Nov 18, 2023 - Technology

No "malfeasance" behind Sam Altman's firing, OpenAI memo says

Sam Altman speaks at OpenAI developer day, Nov. 6. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sam Altman's firing as OpenAI CEO was not the result of "malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices" but rather a "breakdown in communications between Sam Altman and the board," per an internal memo from chief operating officer Brad Lightcap seen by Axios.

Why it matters: OpenAI's board has been mum since midday Friday when it announced Altman's departure, leaving room for speculation and uncertainty over the basis for the firing.

The full memo from Lightcap reads:

  • "Team - after yesterday's announcement, which took us all by surprise, we have had multiple conversations with the board to try to better understand the reasons and process behind their decision. These discussions, and options regarding our path forward, are ongoing this morning."
  • "We can say definitively that the board's decision was not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices. This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board."
  • "Our position as a company remains extremely strong, and Microsoft remains fully committed to our partnership. [Interim CEO] Mira [Murati] has our full support as CEO. We still share your concerns about how the process has been handled, are working to resolve the situation, and will provide updates as we're able."
  • "I'm sure you all are feeling confusion, sadness, and perhaps some fear. We are fully focused on handling this, pushing toward resolution and clarity, and getting back to work. Our collective responsibility right now is to our teammates, partners, users, customers, and the broader world who shares our vision of broadly beneficial AGI. Hang in there, we are behind you all 1000%."

Catch up quick: OpenAI's board announced Friday that Altman was departing because he was "not consistently candid" with the board.

  • It also said the board's chair — Greg Brockman, who was also OpenAI's president — would step down. Brockman announced soon after that he was quitting.
  • OpenAI, a non-profit organization that controls a for-profit subsidiary, has led the generative-AI boom since releasing ChatGPT a year ago.

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