A timeline of Sam Altman’s firing from OpenAI — and the fallout Kyle Wiggers 11 hours
In a dramatic turn of events late Friday, ex-Y Combinator president Sam Altman was fired as CEO of AI startup OpenAI, the company behind viral AI hits like ChatGPT, GPT-4 and DALL-E 3, by OpenAI’s board of directors. Then, the company’s longtime president and co-founder, Greg Brockman, resigned — as did three senior OpenAI researchers. And the fallout continues.
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It’s a fast-moving situation that we’re still trying to get to the bottom of. No doubt more will become clear as time goes on. To make it easier to follow all that’s happened in the meantime, though, we’ve put together a timeline; we’ll do our best to keep it current.
Timeline of Sam Altman’s firing from OpenAI
Ilya Sutskever schedules call with Altman
According to a post on X (formerly Twitter) from Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, the chief scientist at OpenAI and a co-founder, texted Altman on Thursday evening about scheduling a Friday noon call.
Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today.
Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.
We too are still trying to figure out exactly…
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
Murati told of Altman’s firing
Brockman alleges that Mira Murati, OpenAI’s CTO and now interim CEO, was informed on Thursday night that Altman would be fired.
Brockman says he got a text from Sutskever shortly after noon on Friday asking for a quick call. After sending a Google Meet link, Brockman was told that he was being removed from the board as chairman “but was vital to the company and would retain his role” as president, and that Altman had been fired.
Altman’s firing publicly announced
OpenAI published a post on its blog announcing the executive shake-up. The company’s management team was aware shortly after.
i loved my time at openai. it was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. most of all i loved working with such talented people.
will have more to say about what’s next later.
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 17, 2023
OpenAI held an all-hands meeting Friday afternoon during which Sutskever defended Altman’s ouster. He dismissed suggestions that pushing Altman out amounted to a “hostile takeover,” and claimed that it was necessary to protect OpenAI’s mission of “making AI beneficial to humanity.”
Microsoft releases a statement
Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, a major investor in — and partner with — OpenAI, published a statement about Altman’s firing:
“As you saw at Microsoft Ignite this week, we’re continuing to rapidly innovate for this era of AI, with over 100 announcements across the full tech stack from AI systems, models and tools in Azure, to Copilot. Most importantly, we’re committed to delivering all of this to our customers while building for the future. We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap; and remain committed to our partnership, and to Mira and the team. Together, we will continue to deliver the meaningful benefits of this technology to the world.”
Brockman announced his resignation from OpenAI, citing “today’s news.” After sending a memo internally, he published the text on X.
After learning today’s news, this is the message I sent to the OpenAI team: https://t.co/NMnG16yFmm pic.twitter.com/8x39P0ejOM
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
Senior OpenAI researchers resign
Three senior OpenAI researchers resign after Brockman, including the director of research Jakub Pachocki and head of preparedness Aleksander Madry.
“Not … in response to malfeasance”
In an internal memo obtained by Axios sent Saturday morning, OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap said yesterday’s announcement “took [the management team] by surprise” and that management had had “multiple conversations with the board to try to better understand the reasons and process behind their decision.” Discussions were ongoing as of Saturday morning, per the memo.
“We can say definitively that the board’s decision was not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices,” Lightcap added. “This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board … We still share your concerns about how the process has been handled, are working to resolve the situation, and will provide updates as we’re able.”
OpenAI’s funding in jeopardy
The planned sale of OpenAI employee shares that would value the startup at about $86 billion could be in jeopardy. The Information, speaking to three sources formerly with the company, reports that they no longer expect the sale — led by Thrive Capital — to happen, or, if it does, to come with a lesser valuation because of the recent turn of events.
Altman planning new venture
Altman has been telling investors that he’s planning to launch a new venture, according to The Information. Brockman is expected to join the effort — whatever form it takes. (Possibly an AI chip startup.)
i love you all.
today was a weird experience in many ways. but one unexpected one is that it has been sorta like reading your own eulogy while you’re still alive. the outpouring of love is awesome.
one takeaway: go tell your friends how great you think they are.
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 18, 2023
Investors pushing for Altman’s return
Investors — furious at the turn of events — are reportedly exerting pressure on OpenAI’s board to reinstate Altman, going so far as to recruit Microsoft. Nadella is said to be sympathetic.
Board agrees to reverse course — in principle
The Verge reports that the board agreed in principle to resign and to allow Altman and Brockman to return. It waffled, however, missing a deadline yesterday by which many OpenAI staffers were set to leave the company. Altman is said to be ambivalent about coming back and asking for “significant” governance changes.
Altman to meet at OpenAI HQ
According to The Information, Altman is expected to meet at OpenAI’s San Francisco headquarters as executives at OpenAI push to have him reinstated as CEO. Brockman was invited to join — but it’s unclear whether he’ll take execs up on that invitation.
Board negotiations hit a snag
Bloomberg reports that Lightcap and Murati, among others, are pushing the board to reinstate Altman. But unsurprisingly, the directors are resisting. As of midday Sunday, the board hadn’t resigned out of concern over who could replace them, and were vetting candidates. One possible new addition could be Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor.
Altman out, Shear in
Altman won’t be returning as CEO, according to a report in The Information citing an internal memo sent by Sutskever. As the search for a new permanent CEO continues, OpenAI has appointed Emmett Shear, the co-founder of video streaming site Twitch, as interim CEO — replacing Murati.
Altman joins Microsoft
Sam Altman, Greg Brockman and colleagues announce that they’ll join Microsoft to lead a new AI research team. Nadella leaves the door open to other OpenAI staffers, saying that they’ll be given the resources they need should they choose to join.
Sutskever’s mea culpa
Sutskever publishes a post on X suggesting that he regrets his decision to remove Altman and that he’ll do everything in his power to reinstate Altman as CEO.
I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we've built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.
— Ilya Sutskever (@ilyasut) November 20, 2023
Employees threaten to resign
Nearly 500 of OpenAI’s roughly 770 employees — including, remarkably, Sutskever — publish a letter saying that they might quit unless the startup’s board resigns and reappoints the ousted Altman. Later Monday, that number climbed to over 650.