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Updated Nov 22, 2023, 1:56am EST
North America

Sam Altman is returning to OpenAI

Sam Altman
Reuters/Carlos Barria
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The News

OpenAI announced Tuesday night that it had reached “an agreement in principle” for Sam Altman to resume his job as CEO of the startup. The company said that its nonprofit board of directors, which ousted Altman on Friday, is also being restructured.

“i love openai, and everything i’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together,” Altman said in an X post.

Two new members have joined the board, former Salesforce CEO Bret Taylor, who will serve as its chair, and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, who joined the board in 2018, will remain in the position. It appears that two other directors, Helen Toner and Tasha McCauley, who both have ties to the effective altruism movement, have resigned.

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“We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this,” OpenAI said in a post on X. “And now, we all get some sleep,” Toner said in a separate post.

OpenAI’s announcement did not detail whether there had been any other changes to the structure of the company. It also did not say whether Altman will have a seat on the board. An OpenAI spokeswoman declined to answer those questions.

Altman’s reinstatement is a turnabout for OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, representing the latest twist in a saga that has captivated Silicon Valley and threatened the very existence a startup widely viewed as being at the forefront of artificial intelligence.

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The board of directors initially said that Altman had been fired for not being “consistently candid in his communications,” but the exact reasoning behind their decision remains unclear. OpenAI President Greg Brockman had also left as a result of the decision, and is now back at the company as well.

Microsoft, OpenAI’s most important partner, announced on Sunday night that Altman and Brockman would lead a new AI team at the tech giant. Almost all of OpenAI employees later threatened to quit and join them at Microsoft unless the board resigned and reinstated Altman.

Altman now says that while the decision to join Microsoft “was the best path for me and the team” two days ago, he is now “looking forward to returning to openai, and building on our strong partnership with msft.”

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With the future of the company up in the air, investors had reportedly pushed for Altman to resume his role. In interviews on Monday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella suggested that it was still possible that Altman could return to OpenAI. He told CNBC that “it’s clear something has to change around the governance — we’ll have a good dialogue with their board on that, and walk through that as that evolves.”

Before Altman was fired, investors had been planning to make a purchase of employee stock at a massive valuation of more than $80 billion.

It was unclear Tuesday night whether that deal would still happen in the same form, or if investors will view the value of the company differently after this week’s fiasco revealed weaknesses in the company’s structure.

It also appeared that Microsoft was not given board seats as part of the deal, as some had speculated would happen.

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