Chaotic. Dramatic. Historic.
Those are the only words that come to mind as I try to make sense of the events from one of the most tumultuous weekends in the history of Tech.
Tens of Billions of dollars of value were destroyed and created overnight, and the fate of the most important company in AI hangs in the balance. By the time this email hits your inbox, OpenAI as we know it may no longer exist.
Extraordinary events demand extraordinary coverage. We’ll be departing from our regular newsletter format today to help you understand the events that will shape the face of AI and Tech for years to come.
The Great Chaos I: The OpenAI Board Fires CEO Sam Altman
The Great Chaos II: The OpenAI Team Revolts
The Great Chaos III: A Shock New CEO Emerges
The Great Chaos IV: One Final Twist?
THE GREAT CHAOS I
The OpenAI Board Fires CEO Sam Altman
We got 5 seasons of Succession, Game of Thrones, and The Sopranos rolled into one weekend, and it all kicked off with the bombshell announcement on Friday that the OpenAI board is firing CEO Sam Altman and replacing him with CTO Mira Murati.
The official statement from the company said: “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 consists of OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Helen Toner.
Greg Brockman was apparently also demoted from his role as chairman of the board — another shocking move.
The entire tech world was shaken by the announcement and speculation grew as to what had gone down. Some key highlights from what emerged after the announcement:
Speculation grew that OpenAI had achieved a breakthrough so advanced that the board got spooked and fired the CEO.
Others went as far as to say that OpenAI might have achieved artificial general intelligence (AGI).
Industry heavyweights such as Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and Y Combinator cofounder Jessica Livingstone came out in Sam Altman’s defense.
Some, like former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, criticized the board for an alleged lack of big company board experience. Others praised the board for taking such a bold step in the face of potentially huge financial and legal costs.
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THE GREAT CHAOS II
The OpenAI Team Revolts
While disorder and panic spread across markets and social media, one big question loomed: What is everyone working at OpenAI thinking?
Furious might be one way to describe the sentiment of events that followed after Altman’s sacking. Shengjia Zhao, Research Scientist at OpenAI, tweeted: “Ilya does not care about safety or the humanity. This is just ego and power hunger that backfired,“ followed by another tweet that said “He had 60 hours now to name evidence of safety concerns or wrong doing to justify burning an entire company to the ground. But he could name nothing, zero, naught.“
Andrej Karpathy, another top employee at the company echoed a similar sentiment and tweeted “I just don’t have anything too remarkable to add right now. I like and respect Sam and I think so does the majority of OpenAI. The board had a chance to explain their drastic actions and they did not take it, so there is nothing to go on except exactly what it looks like.“
More shockwaves followed as President Greg Brockman announced he’s quitting, citing the events of the day. Soon, three senior researchers - including the director of research Jakub Pachocki - announced their resignations.
It appeared for a moment that the tide was turning in favor of Altman and the departing employees. Reports began to emerge that investors were putting pressure on the board to reinstate Altman as CEO. Before we had time to process that piece of information, news broke that the board had agreed to bring back Altman in principle.
THE GREAT CHAOS III
A Shock New CEO Emerges
According to The Information, Altman was invited by the board to discuss his reinstatement. Bloomberg reported that interim CEO Mira Murati, along with others, was pushing the board to bring Altman back.
But negotiations hit a snag. The board appeared reluctant to reinstate Altman or resign from their positions. News broke that the board was now looking to hire a new CEO.
The saga looked like it was coming to an end with multiple plot twists no one could have anticipated:
OpenAI appointed Emmett Shear, cofounder of the streaming service Twitch, as the new interim CEO.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Altman and Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team.
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THE GREAT CHAOS IV
One Final Twist?
While the details of what transpired behind the scenes aren’t clear yet, the overwhelming early consensus is that Microsoft has emerged as the biggest winner from the chaos of the past weekend.
“Incredible execution by Satya in one of the most dynamic situations in tech history“ said Box CEO Aaron Levie. Balaji Srinavasan added to the chorus of early praise for Nadella by tweeting “Satya wins. Reflexes of a startup CEO. Resources of a trillion dollar company. Pulls this together in 48 hours from a cold start. Gets it signed and over the line before markets open.“
We’re still trying to process the flood of news and reaction that’s coming in, but it appears that Sam Altman, along with several key employees from OpenAI, are heading to set up a team at Microsoft to pursue their mission there.
As for OpenAI, the future of the company hangs in the balance. Several key employees are on their way out. A new CEO looks to unite what’s left. An uncertain future lies ahead for the company that once looked untouchable.
As I write the final words for today’s email, a new bombshell just dropped on my timeline. Over 500 employees at OpenAI have threatened to quit the company unless the board resigns.
The events of the next 24 hours could be critical to the company’s survival.
THAT’S A WRAP
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