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Thursday, June 13, 2024

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman departs company and board

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who has emerged as the face of the artificial intelligence revolution, was ousted Friday after the board said it had lost confidence in his ability to lead the company, which built the pioneering AI chatbot chatGPT.

Altman’s ouster, which is effective immediately, 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 said in a blog post Friday.

Chief technology officer Mira Murati will serve as interim CEO and a search is underway to identify a permanent successor, the blog post said.

Altman’s departure sent shock waves through the technology industry and the halls of government, where he had become a familiar presence in debates over regulation of AI.

In Silicon Valley, Altman has long been known as a smart investor and supporter of smaller companies, but the rise of OpenAI catapulted him into the league of tech titans such as Musk, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and even the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. As recently as Thursday, Altman was acting the CEO part, speaking onstage at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. Last week, he presented a new road map for OpenAI to big applause from hundreds of developers at the company’s first major conference.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Altman wrote: “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.”

Though Altman was one of the company’s founders, he has said he does not own any shares of OpenAI. His wealth is based on his investments in other tech companies, including Reddit and business software company Asana. While CEO of OpenAI, Altman continued to make investments in other companies such as nuclear fusion company Helion and AI hardware start-up Humane.

Microsoft, which is OpenAI’s biggest investor, said its partnership with the company wouldn’t be impacted by Altman’s departure.

“We have a long-term partnership with OpenAI and Microsoft remains committed to Mira and their team as we bring this next era of AI to our customers.”

The wording of the blog post and the confidence that Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest investor and business partner, has shown in the company in recent weeks suggests that Altman’s departure is related to him, rather than problems with the broader business, said Rowan Curran, an AI industry analyst with research firm Forrester.

“I see this as a CEO change at a large technology company, but I don’t see this at this point as a fundamental change in OpenAI’s approach, their direction, their technology,” Curran said.

The blog post also said Greg Brockman, one of OpenAI’s co-founders, would step down from his role as board chair but remain at the company.

Launched as a nonprofit in 2015, OpenAI was created in large part to keep advanced artificial intelligence out of the hands of monopolistic corporations. But since accepting a major investment from Microsoft in 2019, the company has transitioned to a novel for-profit structure. OpenAI often says it is still pursuing its original goal of building AI that “benefits all of humanity.” But its path forward lately looks more like business as usual.

In May, the company began a hiring spree, poaching executives from Meta, Apple and Amazon Web Services. Around the same time, Altman zipped around the globe, visiting world leaders and developers in dozens of cities, including Tel Aviv and Doha, Qatar, one-upping Zuckerberg’s 2017 tour of America. Last month, the company expanded its footprint in San Francisco, subleasing nearly 445,000 square feet of office space from Uber, purchased when then-CEO Travis Kalanick was still the most envied founder in the Valley. It also opened a new office in London.

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