Talks to bring Sam Altman back to OpenAI extend into weekend

Talks to bring Sam Altman back to OpenAI extend into weekend

Discussions at OpenAI to bring back Sam Altman, the recently ousted chief executive of the artificial intelligence startup, continued Sunday evening, but there were disagreements over the composition of the company’s board, according to two people close to the discussions.

Mr. Altman, 38, spent the weekend lobbying the start-up’s four-person board of directors, who told him about it Friday afternoon, three people said. people close to the case. The result was a groundswell of support from OpenAI investors, employees, and executives.

Mr. Altman was at OpenAI headquarters on Sunday afternoon. I posted on photo of himself on X, formerly Twitter, wearing a guest ID badge and wrote: “first and last time wearing one. »

The negotiations included a review of how the company’s board could be reshaped if Mr. Altman returns as chief executive, two of the people said. Board members have not yet agreed on what a restructured board might look like — nor is Mr. Altman’s reinstatement inevitable, two of the people said.

Mr. Altman’s return would likely involve major board changes, and the company is currently evaluating candidates, according to two people familiar with the matter. Over time, the board structure could change to more closely reflect OpenAI’s evolution from a research startup to a commercial entity with billions in revenue and enormous ambitions.

But Mr. Altman and investors still want to retain the voices of people concerned about the safety of AI, as well as those of other board members with expertise in technology and commercialization of such products, said the sources.

OpenAI’s unusual governance structure, which caps its profits, could change, while retaining the checks and balances the company has built on the security of its technology, the sources said. The company’s priority is to have a viable board of directors in place by Monday morning, the sources said.

Ultimately, Mr. Altman and his supporters want the company to adopt a more traditional structure to reflect its growth into an $80 billion business with many customers and constituents, the sources said. They said events since Friday had been a wake-up call that OpenAI’s structure was no longer working.

There has been a whirlwind of activity since Mr. Altman was forced to leave OpenAI, a company he helped found eight years ago and which became one of the most closely watched tech companies thanks to its popular chatbot ChatGPT.

On Sunday afternoon, former OpenAI board member and former Texas Republican congressman Will Hurd stood outside the company’s headquarters in San Francisco’s Mission District, waiting to be driven at the airport after spending two days digging into the details of Mr. Altman’s case. dismissal.

Mr. Hurd said a company representative called him Friday morning, before Mr. Altman was fired, and asked for his help in navigating the management upheaval. Mr. Hurd traveled from Texas to San Francisco on Saturday.

“The industry is important, the business is important,” Mr. Hurd said. “It’s the future. How can we ensure there is a level of trust and transparency? “Everything we expect from models, we expect from governance.”

OpenAI declined to comment.

The OpenAI board of directors has an atypical structure. The organization started as a nonprofit before transforming into a for-profit company and making Microsoft its largest investor. The for-profit company still answers to the nonprofit board. As a result, the company’s investors have not had an official say in the fate of the startup or who runs it.

Before Mr. Altman was forced out, OpenAI had six board members, including Mr. Altman and Greg Brockman, the company’s co-founder and board chairman who resigned Friday in solidarity with Mr. Altman.

Other board members are Ilya Sutskever, co-founder of OpenAI; Adam D’Angelo, CEO of Quora, the question-and-answer site; Helen Toner, director of strategy at the Center for Security and Emerging Technologies at Georgetown; and Tasha McCauley, entrepreneur and computer scientist.

Since Friday, people close to the company have been trying to find out why the board of directors fired Mr. Altman. Brad Lightcap, the company’s chief operating officer, said in a memo to staff Saturday that there was no “malfeasance” involved.

OpenAI’s board failed to tell investors, who invested billions in the company, what Mr. Altman did wrong. After hearing the news of his ouster, many investors launched a campaign – in private communications and publicly via social media – to get the board to reverse its decision.

Many have turned to Microsoft, as it is OpenAI’s largest shareholder and has the most leverage with the company.

The impasse is the latest twist in a series of power struggles at OpenAI. The fight has drawn attention to a long-standing divide within the AI ​​community between people who believe AI is the greatest business opportunity of a generation and others who fear that going too fast can be dangerous.

The company was recently in talks to raise a new round of funding that would value it at more than $80 billion. Bloomberg News earlier reported some details of the discussions.

Mr Altman’s potential reinstatement would be a dramatic turnaround for OpenAI, which he said had not been “always candid” in his discussions with the board when he was unceremoniously ousted.

As deliberations continued on Sunday, OpenAI executives called for resources. At 12:45 p.m., a delivery man with a dozen drinks from the Boba Guys chain showed up outside on a motorcycle with two bags. Another delivery man followed later with half a dozen more glasses.

At 6:15 p.m., a food delivery driver pulled up to the back entrance and jumped out with four bags of McDonald’s. Two OpenAI employees loaded them onto carts and carried them inside for what seemed like a long night.

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David B.Otero

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