- Brockman quit in solidarity after Sam Altman was fired by the board on Friday
- He revealed OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever engineered Altman’s ouster
- Dispute was said to involve safety concerns over ChatGPT’s rapid public rollout
New details are emerging about the dramatic firing of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, after the company’s president resigned in protest over the board’s shock move.
The company’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who is also a board member, led the shocking coup against Altman with the backing of three independent board members.
According to Brockman, Sutskever fired Altman in a video chat at noon on Friday, and then minutes later, told Brockman that he would be removed as board chairman, but asked him to remain as president, reporting to new interim CEO Mira Murati.
Brockman declined the offer to remain at OpenAI as president, sending a company-wide message stating: ‘based on today’s news, i quit.’
Microsoft-backed OpenAI publicly released its ChatGPT chatbot in late 2022. It uses generative AI, meaning it can learn from past data to create human-like creative content including text, images and computer code.
News of Altman’s dismissal caught Silicon Valley and OpenAI employees by surprise, as the 38-year-old had been hailed as a pioneer and one of the leading figures in the high-stakes world of AI.
But his ouster appears to have been the result of a simmering feud with Sutskever over the safety of AI, the speed at which the technology was developing and the commercialization of the firm, according to Bloomberg.
In a post on X, Brockman offered a blow-by-blow of the day’s events, saying that Altman had received a text message from Sutskever on Thursday night, asking to speak on a quick call at noon on Friday.
Sutskever then told Altman that he was fired, and that the news would be released ‘very soon.’
Within the hour, OpenAI published an unusually blunt and harsh statement saying the board concluded that Altman ‘was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.’
‘The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI,’ the statement added.
Brockman says that at 12.19pm he received a text message from Sutskever asking him to join a ‘quick call’.
Minutes later, on a Google Meet, Sutskever told Brockman of Altman’s firing, and said that Brockman could remain as president, but not as a member of the board, which Brockman had chaired.
Brockman said that OpenAI’s management team was not informed of the move in advance, aside from interim CEO Murati, who was told the night before.
The departures blindsided many employees who discovered the abrupt management change from an internal message and the company’s public facing blog.
‘We too are still trying to figure out exactly what happened,’ Brockman posted on X, formerly Twitter, adding, ‘We will be fine. Greater things coming soon.’
Altman acknowledged his firing in several posts on X, including one joking: ‘if i start going off, the openai board should go after me for the full value of my shares.’
Altman does not hold an equity stake in the company, having previously said that he believes the development of AI should not be primarily motivated by profit.
In addition to Sutskever, OpenAI’s now four-person board includes three independent directors, who do not work at the company and hold no equity stake.
They are Quora chief executive Adam D’Angelo, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
Sutskever, who engineered Altman’s removal, is also a co-founder of OpenAI, though he has maintained a much lower public profile than either Brockman or Altman, who has been on a publicity spree talking up ChatGPT in recent weeks.
Sutskever holds degrees from the Open University of Israel and the University of Toronto, according to his LinkedIn profile.
He previously co-founded DNN Research, a deep learning startup that was acquired by Google in 2013.
Sutskever is one of the co-founders of OpenAI, which originally launched in 2015 as a non-profit with $1 billion in funding from a consortium of tech tians including Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, and Peter Thiel.
‘We believe AI should be an extension of individual human wills and, in the spirit of liberty, as broadly and evenly distributed as is possible safely,’ wrote Sutskever in a statement at the time of the group’s launch.
‘The outcome of this venture is uncertain and the work is difficult, but we believe the goal and the structure are right.’
In 2019, OpenAI restructured to allow it to raise venture funding, and has raised billions from investors including Microsoft.
‘Microsoft remains committed to Mira and their team as we bring this next era of AI to our customers,’ a spokesperson for the software maker told Reuters on Friday.
Sutskever’s most recent post on X, from October 6, reads: ‘if you value intelligence above all other human qualities, you’re gonna have a bad time’.