Nov 20, 2023 - Technology

Who is Emmett Shear, OpenAI's new interim CEO after Altman's ouster

Emmett Shear speaking in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2018.

Emmett Shear speaking in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2018. Photo: Eoin Noonan /Web Summit via Getty Images

Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear became OpenAI's new interim CEO on Monday, the ChatGPT parent's third leader in as many days after Sam Altman, its former CEO, was abruptly ousted by the board.

Why it matters: Shear, now at the helm of one of the key companies behind the development artificial intelligence, has publicly supported a "slowdown" of the emerging tech to ensure it's safe.

  • OpenAI's internal chaos — which has worried many other companies that rely on OpenAI's services — appears to be ongoing.
  • More than 500 of OpenAI's 700-plus employees signed an open letter urging the board to resign over Altman's surprise ouster.

Catch up quickly:

Altman's removal from the company he co-founded in 2015 shocked the tech industry, even blindsiding the company's key investor, Microsoft.

  • His firing stemmed from a "culture clash" within the company regarding the pace of AI development, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.
  • Altman, who became the face of the current AI boom following the success of ChatGPT, wants to quickly popularize and commercialize generative AI. However, multiple board members harbor deep concerns about the dangers of advanced AI.
  • Microsoft hired Altman and Greg Brockman, OpenAI's former president, on Sunday to lead a new research unit.

What they're saying:

Shear said he accepted an offer to become the interim CEO in an early morning social media post on Monday.

  • Over the next 30 days, Shear said he wants to hire an independent investigator to eventually produce a report on Altman's removal.
  • He said he also wants to 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," he said.

Who is Shear:

Shear co-founded the live-streaming platform Twitch in 2008 and oversaw its growth into a global phenomenon, but resigned this past March as controversies around the service mounted.

  • Shear's 16-year tenure saw Twitch pioneer and popularize the once-niche activity of a person broadcasting their live playthrough of a video game — or, increasingly often, a feed of the streamer themselves — to thousands of viewers.

The big picture: Shear has publicly said several times he's concerned by AI, once saying he believes there's between a 5% and 50% chance that AI becomes an existential risk for humanity.

  • He also once said he thinks "most" CEO and executive roles in companies "are very automatable."
  • In his new role, Shear could face pressure from regulators seeking to rein in AI programs and the companies developing them. Concerns range from job displacement to abuses of the tech, like mass misinformation and the generation of harmful content.

Go deeper: OpenAI's Sutskever regrets board's firing of Altman

Go deeper