent replacement. Altman, in a tweet, thanked everyone for his time at OpenAI and hinted that something new is on the horizon. 

But according to reports, investors, notably Microsoft, are pushing for Altman to come back. The Wall Street Journal indicates that Altman is thinking about a return but has some conditions, like changing the board and governance structure. At the same time, he's considering starting a new venture with former OpenAI colleagues, with a decision expected this week.

Key comments:

“Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities,” said OpenAI in its statement. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.” 

“Is [AI] gonna be like the printing press that diffused knowledge, power and learning widely across the landscape that empowered ordinary, everyday individuals that led to greater flourishing, that led above all to greater liberty?” said Sam Altman before Congress in March “Or is it gonna be more like the atom bomb – huge technological breakthrough, but the consequences (severe, terrible) continue to haunt us to this day?”

“I loved my time at OpenAI. it was transformative for me personally and hopefully the world a little bit. most of all I loved working with such talented people.” said Altman in a post on X. “Will have more to say about what’s next later.”