OpenAI CEO Sam Altman's ejection sparks theories as odd as some ChatGPT output

Interim CEO appointed as rumours swirl about comebacks, doing a startup, or even hardware with Jony Ive

Updated The shocking and sudden removal of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman for not being "consistently candid in his communications" has spawned a set of theories as weird and colorful as ChatGPT at its worst.

Altman himself on Sunday posted an image of himself wearing a guest badge on an OpenAI-branded lanyard, along with the caption "first and last time I ever wear one of these." It's unclear where the shot was taken, but guest badges are typically issued to visitors to a company's premises.

Altman could be visiting OpenAI to clear out his desk.

Or he could be visiting OpenAI for talks about resuming his post as CEO – a move suggested by multiple reports.

Altman's possible return to OpenAI has been reported as an about-face by the board, or the result of investors upset by his ouster. One investor said to have been surprised and upset by Altman’s ejection is Microsoft – the software giant's CEO Satya Nadella is thought to be willing to back his return, after earlier blogging "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 [interim CEO] Mira [Murati] and the team."

The reasons for Altman's ejection remain obscure.

A leaked internal memo from OpenAI reported by Axios apparently stated "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. This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board."

Investment analyst Daniel S Loeb, who owns a chunk of Microsoft, opined that OpenAI's intertwined for-profit and nonprofit arms may have been the source of conflict that sparked Altman's ouster, a theory also suggeted by veteran silicon valley watcher Kara Swisher.

Some rumors suggest OpenAI's board was split on the pace of development, with its current advances felt to be too risky by some directors. Those theories suggest Altman wanted to press ahead with risky releases, but the board demurred. Another theory has Altman contemplating a new venture even as he worked at OpenAI, annoying the AI outfit's board.

The New York Times reports with some certainty that Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman are doing so now.

Many have pointed out that Altman also bossed crypto startup Worldcoin, and that OpenAI has chatted to former Apple design boss Jony Ive about AI hardware. The Register can find no evidence Altman intends to focus on either.

It's easier to find admiration for Altman. Former Google boss Eric Schmidt typifies the latter with his post that states "Sam Altman is a hero of mine. He built a company from nothing to $90 billion in value, and changed our collective world forever. I can't wait to see what he does next. I, and billions of people, will benefit from his future work – it's going to be simply incredible." ®

Updated at 06:40 UTC to add: OpenAI has reportedly named Twitch cofounder Emmett Shear as interim CEO. This remains a developing story that The Register will continue to monitor.

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