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In a major shakeup in one of the world's best-known AI companies, Sam Altman was fired as the CEO of OpenAI on 17 November 2023.
The move comes as a shock to an AI industry that has seen a supercharged rise since the launch of OpenAI's flagship offering ChatGPT, exactly a year ago in November 2022.
CEO Sam Altman has been removed from his post and will leave the board of directors effective immediately. Mira Murati, OpenAI's chief technology officer (CTO), has been appointed interim CEO, until further notice.
Sam Altman's sudden and unceremonious ouster from OpenAI has come as a shock to the tech industry. The 38-year-old shot to fame when OpenAI, the maker of AI platforms like DALL-E 3, and GPT-4 launched the hugely popular AI platform ChatGPT.
A Silicon Valley favorite, Mr. Altman was part of the founding team of OpenAI which launched with the financial backing of Elon Musk in 2015 and support from others like Peter Thiel, and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman. He led the company to significant growth, garnering billions of dollars from Microsoft and competing directly with tech giants like Google and Meta.
When we asked ChatGPT, OpenAI's marquee AI platform, about Altman's contribution to the company, it had this to say:
"Altman played a crucial role in OpenAI's strategic direction, focusing on its mission to ensure artificial intelligence (AI) is used beneficially and safely. His expertise in entrepreneurship, technology, and startup ecosystems brought valuable insights to the organization."
At noon on Friday, 17 November 2023, Mr. Altman was asked to join a video meeting with the board. On the call, he was immediately fired. Moments later, the board published a blog post titled, "OpenAI announces leadership transition".
The post said that "Sam Altman will depart as CEO and leave the board of directors. Mira Murati, the company’s chief technology officer, will serve as interim CEO, effective immediately."
The post explained that "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."
OpenAI’s board of directors is somewhat unusual in that most of the members are from outside the organization. The board consists of OpenAI's chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner from the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
The post also announced another ouster, that of OpenAI co-founder and president Greg Brockman. The post said that Brockman will step down as chairman of the board but remain in his role at the company, and report to the new CEO. However, a few hours later, Brockman posted to X (formerly Twitter) that he had quit “based on today’s news.”
Soon after, Altman posted on X saying "I loved my time at OpenAI. it was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit."
Over the past year, the frantic rush of innovation in AI, triggered by the massive popularity of ChatGPT, has also kicked up a storm of questions around ethics, regulations, and intellectual property laws.
Sam Altman has been the face of OpenAI at this time. Over the past few months, he featured centrally in attempting to shape regulators’ responses to AI. He appeared at U.S. congressional hearings and met personally with world political leaders such as President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron, among others, on an international policy tour to address these concerns.
Sam Altman's unexpected departure is sure to have the tech and industry circles buzzing for the next few weeks. His removal also comes on the heels of crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried being convicted in a massive case of fraud. This could signal greater scrutiny for technology startups in new fields like artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency in the near future.
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Amrusha is a versatile professional with over 12 years of experience in journalism, broadcast news production, and media consulting. Her impressive career includes collaborating extensively with prominent global enterprises. She garnered recognition for her exceptional work in producing acclaimed shows for Bloomberg, a renowned business news network. Notably, these shows have been incorporated into the esteemed curriculum of Harvard Business School. Amrusha's expertise also encompassed a 4-year tenure as a consultant at Omidyar Network, a leading global impact investing firm. In addition, she played a pivotal role in the launch and content strategy management of the startup Live History India.
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