Sam Altman set to rejoin OpenAI as CEO – seemingly with Microsoft's blessing
New board includes former Salesforce boss and Treasury Secretary
Sam Altman seems set to return to the job as CEO of OpenAI – from which he was last week suddenly and unexpectedly ejected.
An early Wednesday statement from OpenAI detailed the move as follows:
We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam Altman to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D'Angelo.
We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this.
Altman also shared* via Elon Musk's social network the following:
i love openai, and everything i've done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together. when i decided to join msft on sun evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team. with the new board and w satya's support, i'm looking forward to returning to openai, and building on our strong partnership with msft.
Let's parse those two memos, starting with the names of the reconstituted board.
Of the three named directors, only Adam D'Angelo was previously on the board. Bret Taylor served as co-CEO of Salesforce. Larry Summers is a former US Treasury Secretary.
The existence of a "new board" suggests some who voted for Altman's ouster have themselves been ousted. It was whispered earlier that Altman and Microsoft wanted a new board at OpenAI before he would return.
OpenAI's chief scientist and co-founder Ilya Sutskever - who was reportedly instrumental in the firing of Altman over safety concerns regarding the lab's state-of-the-art models - is, or was, a board member, and earlier expressed regret for his involvement in Altman's sacking.
Consider, too, Altman's assertion that he has "satya's support." That suggests Microsoft and its CEO Satya Nadella is aware of OpenAI's U-turn – as the IT goliath should be, given it owns 49 percent of the lab – and isn't fussed that Altman never took up the job as boss of a new AI lab within the Windows giant Nadella had arranged after the OpenAI co-founder's sudden dismissal.
The Microsoft supremo made it clear the other day he would be happy with Altman back at OpenAI or working within Redmond – whatever keeps the lab's GPT technology flowing into Microsoft's Copilot services.
In a fairly cryptic and tortured tweet on Wednesday, Nadella said, "I saw people across OpenAI remaining calm and resolute in driving their mission despite all that was happening around them," and added he was thankful for that and for his colleagues at Microsoft. His statement is masterful in not saying anything while appearing to.
Nadella separately noted: "We are encouraged by the changes to the OpenAI board."
- Analysis: How could Microsoft have let this happen after betting so many billions?
- Podcast: Where does this leave the upstart, Microsoft, and you?
- OpenAI pauses ChatGPT Plus sign-ups as it 'hits capacity'
- OpenAI tackles 'major outage' hitting ChatGPT APIs
This U-turn also indicates newly installed OpenAI CEO Emmett Shear will be out of that role within days to make way for Altman's return. It's reported Shear as well as Microsoft's Nadella were in the dark as to why Altman was fired in the first place.
The restoration of Altman appears to be a win for OpenAI's staff, who openly threatened to quit the upstart if he was not returned to his gig.
Altman's odyssey has had more twists and turns, in less time, than almost any other tech story your correspondent has covered since my career covering tech commenced in 1995. And as OpenAI's post makes clear, there are still details to be figured out.
Something tells me there are more chapters to come in this short saga. The Register is watching and will chronicle whatever happens next. ®
* We've reproduced Altman's Xeet verbatim, including his errant capitalizations.