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OpenAI abruptly fires CEO Sam Altman -- days after Microsoft briefly blocked access to ChatGPT over "security and data" concerns

Altman was "not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”

OpenAI fires CEO Sam Altman days after Microsoft...

This story was updated early Monday with the news that Satya Nadella has hired Altman and Brockman to lead a new "Advanced AI research team" inside Microsoft. See that full story here.

Updated 12:15 BST November 18 as OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman quits, further comment from Brockman.

OpenAI has abruptly fired CEO Sam Altman for allegedly misleading the board – and demoted the company’s co-founder Greg Brockman from Chairman.

CTO Mira Murati will take over as interim CEO. Brockman will “remain in his role at the company, reporting to the CEO” OpenAI said November 17.

Brockman promptly resigned after the shock move.

ChatGPT creator OpenAI said in a blistering statement that Altman’s dismissal “follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”

Co-founder: Here's what we know

Brockman posted on X early Saturday BST: "Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today. Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out. We too are still trying to figure out exactly what happened.

"Here is what we know: Last night, Sam got a text from Ilya asking to talk at noon Friday. Sam joined a Google Meet and the whole board, except Greg, was there. Ilya told Sam he was being fired and that the news was going out very soon. -At 12:19pm, Greg got a text from Ilya asking for a quick call. At 12:23pm, Ilya sent a Google Meet link. Greg was told that he was being removed from the board (but was vital to the company and would retain his role) and that Sam had been fired. Around the same time, OpenAI published a blog post.

"As far as we know, the management team was made aware of this shortly after, other than Mira who found out the night prior. The outpouring of support has been really nice; thank you, but please don’t spend any time being concerned. We will be fine. Greater things coming soon."

OpenAI CEO fired: Did Microsoft wield the axe?

Altman’s dismissal comes a week after its own major investor Microsoft briefly blocked employee access to ChatGPT. “Due to security and data concerns a number of AI tools are no longer available for employees to use,” Microsoft said in an update on an internal website seen by CNBC.

That move came a day after OpenAI said it had been hit by a DDoS attack.

“While it is true that Microsoft has invested in OpenAI, and that ChatGPT has built-in safeguards to prevent improper use, the website is nevertheless a third-party external service,” Microsoft told staff. “You must exercise caution using it due to risks of privacy and security. This goes for any other external AI services, such as Midjourney or Replika.”

Altman posted a CNBC article about this move with the comment: “The rumors that we are blocking Microsoft 365 in retaliation are completely unfounded” – the following day, on stage with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Altman asked pointedly: “How do you feel about the relationship with us?” – eliciting what appeared to be a genuinely awkward moment.

OpenAI CEO fired days after Microsoft spat

OpenAI’s CEO fired two days after he said the company would pause accepting new users for its paid ChatGPT Plus service due to overwhelming demand: “The surge in usage post devday [an event the company put on last week during which it announced new features] has exceeded our capacity and we want to make sure everyone has a great experience,” Altman wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Earlier the company had blamed malicious activity on intermittent outages, rather than organic capacity issues, saying in a status update “we are dealing with periodic outages due to an abnormal traffic pattern reflective of a DDoS attack. We are continuing work to mitigate this.”

As The Stack published, for all this backdrop, the precise nature of Altman’s inconsistent candour remains unclear: It seems unlikely that it is capacity failure-related and equally unlikely that he has had a small army of power-typing researchers discreetly on tap, who are manually answering every ChatGPT query; as some have quipped on social media.

As OpenAI CEO Altman has helped grow OpenAI from nothing to an $86 billion valuation and make ChatGPT the fastest growing consumer internet application of all time; catapulting large language models like its GPT-3 and GPT-4 into the public consciousness and precipitating frantic demands by CEOs across industries for an AI strategy from their CIOs. 

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt posted on X: “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. Thank you for all you have done for all of us.”

The OpenAI statement on this abrupt “leadership transition” pointedly emphasised OpenAI’s proclaimed “core mission of ensuring that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity” – noting that “the majority of the board is independent, and the independent directors do not hold equity in OpenAI. 

“While the company has experienced dramatic growth, it remains the fundamental governance responsibility of the board to advance OpenAI’s mission and preserve the principles of its Charter” it said.

Altman said: “I loved my time at OpenAI. It was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. Most of all I loved working with such talented people. Will have more to say about what’s next later.”

Microsoft, which has invested some $10 billion in OpenAI said it has "a long-term relationship with OpenAI and remains committed to their team as we bring this next era of AI to our customers."