OpenAI board faces growing revolt over Sam Altman’s ousting

Sam Altman OpenAI

SAN FRANCISCO: OpenAI faces a growing revolt among staff and investors calling for the resignation of three directors after a botched boardroom coup ousted chief executive Sam Altman from the world’s leading artificial intelligence company, Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

Employees said in a letter to the board that the directors had “undermined our mission and company” by the way they fired Altman and his co-founder Greg Brockman on Friday. One person with direct knowledge of the matter said 747 employees out of 770 had called for the board to quit as of 6pm local time on Monday. OpenAI did not respond to confirm the figure.

The turmoil marks a stunning reversal for a group that catapulted generative AI into the mainstream with the launch of its ChatGPT chatbot nearly a year ago. Until last week, OpenAI was viewed as the global leader in developing and commercialising the technology, which has drawn billions of dollars in investment and is upending businesses worldwide. Now, its very future has been called into question.

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After abortive talks to reinstate Altman on Sunday, in which he demanded the board resign as a price for his return, OpenAI’s board turned instead to Emmett Shear, co-founder of video-streaming service Twitch, as interim chief executive. Microsoft, the software company that is OpenAI’s biggest investor, announced it had hired Altman and Brockman to head a new AI unit.

Altman indicated on Monday that he expected OpenAI to endure and was working with Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella to secure the start-up’s future.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Monday, Nadella could not say who would be the chief executive of OpenAI on Tuesday but said he would leave the decision “to OpenAI and its board”. He added that Altman would be able to pursue his side projects while working at Microsoft. Altman has a nuclear fission venture and a cryptocurrency project and has sought to start a device company and a chip business, according to people with knowledge of the matter. “We’ll work through the governance aspects of it,” Nadella said.

The hundreds of OpenAI staff who signed Monday’s letter said they had been offered positions in the new unit at Microsoft, and “will take this step imminently, unless all current board members resign, and the board appoints two new lead independent directors”.

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Altman and Brockman were removed by the board’s four other members on Friday. By Monday, one of those board members, Ilya Sutskever, had aligned himself with the employees.

Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist, signed the letter from staff after first apologising on social media for his role in firing Altman. The other remaining directors are Adam D’Angelo, the chief executive of Quora; technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley; and Helen Toner from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

Rivals meanwhile are seeking to capitalise on the disarray within the company. In a social media post on Monday, Marc Benioff, chief executive of software company Salesforce, asked OpenAI researchers to send him their CVs and offered to match their salaries.

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