In a surprising turn of events, OpenAI’s board has named Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear as the interim CEO, following the departure of Sam Altman, who was ousted from his position as CEO on Friday, November 17th.
Shear, known for his work at Twitch and his stance on slowing down advanced AI development for safety reasons, was called upon to take up this critical role at OpenAI.
One key to why Shear was chosen may lie in an interview from four months ago where Shear stated his views on AI. While he said he was generally opposed to regulation of technology. “That kind of intelligence is intrinsically a dangerous thing.” Further, he noted that he felt that there was a “five to fifty per cent chance” of a disaster with AI, far worse than global warming and one that could even lead to “human level extinction.” That possibility, said Shear, “should cause you to shit your pants.”
Meanwhile Altman’s sudden exit, as well as the resignation of President Greg Brockman and the departure of several senior researchers, continues to send shockwaves through the tech industry. Altman, a key figure in AI’s current boom, was removed following a board decision citing lack of consistent candor in his communications, hindering the board’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities. This decision has raised concerns about the future direction of OpenAI, especially among startups that rely on OpenAI’s products and services.
Shear says his immediate focus will be to maintain strong partnerships, particularly with Microsoft, OpenAI’s major investor, and to continue serving customers effectively. Acknowledging the mishandling of Altman’s removal, Shear has laid out a 30-day plan that includes hiring an independent investigator, engaging with employees, partners, investors, and customers, and reforming the management and leadership team. This plan aims to stabilize OpenAI and address key concerns raised by recent events.
Despite these challenges, Shear expressed his commitment to OpenAI’s mission and his intent to protect and further develop the company. This leadership change at OpenAI highlights the dynamic and sometimes turbulent nature of leading AI research organizations and the critical role of governance in steering them towards their ambitious goals.
Today I got a call inviting me to consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become the interim CEO of @OpenAI. After consulting with my family and reflecting on it for just a few hours, I accepted. I had recently resigned from my role as CEO of Twitch due to the birth of my now 9 month old son. Spending time with him has been every bit as rewarding as I thought it would be, and I was happily avoiding full time employment. I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence. When the board shared the situation and asked me to take the role, I did not make the decision lightly. Ultimately I felt that I had a duty to help if I could.
I have spent today drinking from the firehose as much as possible, speaking with the board, a small number of major partners, and listening to employees. Our partnership with Microsoft remains strong, and my priority in the coming weeks will be to make sure we continue to serve all our customers well. OpenAI employees are extremely impressive, as you might have guessed, and mission-driven in the extreme. And it’s clear that the process and communications around Sam’s removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust.
I have a three point plan for the next 30 days:
– Hire an independent investigator to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report.
– Continue to speak to as many of our employees, partners, investors, and customers as possible, take good notes, and share the key takeaways.
– Reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures into an effective force to drive results for our customers.
Depending on the results everything we learn from these, I will drive changes in the organization — up to and including pushing strongly for significant governance changes if necessary. I will be rolling these out as they become clear over the 30 day period. OpenAI’s stability and success are too important to allow turmoil to disrupt them like this. I will endeavor to address the key concerns as well, although in many cases I believe it may take longer than a month to achieve true progress.
I have nothing but respect for what Sam and the entire OpenAI team have built. It’s not just an incredible research project and software product, but an incredible company. I’m here because I know that, and I want to do everything in my power to protect it and grow it further.
It’s now 1am and I’ll pick this up tomorrow.
PS: I am posting this here both because I think it’s in the general public interest to know in this case, but please don’t expect all future internal comms to come through a public channel.
PPS: Before I took the job, I checked on the reasoning behind the change. The board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that. I’m not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercializing our awesome models.