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Who is Sam Altman, OpenAI’s wunderkind ex-CEO – and why was he fired?
By Toby Walsh, UNSW Sydney
On Friday, OpenAI’s high-flying chief executive Sam Altman was unexpectedly fired by the company’s board. Co-founder and chief technology officer Greg Brockman was also removed as the board president, after which he promptly resigned.
In an unexpected twist, talks began today about potentially reinstating Altman in some capacity following an outpouring of industry and investor support for him and several OpenAI researchers who quit their jobs in solidarity.
Shockingly, however, that too was not to be. As of publication, Bloomberg reporters announced OpenAI’s interim CEO, Mira Murati, had not managed to rehire Altman and Brockman as she had planned.
Instead, the board found a new CEO – Emmett Shear – in record time. Shear, the former CEO of Twitch, will now take over from Murati as interim CEO, as reported by The Information.
It has been an epic backstabbing scene worthy of the HBO drama Succession. While many have speculated about why the board may have forced Altman out, details remain scarce.
What we can say is the decision to fire Altman will likely put a dent in OpenAI’s commercial progress.
An unusual company structure
OpenAI is the hottest company in tech today, having released the ChatGPT chatbot and DALL-E image generator onto a largely unsuspecting public.
The company’s mission is simple: to develop artificial general intelligence (AGI) – that is, an AI which is as smart or smarter than a human – and to do so for the public good. Many were starting to believe OpenAI could succeed at this goal.
But developing AGI isn’t just a technical challenge. It’s a major management and economic nightmare. How can you ensure the vast power and wealth generated by AGI doesn’t subvert the company’s goal to seek the public good?
Many individuals within OpenAI and the wider tech community worry AI is progressing too fast. A global race in AI development is underway and the commercial pressure to succeed is immense.