Sam Altman, the posterboy of the artificial intelligence revolution, was removed from his position as CEO of OpenAI by its board of directors, the company said in a blog post on Friday. Mira Murati, the company’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) will serve as the interim chief in the meanwhile but there is still a lot unanswered about what went down at the company.
“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. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI,” read the blog post announcing the high profile CEO’s departure.
Not being “consistently candid in his communications” ostensibly suggests that he may have been lying to the board. But it was not clear what he was lying about. But there could be some small clues in the events that led up to it.
OpenAI’s removal of Sam Altman came shortly after internal arguments about AI safety at the company, reported The Information on Saturday, citing people with knowledge of the situation. According to the report, many employees disagreed about whether the company was developing AI safely and this came to the fore during an all-hands meeting that happened after Altman was fired.
Ilya Sutskever, who is a co-founder of the company and also serves as chief scientist and a board member, took questions from employees during the meeting. Some employees asked whether Altman’s departure was part of a hostile takeover, according to a transcript of the meeting accessed by The Information. Others asked whether the transition meant that Altman was moving too quickly to profit from the software without enough concern for safety.
While all of that could offer partial clues about what exactly led to the celebrated CEO’s departure, they still do not paint a full picture. Hopefully, that will become more clear in the coming days.
Interestingly, Microsoft, which invested billions of dollars into OpenAI, was apparently “blindsided” by the announcement, reports Axios. Microsoft learned about Altman’s departure just minutes before the news was shared in the blog post.
This is quite interesting because Microsoft is one of OpenAI’s closest partners and they have a mutually beneficial relationship. Even though OpenAI was initially founded in 2015 as a non-profit with funding from Elon Musk and others, it restructured into a for-profit company in 2019 to raise capital.
Since then, Microsoft has invested heavily in OpenAI and is now pushing through with many AI products and services built on OpenAI technology. Microsoft’s ignite event held over the last week was chock-full of AI announcements aimed at its enterprise customers. And just like Microsoft seems to have placed its bets on OpenAI for the future, the latter is also dependent on the former. But not just for funding—OpenAI relies on Microsoft’s cloud services to run its AI algorithms.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella released a short statement after the announcement. The statement does not mention Altman at all but it emphasised the tech giant’s long-term agreement with OpenAI with “full access to everything we [Microsoft] need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap.”
Nadella also wrote about faith in Mira Murati and the rest of the OpenAI team that remains and reiterated Microsoft’s commitment to developing more AI tools and services.