‘Earthquake’ at OpenAI as top staff follow sacked chief to exit

Shanti Das






The crisis at artificial intelligence firm OpenAI deepened this weekend amid a reported exodus of senior staff in the wake of boss Sam Altman’s mystery firing. OpenAI, the company behind the ChatGPT bot, abruptly ousted Altman on Friday for allegedly misleading the board. In a statement, it said it had lost confidence in its 38-year-old cofounder after “a deliberative review process” concluded he had not been “consistently candid in his communications”, without specifying how. Shortly afterwards, Greg Brockman, the company’s president, announced he had resigned. “Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today … We too are still trying to figure out exactly what happened,” he wrote on X. The departures stunned the tech world and have sent rumours swirling, with some speculating that internal divisions over AI safety could be to blame. Last night, the reasons for the turmoil remained unclear, but the drama took another twist as three other senior staff members at OpenAI were reported to have left. The Information, a US tech publication, reported that Jakub Pachocki, OpenAI’s director of research , Aleksander Madry, head of a team evaluating potential risks from AI, and Szymon Sidor, a researcher, had told associates they had resigned. None of the three could be contacted for comment. OpenAI, which is now being led by interim chief executive Mira Murati, also did not respond to requests for comment. Based in San Francisco, OpenAI was founded in 2015 by Altman, Brockman, Elon Musk and others. Last year, it launched ChatGPT, a text-based AI-powered tool that allows users to enter prompts and receive human-like responses. After ChatGPT’s launch, Altman was propelled to star status, and is seen as a pioneer in the world of AI. Earlier in November, he was one of 100 delegates who travelled to Bletchley Park for the UK’s AI safety summit. Altman is yet to comment on the details of his departure, other than to say that his time at the company was “transformative”. In the lead-up to his ousting, there is said to have been concern within the company that he was moving too quickly to commercialise OpenAI’s software – though it is not clear whether this had anything to do with the latest events. Earlier this month, OpenAI hosted a “developer day” where new features were announced, including tools to let developers build customised versions of ChatGPT. On 15 November, Altman announced that OpenAI was “pausing new ChatGPT Plus sign-ups for a bit”. “The surge in usage postdevday has exceeded our capacity and we want to make sure everyone has a great experience,” he wrote. After Altman’s firing, staff are reported to have asked OpenAI’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, a cofounder and board member, whether it amounted to a “coup” or “hostile takeover” by others on the board. “You can call it this way,” Sutskever responded. “I disagree with this. This was the board doing its duty to the mission of the non-profit, which is to make sure that OpenAI builds AGI [artificial general intelligence] that benefits all of humanity,” he said. The changes at OpenAI are said to have come as a surprise to staff as well as shocking the wider sector, with one investment advisory firm describing them as an “earthquake”, a “soap opera” and a “Netflix documentary in the making”. Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI, is also thought to have been blindsided by the move. In a statement after OpenAI’s announcement about its “leadership transition”, Microsoft said it remained committed to the partnership and the new interim chief executive. . Wedbush, a wealth management firm, said the disruption n represented an opportunity. “We would expect Microsoft now to exert t more conimportance, control of OpenAI given its importance, and expect more disruption uption from an OpenAI board/company mpany pering perspective over the coming months. This is the time for Microsoft icrosoft to now essentially take this is over,” it told its clients. Other tech bosses paid tribute to Altman, with Google’s former boss Eric Schmidt saying he was as a “hero” of his. “He built ilt a company from nothing g to $90bn [£72bn] in value, lue, and changed our collective ctive world for ever. I can’t wait to see what he does next. I, and billions of people, le, will benefit from his future e work,” he wrote on X.