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Sam Altman Forced Out of OpenAI by Board
OpenAI CTO Mira Murati becomes interim CEO
Sam Altman has been pushed out of OpenAI by its board of directors, according to a statement from the board.
CTO Mira Murati is taking over as OpenAI’s interim CEO. (Profiled here.)
Greg Brockman is stepping down as chairman and will report to the CEO.
Chief technology officer Mira Murati appointed interim CEO to lead OpenAI; Sam Altman departs the company.
Search process underway to identify permanent successor.
The board of directors of OpenAI, Inc., the 501(c)(3) that acts as the overall governing body for all OpenAI activities, today announced 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.
A member of OpenAI’s leadership team for five years, Mira has played a critical role in OpenAI’s evolution into a global AI leader. She brings a unique skill set, understanding of the company’s values, operations, and business, and already leads the company’s research, product, and safety functions. Given her long tenure and close engagement with all aspects of the company, including her experience in AI governance and policy, the board believes she is uniquely qualified for the role and anticipates a seamless transition while it conducts a formal search for a permanent CEO.
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.
In a statement, the board of directors said: “OpenAI was deliberately structured to advance our mission: to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all humanity. The board remains fully committed to serving this mission. We are grateful for Sam’s many contributions to the founding and growth of OpenAI. At the same time, we believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward. As the leader of the company’s research, product, and safety functions, Mira is exceptionally qualified to step into the role of interim CEO. We have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead OpenAI during this transition period.”
OpenAI’s board of directors consists of OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, independent directors Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Helen Toner.
As a part of this transition, Greg Brockman will be stepping down as chairman of the board and will remain in his role at the company, reporting to the CEO.
OpenAI was founded as a non-profit in 2015 with the core mission of ensuring that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity. In 2019, OpenAI restructured to ensure that the company could raise capital in pursuit of this mission, while preserving the nonprofit's mission, governance, and oversight. The majority of the board is independent, and the independent directors do not hold equity in OpenAI. While the company has experienced dramatic growth, it remains the fundamental governance responsibility of the board to advance OpenAI’s mission and preserve the principles of its Charter.
I’m on a plane back to New York from the Cerebral Valley AI Summit. Laptop is perched half open on my chest, shoulders scrunched awkwardly. Maybe I need to start flying business class.
No one has said publicly yet what the full backstory is. I’ve been pinging sources frantically from the air. Please reach out if you know anything. firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll give you my number and we can message on Signal.
Theories abound. Everyone wants to know how much money OpenAI has really been burning.
Brockman’s removal from the board raises lots of questions.
Besides Quora’s Adam D’Angelo (who dropped out of Cerebral Valley at the last minute), OpenAI’s board isn’t that well known. Reid Hoffman stepped off OpenAI’s board earlier this year.
Wanted to highlight a couple tidbits for you while the world tries to figure out what happened.
YC has been pretty successful at keeping its drama inside the tent. That’s been to YC’s benefit for sure.
Here’s a telling case study: It’s stunning how little scrutiny Sam Altman’s various title changes at Y Combinator received in the big business publications.2 This is someone who was profiled in the New Yorker and who ran the most powerful startup manufacturer in the world.
Altman went from president, to chairman, to being an advisor, to having no affiliation with Y Combinator without much detailed reporting from the press. YC successfully swept, what seems to be a real schism, under the rug.3
Then that same month, YC announced that Geoff Ralston would become president of YC. Altman wrote at the time, “I will, of course, remain an advisor to YC, and will be around to help Geoff as he takes on his new role.” It seems that was YC’s way of saying that Altman would not in fact be the chairman of YC, despite headlines all around the web that had run earlier that month saying that he would be.5
But Altman wouldn’t become a formal advisor either.
On January 27, 2020, Wikipedia user Opazazzyzen updated Altman’s Wikipedia to say that Altman is “no longer affiliated with YC.”
If you Google “Opazazzyzen,” an Instagram account for Lindsay Amos is the first result. She is the director of communications for Y Combinator. Based on my internet sleuthing, Amos seemed to have quietly announced Altman’s role change on Wikipedia. Her update didn’t include a citation (and still doesn’t).
I emailed Amos about the weird Wikipedia post. She wrote, “In May 2019, we shared that Geoff Ralston would take over as President of YC from Sam Altman. Sam noted he would be an advisor to YC and would be transitioning to CEO of OpenAI. There was every intention for Sam to become an advisor but the plans never moved forward. So, the title/role never happened. I updated the information on our end (i.e. Wikipedia, Crunchbase, etc.) to combat confusion.”
A source tells me that Altman was asked to leave YC because he was too absentee.
Altman made an appearance at our Cerebral Valley speaker dinner Wednesday night. He was well-dressed and seemed in good spirits. But we didn’t talk much. I gave him a brief download on the takeaways from some of the panels.