By John Gruber
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An all-hands meeting for OpenAI employees on Friday afternoon didn’t reveal much more. Ilya Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist and a member of its board, defended the ouster, according to a person briefed on his remarks. He dismissed employees’ suggestions that pushing Mr. Altman out amounted to a “hostile takeover” and claimed it was necessary to protect OpenAI’s mission of making artificial intelligence beneficial to humanity, the person said.
Mr. Altman appears to have been blindsided, too. He recorded an interview for the podcast I co-host, “Hard Fork,” on Wednesday, two days before his firing. During our chat, he betrayed no hint that anything was amiss, and he talked at length about the success of ChatGPT, his plans for OpenAI and his views on A.I.’s future.
Mr. Altman stayed mum about the precise circumstances of his departure on Friday. But Greg Brockman — OpenAI’s co-founder and president, who quit on Friday in solidarity with Mr. Altman — released a statement saying that both of them were “shocked and saddened by what the board did today.” Mr. Altman was asked to join a video meeting with the board at noon on Friday and was immediately fired, Mr. Brockman said.
Kara Swisher was all over the story last night, writing on Twitter/X:
Sources tell me that the profit direction of the company under Altman and the speed of development, which could be seen as too risky, and the nonprofit side dedicated to more safety and caution were at odds. One person on the Sam side called it a “coup,” while another said it was the the right move. [...]
More: The board members who voted against Altman felt he was manipulative and headstrong and wanted to do what he wanted to do. That sounds like a typical SV CEO to me, but this might not be a typical SV company. They certainly have a lot of explaining to do.
According to Brockman — who until he quit in protest of Altman’s firing was chairman of the OpenAI board — he didn’t find out until just 5 minutes before Altman was sacked. I’ve never once heard of a corporate board firing the company’s CEO behind the back of the chairman of the board.
It really does look more and more like a deep philosophical fissure inside OpenAI, between those led by Sutskever (and, obviously, a majority of the board) advocating a cautious slow and genuinely non-profit-driven approach, and Altman/Brockman’s “let’s move fast, change the world, and make a lot of money” side. Sutskever and the OpenAI board seemingly see Altman/Brockman as reckless swashbucklers; Altman and Brockman, I suspect, see Sutskever and his side as a bunch of ninnies.
A simple way to look at it is to read OpenAI’s charter, “the principles we use to execute on OpenAI’s mission”. It’s a mere 423 words, and very plainly written. It doesn’t sound anything at all like the company Altman has been running. The board, it appears, believes in the charter. How in the world it took them until now to realize Altman was leading OpenAI in directions completely contrary to their charter is beyond me.
It’s like the police chief in Casablanca being “shocked — shocked!” to find out that gambling was taking place in a casino where he played.