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What you need to know about OpenAI’s chaotic weekend

OpenAI is one of the most prominent artificial intelligence companies in the world. Thus, the brutal ousting of Sam Altman as CEO on Friday immediately caused a stir in the world of AI and among the investors who support it.

Now, two days later, in the latest twist, Mr. Altman is reportedly in talks about a return to the company, although talks having stalled on the composition of the company’s board, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Under Mr. Altman’s leadership, OpenAI has become synonymous with artificial intelligence. The company helped spark a frenzy in the tech world after launching ChatGPT last year, with industry giants like Apple, Google and Meta hastily beginning to develop their own artificial intelligence technology.

Here’s what you need to know about Mr. Altman’s departure and what could happen next.

What happened?

On Friday, Mr. Altman was abruptly dismissed as CEO of OpenAI. The move was so surprising – and significant – that some technology observers openly compared it to when Steve Jobs was forced to leave Apple in 1985.

Details of his surprise departure are still emerging but a dispute with a fellow OpenAI founder appears to have played a role. Ilya Sutskever, a board member who founded OpenAI with Mr. Altman and several others, was reportedly increasingly concerned that the company’s technology could pose a significant risk and that Mr. Altman would not would not pay enough attention to potential damage. . Mr. Sutskever also objected to what he perceived as his own diminished role within the company.

“It doesn’t seem at all implausible that we have computers – data centers – that are much smarter than humans,” Sutskever said recently at a news conference. podcast. “What would such AI do? I don’t know.”

Two other OpenAI board members, Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, have ties to the rationalist and effective altruist movements, which fear that AI technology could one day expand and destroy humanity.

The board of directors, however, remains discreet on the reasons for his departure. In Friday’s announcement, the board said little more than that Mr. Altman “has not always been candid in his communications with the board.” On Saturday, Brad Lightcap, an executive at OpenAI, told to employees that “the board’s decision was not made in response to any crime or anything related to our financial, business, safety or security/privacy practices. This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.

Negotiations on Sunday included how the company’s board could be reshaped if Mr. Altman returns as chief executive, two of the sources said. Board members have not yet agreed on what a restructured board might look like — nor is Mr. Altman’s reinstatement inevitable, two of the people said.

What was the reaction?

It was shock and confusion among OpenAI’s rank-and-file employees, and distress among the company’s investors.

On Saturday, Mr. Altman, along with Greg Brockman, a former president of OpenAI who resigned in protest on Friday, were in negotiations to return to the company. Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in the company, is said to have been particularly alarmed by Mr Altman’s sudden dismissal and is leading the campaign for his reinstatement.

Microsoft, along with other OpenAI investors like Thrive Capital and Sequoia Capital, found out about Mr. Altman’s firing either a minute before the announcement or after it was made public.

What happens if the board does not reinstate Mr. Altman?

Mr. Altman, along with Mr. Brockman, would almost certainly start a new company.

Immediately after Mr. Altman was forced out, he reportedly began discussions with investors about a new project. artificial intelligence start-up. Mr. Altman is well known in the tech world, not only for his work on OpenAI, but also for his years leading Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley startup incubator.

Alfred Lin, an investor at Sequoia Capital, posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he was looking forward to “the next world-changing company” that Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman would build. Eric Schmidt, former chief executive of Google, said: “I can’t wait to see what he does next. »

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