Sam Altman at the APEC CEO summit in 2023

OpenAI Has Fired CEO and Co-Founder Sam Altman

Sam Altman has been fired from his position as CEO of OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, according to an announcement made on Friday, November 17. The company’s chief technology officer, Mira Murati, will serve as interim CEO until a permanent replacement has been found.

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OpenAI announced the firing of co-founder Sam Altman in a blog post titled “OpenAI announces leadership transition.” The move comes just one day after Altman appeared at the APEC CEO Summit in San Francisco, California, where he spoke about art and generative AI. No mention was made of his impending departure from OpenAI.

The company prefaced the reason for Altman’s ousting by praising his interim replacement, Murati, who has worked on its leadership team for five years. Per the blog post, OpenAI decided to fire Altman due to communication issues and a lack of confidence in his leadership:

Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he 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.

“Not consistently candid in his communications” is just a long-winded way of saying that Altman lied to the board. It’s unclear exactly why Altman was fired, though there is speculation that recently resurfaced allegations may have contributed to his ouster.

OpenAI’s announcement does not acknowledge or address the allegations of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse made against Altman by his sister Annie Altman, which were touched on in Liz Weil’s recent New York Magazine profile of the entrepreneur whom many have hailed as a “tech genius.” For her part, Annie Altman maintains that the best way to support her is by giving space to her story and supporting “relevant discussions on consensual use with all technology”:

Sam Altman co-founded OpenAI in 2015 with backing from another controversial tech figure, Elon Musk. He has long espoused the benefits of “generative artificial intelligence,” AI that is trained on existing media to generate images, text, and even music. Generative AI is highly controversial in the media industry; it was (and remains) a sticking point in the recent WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike negotiations, and artists across numerous disciplines—including writers, visual artists, and performers—have concerns over the ethics and legality of training AI on their materials. Numerous copyright lawsuits have been filed in relation to generative AI. Earlier this month, a judge dismissed part of a copyright lawsuit brought against Meta by various authors, including comedian Sarah Silverman.

Altman became a significant figurehead in the tech industry upon launching ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot, in November 2022. The tech quickly drew criticism, with educators concerned about students using it to write essays and reports of users receiving biased and incorrect answers to their queries. Last January, Time Magazine reported that OpenAI used outsourced laborers from Kenya, paid just $2 an hour, to train ChatGPT to filter out harmful material by feeding it text examples:

Much of that text appeared to have been pulled from the darkest recesses of the internet. Some of it described situations in graphic detail like child sexual abuse, bestiality, murder, suicide, torture, self harm, and incest.

Despite widespread ethical and legal concerns about the use of AI, ChatGPT has remained wildly popular. Just this week, Altman said that OpenAI would be temporarily pausing new sign-ups for ChatGPT due to a surge in usage following the announcement of incoming upgrades. On November 16, one day before Altman’s firing, Reuters reported that OpenAI is exploring how to get ChatGPT into school classrooms.

(featured image: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

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Britt Hayes
Britt Hayes (she/her) is an editor, writer, and recovering film critic with over a decade of experience. She has written for The A.V. Club, Birth.Movies.Death, and The Austin Chronicle, and is the former associate editor for ScreenCrush. Britt's work has also been published in Fangoria, TV Guide, and SXSWorld Magazine. She loves film, horror, exhaustively analyzing a theme, and casually dissociating. Her brain is a cursed tomb of pop culture knowledge.