OpenAI has been plunged into turmoil in the last 24 hours following the surprise firing of CEO Sam Altman by the board. The move came without warning, even catching Altman off guard. In response, OpenAI President and Chairman Greg Brockman quit, and within hours, at least three additional senior OpenAI employees tendered their resignations.
The sudden departure of Altman has shocked the tech community and thrown OpenAI's future into uncertainty. Altman served as the public face of the company and was the driving force behind its flagship creation, ChatGPT, which took the world by storm upon its launch in November last year.
Bloomberg is reporting that several key OpenAI investors, including Thrive Capital and Tiger Global, have been pressing the board to reverse its decision and restore Altman as CEO. The investors were reportedly blindsided by Altman's removal and are even exploring options where current board members would step down this weekend.
Microsoft, OpenAI's largest investor which has committed $13 billion, was also surprised by the move to oust Altman, according to sources. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is said to have also been in communication with Altman and pledge to support whatever steps he takes next.
While Altman remains open to returning, he has also begun talks about launching an entirely new AI venture, perhaps bringing along former OpenAI colleagues. This compounds the pressure on OpenAI's board to act quickly if they hope to avoid a mass exodus of talent. As reported by Forbes, some investors are already coordinating with Microsoft to use its cloud credits and employee outrage as leverage to reinstate Altman. But as The Verge highlighted, Altman himself may be unsure about going back given OpenAI's messy state of affairs. If governance and management changes aren't implemented, starting fresh may seem more appealing.
However, the situation remains extremely fluid. A source close to Altman indicated that the OpenAI board had initially agreed to resign and allow Altman and Brockman to return. But they have since wavered on the decision, missing a key 5PM PT deadline that could trigger mass resignations.
With time running out, the board's indecisiveness may seal the deal for Altman to walk away. If he proceeds with starting a new AI company as planned, numerous OpenAI staffers would likely depart with him. This would strip away vital talent and deal a devastating blow to the organization.
As the story develops, it is imperative to watch how the balance of power and strategic direction within OpenAI evolves. The outcome of this crisis will likely influence the future trajectory of AI development and its role in shaping our digital future. For now, OpenAI continues to reel under interim CEO Mira Murati. The company risks falling behind rivals if it cannot quickly stem departures and reestablish decisive leadership. The coming days will prove critical in determining if OpenAI can emerge from this leadership crisis with its lofty mission intact.