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How OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was fired by rival board members

Sam Altman wears a gray shirt while talking at Tel Aviv University. His right arm is raised up. Ilya Sutskever, to Altman's left, is looking down.
OpenAI’s former CEO Sam Altman and the company’s chief scientist, Ilya Sutskever, speak together in Tel Aviv on June 5. | Source: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was ousted in a sudden boardroom knifing on Friday arising from a power struggle over the direction of the company behind ChatGPT.

According to a tweet from former OpenAI President Greg Brockman, Altman received a text on Thursday night from OpenAI Chief Scientist and fellow board member Ilya Sutskever, asking him to meet at noon Friday.

When Altman logged into the meeting, Brockman wrote, the entire OpenAI board was present—except for Brockman. Sutskever informed Altman he was being fired. 

Brockman said that soon after, he had a call with the board, where he was informed that he would be removed from his board position and that Altman had been fired. Then, OpenAI published a blog post sharing the news of Altman’s ouster. 

Brockman wrote that the only person on the management team who knew ahead of time was Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati, who was named interim CEO.

“Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today,” Brockman wrote.

A knowledgeable source said the board struggle reflected a cultural clash at the organization, with Altman and Brockman focused on commercialization and Sutskever and his allies focused on the original nonprofit mission of OpenAI.

The board oversees the nonprofit that controls the organization’s for-profit subsidiary, with a stated mission to create safe artificial general intelligence that is broadly beneficial to humanity. According to OpenAI’s governance structure, independent directors are meant to make up the majority of the board and do not hold equity in OpenAI.

One major issue, the source said, was how the billions of investment from Microsoft and other private investors called that mission into question. Axios reported that Microsoft, OpenAI’s largest investor, was also blindsided by the move.

“We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap; and remain committed to our partnership, and to Mira and the team,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement soon after the news of Altman’s firing.

Internally, OpenAI has been thrown into turmoil, with multiple all-hands meetings held after the news broke. There is fear of a mass exodus out of the company by both executives and rank-and-file employees, the source said.

According to a blog post shared on OpenAI’s website Friday, the board of directors let Altman go after a review process that found “he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.” 

“The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI,” the post said. 

Flow chart with six boxes
This chart illustrates OpenAI's complex governance structure. | Source: OpenAI

OpenAI has raised $11.3 billion in funding from investors, including Microsoft, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz and Tiger Global, according to Crunchbase.

A number of board members left OpenAI this year prior to Altman’s departure, including former congressman Will Hurd, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Neuralink executive Shivon Zilis, who is the mother of two of Elon Musk’s children. 

Hours after his termination, Altman took to X, calling the events of the day “a weird experience,” “sorta like reading your own eulogy while you’re still alive,” and thanking people for their support.

Here’s a rundown of the board members who were responsible for Altman’s firing.   

Ilya Sutskever

An OpenAI co-founder who serves as the company’s chief scientist, Sutskever grew up in Russia and Israel before moving to Canada, where he received a doctorate in computer science under AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton. (Hinton, incidentally, resigned from Google in May in order to publicly voice concerns about the risks of the technology.)

After working as an academic researching neural networks and computer vision, Sutskever eventually made his way to Google, where he worked as a research scientist working on natural language processing algorithms and TensorFlow, the company’s open-source software library focused on machine learning and AI.

He later left Google and became one of the founding members of OpenAI in 2015. He served as the organization’s research director until 2018, when he was made chief scientist. More recently, he was announced as one of the leaders of the company’s Superalignment project, which is meant to help steer superintelligent AI toward human values and goals. He is currently the only remaining OpenAI co-founder on the organization’s board. 

Adam D’Angelo 

The CEO of Quora started the question-and-answer site in 2008 after serving as the chief technology officer of Facebook. He is longtime friends with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, dating back to their time at the elite prep school Phillips Exeter Academy, where they developed a music app called Synapse together. 

Quora CEO Adam D'Angelo can be seen wearing a black tuxedo, white shirt and a black bowtie. A woman is standing to his left smiling.
Quora CEO Adam D'Angelo is a board member of OpenAI. | Source: Nhat V. Meyer/MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

D’Angelo joined OpenAI’s board in 2018. “One of the reasons I was excited to join was that it would let me keep tabs on the world of AI. It’s been great to see the organization evolve,” he told Semafor

Late last year, Quora launched a chatbot platform called Poe—and in October, weeks ahead of OpenAI’s DevDay, announced monetization for people who create useful bots on the Poe platform. (The model is very similar to the creator payments that Altman announced during OpenAI’s developer day.)

Tasha McCauley

McCauley served as the CEO for Israeli city modeling startup GeoSim Systems between 2019 and 2022 and previously founded robotics company Fellow Robots with one of her former colleagues at Singularity University. McCauley has sat on OpenAI’s board since 2018 and also sits on GeoSim’s board of directors. 

According to McCauley’s LinkedIn profile, she is also a director of the Ten to the Ninth Plus Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on “empowering exponential technological change worldwide.”

Three men can be seen in the foreground as OpenAI board member Tasha McCauley talks, holding a microphone, at a panel. To her right is another man on a panel.
Tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley is on the board of OpenAI. | Source: Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Kairos Society

McCauley has been married to 500 Days of Summer and Don Jon actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt since 2014. The couple were signatories of the Asilomar AI Principles, which lay out a set of 23 AI governance guidelines.

McCauley is also part of the advisory board of the Centre for the Governance of AI, a British research organization focused on responsible development of the technology. 

Helen Toner

Toner serves as the director of strategy and foundational research grants at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. 

Previously, she worked as a senior analyst at effective altruism-focused nonprofit Open Philanthropy, co-founded by Facebook and Asana co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, and as an AI researcher at Oxford.

Helen Toner of Georgetown's CSET wears a red cardigan and a white blouse speaking at Vox Media's 2023 Code Conference. Behind her is a pink and yellow background.
Helen Toner, director of strategy and foundational research grants at Georgetown's Center for Security and Emerging Technology, is an OpenAI board member. | Source: Jerod Harris

She joined the OpenAI board in 2021 with a stated focus on safety and long-term risks and effects of AI. She was the co-author of a piece published in Foreign Affairs in June entitled “The Illusion of China’s AI Prowess,” arguing that U.S. regulation around AI would not hamper the country’s development of the technology compared to China.

Toner is also part of the advisory board of the Centre for the Governance of AI.