Sam Altman was 'shocked and saddened' after he was fired as CEO of OpenAI

Altman and former OpenAI President Greg Brockman are still trying to figure out what happened.

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Sam Altman and Greg Brockman were "shocked and saddened by what the board did" and are still trying to figure out what exactly happened. The former CEO and the former President of OpenAI have published a post on X, sharing the details of what they do know and how they found out the former was being fired. Apparently, company co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever invited Altman for a meeting at noon on Friday, which was then attended by the whole board except for Brockman. It was at that meeting that Altman found out he was being fired and that OpenAI was going to announce it "very soon."

Shortly after that, Sutskever reportedly invited Brockman to a separate Google Meet conference, where he was told that Altman had gotten fired and that he was being removed from the board. However, the board members told him that he was "vital to the company and would retain his role." Brockman chose to quit on his own. The two former OpenAI executives also said that the rest of the company's management team outside of interim CEO Mira Murati only found out about the board's decision after Altman was already removed from his post. "The outpouring of support has been really nice; thank you, but please don’t spend any time being concerned," their joint statement reads. "We will be fine. Greater things coming soon."

While OpenAI's c-suite shakeup might have come as a surprise to onlookers, employees were reportedly very much aware that turmoil was brewing within the organization. According to The Information, Altman's ouster followed internal arguments on whether OpenAI was developing artificial intelligence technology in a safe manner. During the all-hands meeting after Altman's firing, employees asked Sutskever if the CEO's removal was a "coup" or a "hostile takeover." That seems to imply that some personnel were wondering whether the organization's leadership removed Altman because he was was commercializing OpenAI's technology too quickly at the expense of potential safety concerns.

Bloomberg says Altman and Sutskever were the two people within the organization who butted heads the most when it came to the speed of development and the company's commercialization. Sutskever is one of the two employees leading a team within OpenAI that's dedicated to preventing its technologies from going rogue. He and his allies within the company may also have been put off by Altman raising funds using OpenAI's name, Bloomberg continues. The former CEO had huge ambitions for OpenAI, and the news organization says he was looking to secure funding worth tens of millions of dollars from Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds in order to develop AI chips that can compete with NVIDIA processors.

The well-sourced journalist and podcast host Kara Swisher posted similar information on X. She said employees felt that "the profit direction of the company under Altman and the speed of development" were at odds with the "nonprofit side dedicated to more safety and caution." Swisher also said she expects more major departures of "top folks" at OpenAI. The Information reported afterward that three senior researchers have left the company: Jakub Pachocki, OpenAI's director of research, Aleksander Madry, who headed a team evaluating potential risks from AI, and Szymon Sidor, who'd been with the organization for seven years.

These concerns over the safety of AI development within the organization didn't pop up overnight, however. OpenAI has been grappling with the issue from the beginning, and it's the reason why a group of employees left in 2020 to form their own startup that became known as Anthropic. Still, investors were blindsided by Altman's firing, Forbes reports. Even Microsoft, which pledged to invest $10 billion into the organization over the next few years, reportedly learned about his removal a minute before the announcement went out.

Update, November 18, 2023, 1:40AM ET: This story has been updated to include additional details from Bloomberg's report.

Update, November 18, 2023, 3:04AM ET: Added information about the three senior researchers who left the company.