OpenAI, the company behind the viral chatbot ChatGPT, fired its CEO and founder, Sam Altman, on Friday. His stunning departure sent shockwaves through the budding AI industry.
The company, in a statement, said an internal investigation found that Altman was not always truthful with the board.
“Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities,” the company said in its statement. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
OpenAI announced Mira Murati, the company’s chief technology officer, will serve as interim CEO until a permanent successor is chosen.
The news follows OpenAI’s first developer conference held in San Francisco last week, where Altman served as the master of ceremonies, unveiling a series of new artificial intelligence tool updates, including the ability for developers to create custom versions of ChatGPT. He also shared about 2 million developers now use the platform, and about 90% of Fortune 500 companies are using the tools internally. It currently has 100 million active users.
ChatGPT launched late last year, making Altman an overnight quasi-celebrity and the face of a new crop of AI tools that can generate images and texts in response to simple user prompts. The technology is called generative AI and has since been deployed by Microsoft on its search engine and other tools. Google has a rival called “Bard,” and other generative AI tools have been developed in recent months.
Not long after its release, ChatGPT became a household name almost synonymous with AI itself. CEOs used it to draft emails, people built websites with no prior coding experience, and it passed exams from law and business schools.
Although Altman has long been an advocate of AI, he is also one of its biggest critics. In testimony before Congress earlier this year, Altman described the technology’s current boom as a pivotal moment.
“Is (AI) gonna be like the printing press that diffused knowledge, power, and learning widely across the landscape that empowered ordinary, everyday individuals that led to greater flourishing, that led above all to greater liberty?” he said. “Or is it gonna be more like the atom bomb – huge technological breakthrough, but the consequences (severe, terrible) continue to haunt us to this day?”
He was also one of several tech CEOs to meet with White House leaders, including Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden, this year to emphasize the importance of ethical and responsible AI development.
Others wanted Altman and OpenAI to move more cautiously. Elon Musk, who helped found OpenAI before breaking from the group, and dozens of tech leaders, professors and researchers urged artificial intelligence labs like OpenAI to stop the training of the most powerful AI systems for at least six months, citing “profound risks to society and humanity.”(At the same time, some experts questioned if those who signed the letter sought to maintain their competitive edge over other companies.)
OpenAI declined CNN’s request for further comment.
Arun Chandrasekaran, an analyst at Gartner Research, called Altman’s exit “shocking,” as he’s been championing OpenAI’s cause with developers, consumers, regulators and others. “I am sure the OpenAI board took this decision after a lot of deliberation,” he said.
“OpenAI does have a deep bench of technical leaders and it will be interesting to see how its next generation of leaders steer by continuing its fast paced innovation culture, scaling the business and meeting the expectations of regulators and society at large.”
President and Co-Founder of OpenAI Greg Brockman announced his departure shortly after news broke out about Altman’s firing.
In a social media post, he said, “After learning today’s news, this is the message I sent to the OpenAI team,” pairing his caption with a screenshot of a message wishing the company the best and also saying, “but based on today’s news, i quit (sic).”