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A timeline of Sam Altman’s firing from OpenAI — and the fallout

OpenAI, a leader in AI innovation, faces its own internal disruption with Altman's firing

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In a whirlwind of unexpected developments, Sam Altman, the former president of Y Combinator and CEO of OpenAI, was abruptly dismissed by the company’s board late on a Friday. This seismic shift at OpenAI, the brains behind AI sensations like ChatGPT, GPT-4, and DALL-E 3, set off a chain reaction. Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s long-serving president and co-founder, resigned, followed by three senior researchers. The ripple effects are ongoing and complex.

To grasp the magnitude and pace of these events, let’s break down the timeline:

November 16:

  • The Prelude: Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist and a co-founder, texted Altman about scheduling a Friday noon call. Meanwhile, Mira Murati, OpenAI’s CTO and now interim CEO, was informed of Altman’s impending dismissal.

November 17:

  • Brockman’s Demotion: Following a call with Sutskever, Brockman learned he was removed as chairman but retained his role as president.
  • Altman’s Firing Goes Public: OpenAI officially announced Altman’s firing on its blog. The company’s management team was quickly made aware.
  • All-Hands Meeting: An all-hands meeting was convened where Sutskever defended the decision, emphasizing OpenAI’s core mission.
  • Microsoft Weighs In: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, representing a key investor in OpenAI, issued a statement reaffirming commitment to their partnership and innovation agenda.
  • Brockman’s Exit: Brockman resigned, amplifying the shockwaves within the organization.
  • Researchers Follow Suit: Three senior OpenAI researchers resigned, including the director of research and head of preparedness.

November 18:

  • Clarification from OpenAI: An internal memo clarified that the board’s decision wasn’t due to malfeasance but a breakdown in communication.
  • Funding Uncertainty: The upheaval cast doubt on a planned share sale potentially valuing OpenAI at around $86 billion.
  • Altman’s Next Move: Altman hinted at launching a new venture, possibly an AI chip startup, with Brockman likely to join.
  • Investors Rally for Altman: Investors, unsettled by the developments, began pressuring for Altman’s reinstatement, with Microsoft’s Nadella reportedly showing support.

This unfolding story at OpenAI is more than a corporate shuffle; it’s a reflection of the volatile and fast-paced world of AI startups. The swift changes at the top, the reaction of key players, and the potential impact on future projects and funding underline the dynamic, sometimes unpredictable nature of the tech industry. As we continue to monitor the situation, the story of Sam Altman and OpenAI serves as a compelling case study in the complexities of managing cutting-edge tech enterprises.