Sam Altman returns to OpenAI HQ, reinstatement as CEO could be soon: Report

It’s been a tumultuous weekend for OpenAI and anyone who follows the field of artificial intelligence. After the OpenAI board fired CEO Sam Altman on Friday, investors who’d been taken off guard by the move raced to reinstate him. 

On Sunday afternoon, Altman was back in the OpenAI headquarters, Bloomberg reported, and the decision to reinstate him could be made shortly. Altman shared a photo of himself on X wearing a guest badge and making a face, writing, “first and last time i ever wear one of these.”

But even if he is reinstated, questions remain about why the board fired him in the first place. It gave only vague reasons on Friday. Among those wanting to know is Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who wrote on X: “Given the risk and power of advanced AI, the public should be informed of why the board felt they had to take such drastic action.”

When an X user said it felt as if there were a “bombshell variable” the public was unaware of behind Altman’s firing, Musk replied, “Exactly.”

And AI expert Gary Marcus worried that it did not bode well that the OpenAI board—presumably in control of the capped-profit company and with an eye on the nonprofit mission—was apparently overpowered as investors raced to get Altman back into his role.

OpenAI Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap told Bloomberg, “we have had multiple conversations with the board to try to better understand the reasons and process behind their decision,” which took him and others at the company by surprise.

Eric Newcomer, who hosts a technology podcast, wrote in his newsletter that Altman should not be given too much power.

“The public should not want, nor should the OpenAI board give Altman unbridled power to run OpenAI as he pleases,” he wrote. “Altman has a history of fractious corporate breakups…These board members are not the first people to question Altman’s integrity. They’ve just done so in public.”  

He mentioned among others the power struggle with Musk, who was an OpenAI cofounder in 2015 and helped attract key talent, but left a few years later on a sour note. Musk later complained about the onetime nonprofit that he meant to serve as a counterweight to Google becoming a “closed source, maximum-profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft. Not what I intended at all.” 

Musk was key to recruiting Ilya Sutskever, the chief scientist at the center of OpenAI’s leadership shakeup. Sutskever is on the current board and is the one who informed Altman of his dismissal, according to Greg Brockman, who quit as president in protest of Altman’s firing.

The board agreed to step down, Bloomberg reported, and was vetting new candidates to serve as directors.

How the board might be reshaped remains to be seen. According to sources Bloomberg spoke with, among the new members will be Bret Taylor, the former co-CEO of Salesforce.

Another possibility is a board seat going to Microsoft, whose CEO Satya Nadella was reportedly blindsided by the decision to fire Altman.

The software giant has committed at least $13 billion to OpenAI since 2019 but only delivered some of that. It’s questionable whether OpenAI could continue operating without the continual cash infusions and computing power provided by Microsoft, which means Microsoft wields considerable power with or without a presence on the board.

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