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OpenAI board fires CEO Sam Altman for lack of candor

The 38-year-old helped found the company eight years ago. He has maintained an active public presence and helped the company reach a valuation of about $80 billion.

Sam Altman is no longer OpenAI's CEO. He has been replaced by the company's chief technology officer, Mira Murati.

OpenAI revealed "the board no longer had confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI" in a blog post released on Friday.

"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," according to the post.

Altman and OpenAI

Altman's journey with OpenAI began eight years ago when he, Elon Musk, Ilya Sutskever, Greg Brockman and others founded the company as a nonprofit.

Since then, the company has restructured to become a for-profit. OpenAI gained significant support from Microsoft in 2019 after the tech giant invested $1 billion in it.

Since its initial investment, Microsoft has pumped another $13 billion into the AI startup. Microsoft has also used its partnership with OpenAI to strengthen its AI initiatives.

The company has achieved rapid success since introducing generative AI systems, such as Dall-E and ChatGPT.

As CEO, Altman maintained an active public presence, appearing before Congress to testify in May that government intervention "will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful" systems. OpenAI has been in talks to raise more capital and bring it to an estimated valuation of $80 billion.

He recently appeared at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in San Francisco attended by President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It is unclear what led to Altman's ultimate departure, but "we believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward," the board said.

Altman was immediately replaced by CTO Mira Murati, a Tesla veteran, as interim CEO. Also, Brockman will step down as chairman of the board and will remain in his role as president of the company, reporting to the CEO.

A spokesperson for OpenAI declined comment beyond the statement in the blog post.

The effect of Altman's departure

Few outward signals preceded Altman's departure, causing Friday's development to stun the tech world.

"It's fairly shocking and very surprising," Gartner analyst Arun Chandrasekaran said.

It's fairly shocking and very surprising.
Arun ChandrasekaranAnalyst, Gartner

The statement released by OpenAI and Microsoft's continuous support of the company, especially in its keynotes this week at Microsoft Ignite 2023 conference, showed that the board's decision likely did not have to do with OpenAI's technology, Forrester Research analyst Rowan Curran said.

"While Altman was obviously … a force and had a strong influence on the company over a number of years, I don't see that there's any reason to think that with the information that we have now that there are any issues with the underlying technology, business approach -- things of that nature," Curran said.

"I don't think that there's anything that speaks to everybody else who works in OpenAI -- particularly folks like Mira Marathi -- not being able to continue to build upon the success that they've had up until this point," he continued.

Murathi has been in a leadership role at OpenAI for five years and has experience in AI governance and policy, according to OpenAI.

Despite the AI vendor's success, it has faced criticism over its large language models allegedly misappropriating intellectual property. The company is being sued by a group of prominent authors who claim products such as ChatGPT stole copyrighted works.

However, the sudden change in leadership could spark a change in OpenAI's technology approaches, according to Chandrasekaran.

"This company has been really at the vanguard of innovation to say the least, and they'd been really progressing at breakneck speed," he said. "It'll be interesting to see how that will evolve with the new leadership."

It's also possible that the boldness OpenAI displayed under Altman could recede, Chandrasekaran added.

"It could be a more phased approach," he said. "What you might probably see with the new leadership is maybe somebody who's a little bit low profile."

After his sudden departure, Altman wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, "I loved my time at OpenAI. It was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world in a little bit."

Esther Ajao is a TechTarget Editorial news writer covering artificial intelligence software and systems.

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