OpenAI said Tuesday it has reached an agreement to return Sam Altman as CEO, days after his resignation, capping frenzied discussions over the future of the startup at the center of the artificial intelligence boom.
In addition to Altman’s return, the company agreed in principle to partially reconstitute the board of directors that fired him. Bret Taylor, formerly co-CEO of Salesforce, and Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary, will join Quora CEO and current director Adam D’Angelo, OpenAI said.
Altman said in a post on X: “I look forward to returning to openai.”
i love openai, and everything i’ve done these past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together. When I decided to join MSFT on Sunday evening, it was clear that this was the best path for me and the team. With the new board and the support of Satya, I am…
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 22, 2023
The board had provided few details about Altman’s firing on Friday, other than his lack of candor and the need to defend OpenAI’s mission to develop AI for the benefit of humanity.
The deal to reinstate Altman heralds a potential new era for the startup — a nonprofit organization — that has long juggled staff concerns about the dangers of AI and its potential for commercialization. Tuesday’s realignment appeared to benefit Altman and financier Microsoft, which is rolling out OpenAI’s technology to enterprise customers worldwide.
In a statement on X, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella welcomed the changes to OpenAI’s board.
“We believe this is an essential first step towards more stable, better informed and more effective governance,” he said.
We are encouraged by the changes to the OpenAI board. We believe this is an essential first step towards more stable, well-informed and effective governance. Sam, Greg and I have spoken and agreed that together with the OAI leadership team, they must play a key role in ensuring… https://t.co/djO6Fuz6t9
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) November 22, 2023
Altman’s return also caps a tumultuous weekend in which he agreed to lead a new research team at Microsoft, which has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI and given it the computing power needed for its technology.
That followed a rejection by OpenAI’s board of its first attempt to return to the startup on Sunday by naming ex-Twitch boss Emmett Shear as interim CEO.
“While it is still unclear exactly what the tug-of-war that led to his initial departure entailed, Sam Altman’s views on how to run the company will dominate its future direction, especially as he will be overseen under a new board,” said Susannah Streeter. head of money and markets at Hargreaves Lansdown.
In a post on X late Tuesday night, Shear celebrated the outcome, which he said followed “~72 very intense hours of work.”
I am very satisfied with this result, after ~72 very intensive working hours. When I entered OpenAI, I wasn’t sure what the right path would be. This was the path that maximized safety while doing the right thing for all stakeholders involved. I’m glad I was part of the solution. https://t.co/AGoDBbwhkq
— Emmett Shear (@eshear) November 22, 2023
“This was the path that maximized safety while doing the right thing for all stakeholders involved,” Shear said.
Altman’s firing had brought uncertainty to both OpenAI and Microsoft, which moved quickly this weekend to do damage control by promising to hire him and Greg Brockman, the startup’s president.
Brockman, who had quit after Altman was ousted, said in a post on X that he was “getting back to programming tonight.”
Nearly all of OpenAI’s more than 700-strong staff had threatened to leave on Monday unless the board resigned and Altman was reinstated, according to a letter reviewed by Reuters.
After this show of solidarity, Altman wrote of X: “we have more unity, commitment and focus than ever before.”
© Thomson Reuters 2023