OpenAI, one of the biggest companies on the AI scene, is going through a turbulent storm of drama, firings, hirings, a possible employee exodus, and a management shake-up. This whole situation is changing by the hour, it seems, and it can be hard to keep up with what’s going on. So, let’s start from the beginning; here’s a timeline of the whole OpenAI situation.
A timeline of the OpenAI situation
We’ll go through everything that’s happening with the company from the start of the drama. Also, this article will be updated with new information as more developments arise. So, be sure to check back for new updates.
Friday, Nov. 17th: Sam Altman gets fired
This whole situation kicked off (publically, at least) when OpenAI fired the CEO Sam Altman. He’s not only been the leader of the company but he has also been the face of it. We weren’t given a clear reason as to why the company fired him. A statement from the resulting blog post on OpenAI.com read that Sam Altman “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”
The board the quote refers to is the non-profit board that oversees the company. On the board, we have OpenAI Chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology Helen Toner, and Former GeoSim System CEO Tasha McMauley.
We don’t know what he was being candid about; however, it was severe enough to kick Altman out of the company.
Hours after Altman was fired, the president and co-founder of the company, Greg Brockman, resigned from his position. Soon after this happened, he and Sam, reportedly, were in the process of contacting investors and friends to start a new company.
The exodus begins
Shortly after Altman’s firing, several senior researchers left their posts as well. Along with them, several other employees threatened to leave the company if Altman was not rehired. The number grew to more than 650 out of the company’s 770-strong workforce over the next couple of days. These numbers are thanks to Lillian Weng via an X Post.
Mira Murati gets a promotion
Without a CEO, there was a large vacuum to fill, so the company got to work hunting down a new CEO. In the meantime, while the company was looking for a suitable permanent CEO, it appointed its chief technology officer, Mira Murati, as the interim CEO. This will be short-lived, as the drama was only beginning at this point.
Saturday, Nov 18th: Negotiations and new positions
Soon after Sam Altman was fired (literally one day), the board tapped him to return to the company. However, Altman had demands. He wanted “governance changes” upon his return, and that meant scrubbing the board from existence. “It’s you or me”, he basically said, as he set a 5PM EST deadline for all four members of the board to retire. If they leave the company, he and Brockman would return.
However, while Altman said that the board agreed “in principle” to resign, they didn’t. There was a subsequent deadline for the board to resign, and it missed that one too. Because of this, no agreement was met, and both Altman and OpenAI went their separate ways,
Before Mari Murata could settle into her new role, the company tapped someone else to take on the role of CEO. It contacted the co-founder and ex-CEO of Twitch Emmit Shear. He made a lengthy post on X (formerly Twitter) that explained a few things. Firstly, it revealed that he took the position just a few hours after getting the job offer. Secondly, it listed a few things that he planned on doing over the next 30 days.
The first thing he wants to do is hire an independent investigator to dig into the company’s affairs and create a full report. that’s pretty vague, but it seems that the investigator is the mechanic, and OpenAI is the car leaking fluid. He wants to find out what’s causing the company to struggle and fix it.
Secondly, he wants to talk to as many of the remaining employees, partners, investors, and customers. He’ll “take good notes and share the key takeaways.”
Lastly, he’s going to reform the management and leadership structure of the company. OpenAI has not been doing great lately with the threat of bankruptcy looming overhead, so this could be a way to help turn its fortunes around. We don’t yet have any more details of his plans, as things are still developing with this situation.
Monday, November 20th: Microsoft steps in as OpenAI employees step out
The winds of drama were still blowing, even at the dawn of a new work week. The situation at OpenAI took a turn, as we got the news that Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest investor, had hired Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, and several colleagues of the two. They were to develop a new advanced AI team over at Microsoft. That’s an ironic twist right out of a work of literature.
Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, posted to X stating that Microsoft “remain[s] committed to [its] partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in [their] product roadmap”. The post also mentioned that the company is excited to see what Emmet Shear has in store for the company.
As if hiring OpenAI’s ex-CEO didn’t stir the pot enough, reports claim that Microsoft said that any employees who OpenAI will have a home at Microsoft. So, the company isn’t shy about hiring people who ditch OpenAI. We’re not sure how many people have migrated from OpenAI to Microsoft.
Bear in mind that Microsoft is OpenAI’s biggest benefactor; it’s invested about $13 billion into the company already. Microsoft’s AI tools (well, about 80% of the AI tools on the market, let’s be realistic) are powered by OpenAI’s LLMs. If that ship sinks, we’re not sure what the company is going to do. However, we can’t expect Microsoft to keep investing billions of dollars into OpenAI if it’s going through such a rough patch.
Emmet Shear is to OpenAI as Linda Yacarrino is to X, it seems. He was brought on, not to lead the company, but to steer it away from oblivion.
Microsoft is still remaining neutral in the matter
So, Microsoft hired Altman, but it doesn’t seem like the company is looking to choose sides. It’s still heavily invested in OpenAI, both financially and emotionally, and it’s not planning on watching it give up the ghost.
Satya Nadella spoke to CNBC and Bloomberg TV on Monday. When asked by CNBC, “How clear is it to you whether Sam is going back to OpenAI and whether the 700 employees there, who seem to be loyal to him, are staying at OpenAI or coming to Microsoft?”, he responded “that is for OpenAI, [the] board and management and the employees to choose… I care about just making sure that we can innovate.”
“I’m committed to OpenAI and Sam…”
— CNBC’s Fast Money (@CNBCFastMoney) November 20, 2023
It seems that Microsoft is mostly focusing on pushing AI innovation forward regardless of which company is doing so. During his interview with CNBC, Nadella did say something that doesn’t quite bode well for OpenAI. He basically said that whether the people pushing AI forward for the company choose to stay at Open AI or migrate to Microsoft, he’s open to both options.
This means that Microsoft is very much taking a hands-off approach to the matter.
Ilya Sutskever shows remorse
Chief scientist at OpenAI and the main board member who led to Altman’s firing posted on X about his feelings over the whole situation. “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.”
Sutskever not only lamented online about his role in the OpenAI situation, but he also resigned from his post on the board. Later, his name was on a letter directed at the rest of the board members calling for them to resign.
Sam Altman shows signs of wanting to return to OpenAI
After refusing to return to the company over the weekend and cozying up with a new position at Microsoft, you’d think that Sam Altman would have washed his hands of the company. However, it seems that he’s not willing to leave. Reports state that both Altman and Greg Brockman are willing to return to OpenAI. However, the conditions are still set in stone; the board members must go.
With Ilya Sutskever gone, there are only three board members in their seats. They can either resign and let the two back or take their chances with a new CEO.