A man and a robot talking

OpenAI’s employee exodus: The Sam Altman saga continues

With enough twists and turns to make Director M. Night Shyamalan proud, the story of Sam Altman and OpenAI becomes stranger and stranger. If you didn’t know, Sam Altman was the CEO and co-founder of OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, the large language model that has revolutionised AI in a matter of months. Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is now within reach. Any type of robot or device will soon be able to perform tasks at near human level. Training even larger data sets may lead to real artificial intelligence, the dream of science fiction writers and scientists everywhere.

Here’s what has happened with OpenAI and Sam Altman to date

  1. Sam Altman was fired by OpenAI’s Board after an extremely successful OpenAI developer day. The Board made the move apparently because Altman was “not being transparent enough”. The Board hinted at some deep, dark secret that made them show him the door.
  2. An investor backlash followed rapidly, in particular from Microsoft, one of OpenAI’s biggest investors. The Board soon asked Sam to come back and discuss returning as CEO presumably realising how stupid the idea had been in the first place. They couldn’t reach an agreement and negotiations fell through.
  3. Over the weekend, Microsoft turned up like a knight in shining armour, offering Altman and Brockman a shiny new AI playground – an AI research division inside of Microsoft itself. Effectively they hired Altman and his closest associate.

OpenAI employees take a stand

Now almost every single soul at OpenAI — 738 out of about 770 to be exact — have dramatically thrown their hats into the ring, threatening to walk out the door behind their ousted CEO. This is not your average Monday morning office gossip; this is an AI soap opera. They’ve all signed a letter which basically says, “Bring back our CEO or else”, demanding the return of Altman and his sidekick Greg Brockman, with a side order of a total board removal.

Weirdly, Ilya Sutskever, the chief scientist who had the unenviable task of firing Altman, also signed the ultimatum letter. Talk about mixed signals. And Boris Power, OpenAi’s head of Applied Research, signed the letter with a rocket emoji. Nothing says ‘corporate rebellion’ like a rocket emoji.

OpenAI’s rise to fame and possible fall from grace

Let’s not forget, OpenAI is the cool kid on the block, having made ChatGPT, the AI that can chat its way out of a paper bag. Altman, riding this wave, was hobnobbing with world leaders and wrestling with the big dogs of chipmaking. But apparently, all that glitters is not gold.

Where to now?

In the world of tech, today’s hero can be tomorrow’s cautionary tale. OpenAI, once the poster child for AI for humanity, is now more like a scene from a Silicon Valley reality TV show. And as for the employees? Well, they’ve just set the bar for dramatic exits. Stay tuned for the next episode.