OpenAI, the groundbreaking company responsible for the widely used ChatGPT chatbot, made headlines on Friday (17 Nov) with the unexpected dismissal of its CEO and founder, Sam Altman.
The move has sent shockwaves through the artificial intelligence (AI) industry, marking a significant development for the company and its high-profile figurehead.
In a statement released by OpenAI, the company disclosed that an internal investigation revealed Altman’s lack of consistency in truthfulness with the board. The board, after a thorough review process, concluded that Altman’s communication style hindered its ability to fulfill its responsibilities, leading to a loss of confidence in his leadership.
The departure of Altman, who has long been an advocate and critic of AI, raises questions about the future direction of OpenAI.
OpenAI’s statement also revealed that Greg Brockman, co-founder and president, would resign as board chairman but stay with the company.
Shortly after the announcement, Brockman confirmed his departure on X, @gdb, citing the day’s developments. In a subsequent X post, he disclosed that he and Altman were informed of their board removal by Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s co-founder and chief scientist, on Friday (17 Nov).
Simultaneously, OpenAI’s Chief Technology Officer, Mira Murati, has been appointed as the interim CEO until a permanent successor is chosen.
Murati, hailing from Albania, received her engineering education at Dartmouth. She became part of OpenAI in 2018, following roles managing product and engineering teams at Ultraleap (formerly Leap Motion) in augmented reality. Prior to that, she contributed to the development of Tesla’s Model X.
Altman, acknowledging his departure in a tweet on X, @sama, expressed his gratitude for his time at OpenAI, describing it as transformative and emphasizing his love for working with talented individuals.
Altman’s exit comes on the heels of OpenAI’s recent developer conference in San Francisco, where he unveiled updates to the AI tools, including the ability for developers to create custom versions of ChatGPT.
He also revealed that approximately 2 million developers are utilizing the platform, with around 90% of Fortune 500 companies employing the tools internally. The platform boasts a current user base of 100 million active users.
ChatGPT debuted in the latter part of the previous year, catapulting Altman into instant quasi-celebrity status as the emblem of a new wave of AI tools generating images and texts from simple user prompts. Termed generative AI, this technology has been adopted by Microsoft, with Google introducing its counterpart, “Bard,” and other similar tools emerging recently.
Shortly after its launch, ChatGPT swiftly became a household name synonymous with AI. Users, including CEOs, employed it for drafting emails, building websites without coding experience, and even excelling in exams for law and business schools.
Despite Altman’s longstanding advocacy for AI, he also assumes the role of one of its significant critics. In a Congressional testimony earlier this year, Altman characterized the current AI boom as a pivotal moment in technology.
Altman recognized for his advocacy of ethical and responsible AI development, had met with White House leaders earlier this year to emphasize the importance of these principles.
His departure has sparked discussions about OpenAI’s stance on AI regulation, with analysts and industry insiders closely watching how the company’s leadership will navigate the evolving landscape.
Arun Chandrasekaran, an analyst at Gartner Research, deemed Altman’s exit as “shocking” and emphasized OpenAI’s need to continue its fast-paced innovation culture.
Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI, expressed commitment to Mira Murati and the team amid a slight dip in its stock price following the announcement.
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt praised Altman as a hero and expressed anticipation for his future endeavours.
Analysts, such as Reece Hayden from ABI Research, view Altman’s departure as potentially impacting discussions around AI regulation, suggesting that OpenAI may lean towards a more self-regulatory approach.
The composition of OpenAI’s board, predominantly consisting of outsiders, adds another layer of interest to the unfolding narrative.
With Altman and Brockman’s departures, the remaining board members include Ilya Sutskever, Adam D’Angelo, Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner, raising questions about the board’s role in shaping OpenAI’s trajectory in the absence of its co-founders.