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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Frenzied speculation swirls after ousted OpenAI CEO Sam Altman teased breakthrough that pushed 'the frontier of discovery forward' – just ONE day before he was fired amid reports he was seeking investors for new AI chip venture


Frenzied speculation has swirled after a video of the ousted OpenAI CEO showed him teasing a huge breakthrough that pushed ‘the frontier of discovery forward.’

Sam Altman, 38, was ousted from the company because of a ‘lack of communication’ with its board members – with many sources saying it came down to his ‘unchecked’ desire for progress and lack of attention paid to risks.

Just one day before he was sacked, he made veiled boasts about his new ventures alongside world leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. 

Altman was also spending the last few weeks trying to raise billions from investors for an ambitious new chip venture – traveling across the world to the Middle East to fundraise, it’s now emerged.

Bloomberg reports that his new chip prospect was code-named Tigris and was still in its infancy. The venture attempted to create an AI-focused chip company that could produce semiconductors.

Speculation has run wild over the weekend – especially after Altman’s speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) resurfaced – which is now being examined with new eyes after Friday’s news

This would have allowed OpenAI to compete with the current company dominating this AI field, Nvidia Corp. 

As well as his chip ambitions, Altman was trying to raise money for an AI-focused hardware device, having talked with SoftBank Group Corp. and Mubadala Investment Company.

This was all happening at the same time as OpenAI was working to let staff sell their shares at an $86billion valuation, helped by one of its main investors Thrive Capital. 

Thrive Capital, along with Microsoft, have been in talks to get Altman back in his position in the last 48 hours. 

Speculation has run wild over the weekend – especially after Altman’s speech at APEC resurfaced – which is now being examined with new eyes after Friday’s news. 

Altman was bullish as he spoke about ChatGPT and the moves he was making in the artificial intelligence space at the summit in San Francisco on Thursday.

Speaking at APEC just 24 hours before he was sacked, he said: ‘I think this will be the most transformative and beneficial technology humanity has yet invented.

‘On a personal note, four times now in the history of OpenAI, the most recent time was just in the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten to be in the room when we push … the veil of ignorance back and the frontier of discovery forward.’

He called it ‘the professional honor of a lifetime.’

Just one day later, he was sensationally sacked.  

Greg Brockman

Jakub Pachocki

Greg Brockman and Jakub Pachocki both handed in their resignation when Sam Altman was sacked

Aleksander Madry

Szymon Sidor

Aleksander Madry and Szymon Sidor both resigned following the news that Sam Altman was sacked

After re-watching the summit video, one person wrote: ‘I do wonder if whatever breakthrough he’s referring to raised the stakes enough that it impacted the current situation.’ 

Another added: ‘Also wondering, completely 100% speculatively, whether mentioning it publicly was a final straw that got him couped within hours.’ 

News of his dismissal caught Silicon Valley by surprise, as the 38-year-old had been hailed as a pioneer and one of the leading figures in the high-stakes world of AI

Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati will serve as interim CEO. 

Greg Brockman, President of OpenAI, Jakub Pachocki, Director of Research, Aleksander Madry, Head of Preparedness, and Szymon Sidor, Senior Researcher, all quit their jobs at the company upon hearing the news of Sam’s ousting. 

Microsoft, Tiger Global, Thrive Capital, and Sequoia Capital are among OpenAI’s top investors who are actively trying to reinstate Altman as CEO, reports suggest.

According to people familiar with the matter speaking to the WSJ, Altman told investors that if he does return, he wants a new board and structure

Microsoft, who has invested $13 billion in OpenAI, and Thrive Capital, its second-largest shareholder, have been in talks since Altman lost the top job 48 hours ago. 

It is OpenAI’s unusual governance structure, which Altman created, that was able to fire him. A nonprofit board governs OpenAI – and Altman had no equity in the company, therefore, he had little say over the board’s decisions. 

This meant that the board could kick Altman out without the consent of some of OpenAI’s billion-dollar backers, who were happy with him at the helm of the tech firm.

Founded by Altman and ten others in 2015, OpenAI rolled out ChatGPT a year ago – and its ability to mimic human writing has proved polarizing ever since.

ChatGPT’s expansion occurred so rapidly, that the board had concerns over whether Altman was considering the safety implications of its products – particularly with regard to commercial offerings.

Concerns that he was flouting safety measures, aired by a fellow OpenAI board member, culminated with the 38-year-old’s sudden firing – sending the tech world into frenzy, and a storm of speculation.  

Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap sent a memo to employees saying that the firing ‘took us all by surprise.’ 

Multiple OpenAI investors, including Microsoft, are pushing to bring Sam Altman back as CEO after he was sensationally fired for a 'lack of communication' with its board

Multiple OpenAI investors, including Microsoft, are pushing to bring Sam Altman back as CEO after he was sensationally fired for a ‘lack of communication’ with its board

He said that the new CEO has ‘our full support’ but recognized that many employees would be feeling ‘confusion, sadness, and fear.’ 

Lightcap said there was no ‘malfeasance’ in the decision to fire Altman.

Instead, it was a ‘breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.’

Going forward, the COO told staff: ‘We are behind you all 1000%.’  

The memo, seen by Axios, read: ‘ Team – after yesterday’s announcement, which took us all by surprise, we have had multiple conversations with the board to try to better understand the reasons and process behind their decision. 

‘These discussions, and options regarding our path forward, are ongoing this morning.

‘We can say definitively that the board’s decision was not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices. 

‘This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.

‘Our position as a company remains extremely strong, and Microsoft remains fully committed to our partnership. [Interim CEO] Mira [Murati] has our full support as CEO. We still share your concerns about how the process has been handled, are working to resolve the situation, and will provide updates as we’re able.

The ChatGPT boss was fired by OpenAI's board including chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who reportedly raised safety concerns with Altman over the future of AI

The ChatGPT boss was fired by OpenAI’s board including chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who reportedly raised safety concerns with Altman over the future of AI

Mira Murati, left, OpenAI's chief technology officer has taken over as interim CEO effective immediately, the company said, while it searches for a permanent replacement

Mira Murati, left, OpenAI’s chief technology officer has taken over as interim CEO effective immediately, the company said, while it searches for a permanent replacement

‘I’m sure you all are feeling confusion, sadness, and perhaps some fear. We are fully focused on handling this, pushing toward resolution and clarity, and getting back to work. 

‘Our collective responsibility right now is to our teammates, partners, users, customers, and the broader world who shares our vision of broadly beneficial AGI. 

‘Hang in there, we are behind you all 1000%.’

As well as talking with executives to potentially return, Altman is also discussing the possibility of setting up his own company, insiders said.

Altman himself sent a series of tweets on Saturday night apparently in reference to the situation, one of which said: ‘I love the OpenAI team so much.’

The possibilities of a return or a restart for Altman, seen by many as the face of generative AI, are in flux, said a source, who asked not to be named because the source was not authorized to speak on behalf of the parties involved.

Kholsa Ventures, an early backer of OpenAI, wants Altman back at OpenAI but ‘will back him in whatever he does next,’ the fund’s founder Vinod Khosla posted on X on Saturday.

Microsoft declined to comment. It owns 49 percent of the company, while other investors and employees control 49 percent, with 2 percent owned by OpenAI’s nonprofit parent.



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