Five days of scandal at Open AI


On November 17, in what OpenAI employees likened to a coup, Sam Altman was dismissed from his position by the company’s board of directors. This was announced  through a blog post saying that “Altman was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”

However, within five days following his firing, Sam Altman returned to the company alongside co-founder Greg Brockman, who quit following Altman’s firing. Early in the morning on 22 November, the company announced that they had reached an agreement with Sam Altman as well as the new board of directors.

Who is Sam Altman? 

Sam Altman is a famous American entrepreneur and one of Open AI’s founders. After two years of studying, Altman dropped out of Stanford University, where he majored in computer science. Following this, at the age of 19, he co-founded Loopt, an app that allows users to share their location with other people. In 2015, Altman co-founded Open AI, a non-profit organization to develop AI for the benefit of all humanity, with Elon Musk and Greg Brockman. 

What reasons were given for his dismissal? 

First of all, the board members’ opinions regarding AI tools security differed from Altman’s. While Altman was working on the speed of product production, the board was concerned about the security of AI tools that generate images, text, and computer codes. According to the people close to the board, Sam Altman’s relationship with the board members had been negatively affected by his behavior over the past year. Ilya Sutskever and his colleagues from the board, who decided to fire Altman, were not satisfied with his actions. 

One of the scandals that led to disagreements among the board and Altman was shaped by the October research paper co-written by Helen Toner, a board member. Toner’s research paper contained some criticism about AI’s safety, which Altman did not like.

Altman complained that the paper seemed to criticize OpenAI’s efforts to keep its technologies safe while praising a rival. Moreover, in his email to colleagues, he mentioned that “any amount of criticism from a board member carries a lot of weight.” 

What were the consequences of Altman’s dismissal? 

Sam Altman’s firing from his position led to chaos among the employees and Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in the company. Neither the employees nor the investors expected the board members to fire Sam Altman, announcing that he could no longer be trusted with the company’s mission to work on artificial intelligence that can benefit all humanity. 

Furthermore, three days later, Satya Nadella, the head of Microsoft announced that Altman and Brockman would begin a new team at his company. Following this statement, the Open AI’s employees demanded his return to his previous position, threatening to join Microsoft. 

After the pushback of nearly 700 employees who signed the open letter demanding Altman’s reinforcement, he returned to the company with a new board of directors.

Ilya Sutskever, one of the board members, who fired Altman was among the employees who signed the open letter. Later, Sutskever wrote on his X that he regretted the decision to fire Altman and would do everything to reunite the company. 

Moreover, a large number of the employees and investors of Open AI supported Altman’s return to the company. One of OpenAI’s investors, Thrive Capital, supported the return of Altman and called it “the best outcome for the company, its employees, those who build on their technologies, and the world at large.”

Following this, Sam Altman posted a note on his X saying that he is looking forward to returning to the company and building strong relationships with Microsoft.

What does this mean for Open AI and Microsoft? 

Following Altman’s reinstatement, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella posted that the company is looking forward to “building on our strong partnership and delivering the value of this next generation of AI to our customers and partners.”

According to analysts, before the five days of chaos, things were likely to work out well for Microsoft, as the biggest investor in Open AI. 

Later, the analysts from the financial services group Macquarie wrote a note that Microsoft is well passionated regardless of whether Sam Altman returns to OpenAI, or if he builds out a new AI business at Microsoft with hundreds of employees of OpenAI employees who indicated they would leave OpenAI to join Microsoft. 

Open AI’s adding Microsoft to the board means that the company will have more access to internal operations, but not have an influence or an official vote in big decisions. It is essential to highlight that, until now, Microsoft as Open AI’s biggest investor had no visibility into the board. 

Photo by: Le Matin

Ali Qurbonmamadov
Ali Qurbonmamadov
As-salamu alaykum! I am an inquisitive Tajik-Afghan writer from the Pamir Mountains. As a first year Communications and Digital Media student interested in journalism, photography, politics, and learning foreign languages.

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