20th November 2023 – (San Francisco) Sam Altman, the former chief executive of renowned AI firm OpenAI, has posted a photograph of himself at the company’s premises, suggesting a potential return. This development follows his abrupt dismissal last Friday which stunned the AI industry.
Altman, 38, was one of the key figures instrumental in the inception of OpenAI, the company behind the widely-used ChatGPT bot. His recent post on X, formerly known as Twitter, where he is seen holding a guest ID pass, sparked curiosity among industry observers. The caption, “First and last time I ever wear one of these”, further fuelled speculations.
Altman’s dismissal by the board last Friday was a result of their reported loss of confidence in him. However, the situation seems to have taken a U-turn since then. Over the weekend, there have been indications that investors and employees are advocating for Altman’s reinstatement.
The Information, a tech news platform, reported that Altman and Greg Brockman, another co-founder who resigned as president of the company last Friday, were allegedly invited to OpenAI’s San Francisco office for discussions on Sunday. The BBC has reached out to OpenAI for further clarification on the matter.
Altman’s contribution to the burgeoning generative AI space is significant, and his abrupt dismissal has sent ripples across the industry. In a letter on Friday, OpenAI’s board accused him of not being “consistently forthright in his communications with the board, thereby impeding its ability to discharge its duties”. The board did not elaborate on what Altman was accused of withholding.
However, the board’s concerns of Friday seem to have been overshadowed by the global reaction to their decision. There could also be apprehension about Altman establishing a competitor company and luring away OpenAI’s top talent.
Rumours circulating over the weekend suggested that Altman’s dismissal had unsettled current and past employees who were concerned it could negatively impact an impending $86 billion share sale. The company’s venture capitalist backers and tech giant Microsoft – which has a $10 billion stake in OpenAI – are also reportedly calling for his reinstatement, according to the Financial Times.
Sources have suggested that the situation has caused some tense nights at Microsoft’s headquarters in Seattle, which has also incorporated OpenAI’s technology into its applications.
Speculations are rife that if Altman does return, he may insist on the formation of a new board of directors. Dan Ives from investment firm Wedbush Securities conveyed to BBC News that he expects Altman to regain his position as OpenAI’s chief executive. He stated, “The board clearly overstepped their bounds. I would almost categorise it as a failed coup attempt, in terms of trying to oust Altman. However, this is going to backfire.”
OpenAI, currently at its zenith, has been attracting substantial investment, and its product, ChatGPT, launched nearly a year ago, is now used by millions. Altman has been a visible force behind the company’s rise and is often seen as the face of the wider industry.
Altman has testified before a U.S. Congressional hearing to discuss the opportunities and risks presented by novel technology and also appeared at the world’s first AI Safety Summit in the U.K. at the beginning of November.
His dismissal triggered an outpouring of support from Silicon Valley elites, including ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who referred to Altman as “a hero of mine” and stated that he had “changed our collective world forever”. As the saga unfolds, the world of AI is watching closely for Altman’s potential rebirth at OpenAI.