Altman clashed with members of his board, especially Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist, over how quickly to develop generative AI, how to commercialise products and the steps needed to lessen their potential harms to the public, people with knowledge of the matter have said. OpenAI’s other board members included Adam D’Angelo, the co-founder and CEO of Quora; Tasha McCauley, CEO of GeoSim Systems; and Helen Toner, director of strategy and foundational research grants at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
Alongside rifts over strategy, board members also contended with Altman’s entrepreneurial ambitions. Altman has been looking to raise tens of billions of dollars from Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds to create an AI chip startup to compete with processors made by Nvidia Corp., according to a person with knowledge of the investment proposal. Altman was courting SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son for a multibillion-dollar investment in a new business to make AI-oriented hardware in partnership with former Apple designer Jony Ive.
Altman’s ouster from the company he co-founded also leaves OpenAI and its employees with some immediate unknowns. Thrive Capital had been expected to lead an offer for employee shares, a deal that would value OpenAI at $US86 billion ($131 billion). As of this weekend, the firm had not yet wired the money and it told OpenAI that Altman’s departure would affect its actions.
Some investors were considering writing down the value of their OpenAI holdings to zero, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The potential move, which would make it more difficult for the company to raise additional funds, seemed designed to pressure the board to resign and bring Altman back.
Also in the balance was a second tender planned for early 2024 which would have given early stage investors a chance to get some liquidity on their shares, the people said. As recently as last week, blocks of OpenAI’s private shares were being offered that valued OpenAI in excess of $US100 billion. That market dried up on Friday after news broke that Altman had been dismissed by the board, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars of private transactions pending.
Altman’s firing came as a surprise to OpenAI’s workers, the letter said, as well as to Microsoft. A coalition of powerful investors, company leaders and the world’s largest software company tried to get Altman reinstated over the weekend to no avail.
Late Sunday, the company’s four-person board instead appointed Shear, co-founder and former CEO of game-streaming website Twitch. Shear, who became OpenAI’s second interim chief executive in three days, won over the directors because of his past recognition of the threats that AI presents, a person familiar with the matter said, asking to remain anonymous to discuss the private deliberations.
Shear is a well-regarded technologist and computer scientist who’s long advocated a more cautious approach to AI. He set out the priorities for his first 30 days in charge in a post on X, promising to reform the leadership team and hire an independent investigator to look into the circumstances of Altman’s termination. That was apparently not enough to assuage employees from issuing their board ultimatum. Shear didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ahead of the letter’s release, many employees from OpenAI posted identical messages on X: “OpenAI is nothing without its people.” Altman responded to several of them with heart emojis.
“We have more unity and commitment and focus than ever before,” Altman wrote on X on Monday. “We are all going to work together some way or other, and i’m so excited. one team, one mission.”
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