OpenAI: Why Sam Altman was fired and what’s next after the shocking shakeup

Originally Published: 18 NOV 23 12:02 ET

(CNN) — The surprise sacking of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman unfolded on Friday as abruptly as it played out in public, according to one of the company’s co-founders, who said he was also demoted and then quit in the aftermath.

The bombshell leadership change, which shook a giant of the artificial intelligence industry, took place extremely swiftly, said Greg Brockman, the company’s co-founder and former president, in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

A key factor in Altman’s ouster was the presence of tensions between Altman, who favored pushing AI development more aggressively, and members of the OpenAI board, who wanted to move more cautiously, according to CNN contributor Kara Swisher, who spoke to sources knowledgeable about the crisis.

Brockman’s post, which appeared to be a joint statement speaking for 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 following day.

“Sam joined a Google Meet and the whole board, except Greg, was there,” Brockman said, referring to himself. “Ilya told Sam he was being fired and that the news was going out very soon.”

“At 12:19pm, Greg got a text from Ilya asking for a quick call,” Brockman continued. “At 12:23pm, Ilya sent a Google Meet link. Greg was told that he was being removed from the board (but 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 Swisher, Altman did not learn about the subject of the meeting until 30 minutes before.

After receiving word of his own ouster as board chair, Brockman subsequently announced he was quitting the company.

Driving the board’s decision were Sutskever’s concerns, which appear to have been exacerbated by OpenAI’s recent developer conference and the announcement of a way for anyone to create their own versions of ChatGPT, said Swisher, citing her sources. Swisher added that it represented “an inflection moment of Altman pushing too far, too fast” for Sutskever, who “got the board on his side.”

In its announcement of Altman’s firing, OpenAI claimed that Altman had been insufficiently “candid” with the board and that it had hindered the board’s ability to carry out its responsibilities.

An unfinished drama

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 into OpenAI and integrated its technology into the Bing search engine, was not informed of Altman’s firing until “just before” the public announcement, Swisher said, while employees were not given any advance warning.

On Friday evening, Altman posted on X that he “loved working with such talented people” at OpenAI and that he “will have more to say about what’s next later.”

He added that “if I start going off, the openai board should go after me for the full value of my shares.”

In his post, Brockman hinted that he and Altman may already be forging ahead. “Please don’t spend any time being concerned. We will be fine,” Brockman said. “Greater things coming soon.”

CNN has reached out to OpenAI for comment on Brockman and Swisher’s accounts of how the events transpired.

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