ChatGPT creator OpenAI was seen as an unstoppable force in artificial intelligence, growing from a not-for-profit into an $80billion company in a matter of years – all with co-founder and CEO Sam Altman at the helm.
But a ‘boardroom coup’ on Friday saw his top team turn on him, resulting in a shock sacking that set off three days of chaos at what had been regarded as a confident company at the top of its game.
The news ‘blindsided’ staff and sparked outrage among investors, including Microsoft, which owns roughly 49 per cent of shares and whose CEO Satya Nadella was said to be furious at finding out about the decision last-minute.
The sensational firing of Altman, widely revered as the driving force behind the San Francisco firm, saw a groundswell of support from his colleagues which reportedly prompted execs to try and reverse the decision.
Altman was said to be open to coming back if a new board and governance system replaced those who deposed him, but was instead unceremoniously sent packing – sending the AI world into meltdown.
Just hours later, Microsoft made its move – which would again send shockwaves through the industry – with Nadella bringing Altman and his allies on to lead an innovative new AI team.
The dramatic twists did not end there, and in an open letter to the company’s mutinous board, 505 of OAI’s employees expressed a lack of confidence in its leadership.
Signatories surprisingly included Ilya Sutskever, a board member himself who backed the decision to fire Altman, before expressing ‘regret’ at the decision to, as one analyst brutally described it, ‘Ctrl, Altman, Delete’.
Sam Altman will not return as the CEO of ChapGPT-maker OpenAI, a statement to company staff reportedly states
Sam Altman has been taken on by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a dramatic shakeup in the world of AI
Altman, an openly gay Stanford dropout, has widely been seen as the driving force behind OpenAI’s success since it was founded by 10 investors and entrepreneurs in 2015.
The Chicago-born tech entrepreneur went from the lucrative 2012 sale of Loopt, an app he founded with two of his classmates, to launch OpenAI alongside Tesla chief Elon Musk – who left the company in 2018 following clashes with the board of directors.
He transformed it from a not-for-profit into a ‘capped profit’ company and helped to bring on new investors.
A big break came in 2019, when Microsoft injected $1 billion into OpenAI, largely in the form of computing credits, in exchange for a role in the future commercialisation of its technologies.
The company went from strength to strength, and began focusing on developing natural language processing, releasing popular generative AI tools to the public.
It launched its famous ChatGPT almost exactly a year ago, on November 30 2022, with Altman tweeting that it had reached over 1 million users in just five days.
Then in January, Microsoft ploughed even more money into the firm, announcing it was making a ‘multibillion-dollar’ investment into OpenAI.
Although the specific details were not shared, it is believed Microsoft’s investment was worth $10 billion.
But after an incredible year of success, which saw its ChatGPT system become arguably the most viral application in technology history, very few expected that the company would rip up the book.
Sam Altman, right, with his boyfriend, Oliver Mulherin, at a White House dinner in late June
The 38-year-old CEO reportedly received a text from a fellow board member asking him to join an impromptu video call. During that call, it was said, Altman was told he had been fired.
‘We are grateful for Sam’s many contributions to the founding and growth of OpenAI,’ a statement from OpenAI’s board said. ‘At the same time, we believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward.’
Crisis talks were held on Sunday at OAI’s headquarters, believed to have been mediated by Microsoft’s CEO Nadella.
Anger from investors was paired with a wave of support from staff for the boss who helped to push their company to the pinnacle of the AI world.
Now, in an open letter to the company’s board, which voted to oust Altman on Friday, the group said it is obvious ‘that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI’.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made the bombshell announcement on X this morning
Signatories surprisingly included Ilya Sutskever, a board member himself who backed the decision to fire Altman
Employees who signed the letter said that if the board does not step down, they ‘may choose to resign’ en masse and join ‘the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Sam Altman’.
Sutskever, a member of the board who is widely believed to have led the decision to fire Altman, tweeted his ‘regret’ on Monday and added his name to the letter.
The company is now being headed Emmett Shear, the former boss of Twitch, who has pledged an investigation into the board’s decision to fire Altman.
Rather than return to OAI, Altman and his fellow co-founder Greg Brockman, who resigned in protest over his firing, are expected to continue to create AI products at Microsoft.
Brockman announced the recruitment of several key OpenAI managers for these projects, which Nadella said will be ‘independent’ and ‘innovative’.
Altman has hinted that he will pick up from where they left off at OAI, suggesting unfinished business at OAI when he tweeted ‘the mission continues’.
Meanwhile Brockman vowed: ‘We are going to build something new & it will be incredible,’ fighting words which will spark excitement among tech enthusiasts and dread amongst Microsoft competitors.
Now, the tech world holds its breath as it waits to see what the next installment of this unprecedented saga holds.
By Daily Mail Online, November 20, 2023