Top Leadership Changes at ChatGPT Maker OpenAI

06:15 November 20, 2023

Top Leadership Changes at ChatGPT Maker OpenAI

Artificial intelligence (AI) system developer OpenAI was under new leadership Monday after a series of recent changes that included the removal of former chief executive Sam Altman.

OpenAI said on Friday it had dismissed Altman after a “breakdown of communications,” with the company’s board of directors, several news services reported. Altman’s “behavior and lack of transparency” had limited “the board’s ability to effectively supervise the company,” the New York Times reported a non-public company document as saying.

OpenAI announced it had replaced Altman with Emmett Shear, a technology executive who formerly led live video gaming service Twitch.

Greg Brockman, a president and co-founder of OpenAI, along with several company leaders, quit after Altman’s removal. Some wrote on X, "OpenAI is nothing without its people."

The Associated Press reported that several hundred OpenAI employees also signed a letter calling for the board to step down and Altman to return.

Microsoft investment

Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI in recent years. The company has supported the AI developer’s machine learning models with its knowledge and experience in building powerful computing machines. Both Microsoft chief Satya Nadella and OpenAI’s Shear said they remain committed to their existing business partnership.

Microsoft also announced on Monday that it had hired Altman, along with Brockman, to lead a new specialized AI research team at the company.

Nadella wrote on X that he was “extremely excited” to bring on the former executives of OpenAI and looked “forward to getting to know” Shear and the rest of the leadership team. Altman wrote on X, “the mission continues,” while Brockman promised, “We are going to build something new & it will be incredible.”

Altman became the face of a new generation of AI systems, called chatbots, that have captured a flood of media attention in recent years. Chatbots are designed to interact smoothly with humans and perform high-level writing. The technology is also known as “generative AI.” The launch and widespread popularity of OpenAI’s ChatGPT tool started a wave of development in the field.

In a statement on X, Shear dismissed media reports suggesting Altman’s removal came because of disputes between top OpenAI leaders over the safety of the company’s AI methods. Shear promised to hire an independent investigator to look into what led to Altman’s ouster and offered to give a report within 30 days.

“It’s clear that the process and communications around Sam’s removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust,” wrote Shear. He noted he also plans in the coming weeks to “reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures into an effective force” and speak with employees, investors and users of OpenAI products.

Shear noted the reason behind the board removing Altman was not a “specific disagreement on safety.” Media reports have suggested disputes within OpenAI’s leadership about the company’s stated plans to safely build AI that is “generally smarter than humans.”

On a podcast in June, Shear said he is generally optimistic about technology. But he noted he has serious concerns about a possible path to create systems that are “a lot smarter than us” and could endanger humans.

Shear wrote that he had accepted the job “because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence.”

Richard Windsor heads the British-based financial research company Radio Free Mobile. He told Reuters there had been conflicts between OpenAI’s mission to build technology to help people and that of its investors, who have expected a financial return on their investments in the company.

"This weekend was simply the detonation of a bomb that has been waiting to go off," Windsor said.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

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