Sam Altman has retaken the throne at OpenAI

Sam Altman has retaken the throne at OpenAI

Charlie Warzel writes:

Five days after Sam Altman’s shocking dismissal from OpenAI and many twists later, the company has announced that he will, in fact, return as CEO. The company’s board of directors, at the core of the drama, is being overhauled. The dust finally appears to be settling.

In the days after his firing, Altman managed to prove that he is far more than a figurehead, winning over a majority of OpenAI employees (including Ilya Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist and the reported architect of his dismissal—it’s, uh, complicated) and some of the tech industry’s biggest luminaries. A number of OpenAI’s most powerful investors rallied around him. On X (formerly Twitter) this weekend, legions of OpenAI employees signaled their loyalty to him “I am Spartacus!”–style; Altman responded with a flurry of heart emoji. Getting unexpectedly fired in front of a global audience is assuredly stressful, but one gets the sense that it also amounted to a huge ego flex for the 38-year-old tech executive. You can see it in the weekend’s most indelible image: a selfie tweeted by Altman on Sunday as he visited OpenAI’s San Francisco offices to continue negotiations, lips pursed in mock disgust, a visitor’s lanyard clutched in his hand. “First and last time i ever wear one of these,” he wrote.” Altman was having fun. He was winning.

This is the triumph of a Bay Area operator and dealmaker over OpenAI’s charter, which purports to place the betterment of humanity above profit and personality. It’s a similar story for Microsoft and its CEO, Satya Nadella, who have invested billions in OpenAI and were reportedly blindsided by Altman’s firing. Quickly, the company used its investment in OpenAI, much of which is reportedly in the form of computing power instead of cash, as leverage to reopen negotiations. Nadella also extended an offer for Altman and OpenAI President Greg Brockman to start a new AI-research group there, creating a win-win situation for the tech giant: Regardless of what happened to OpenAI, Microsoft would have kept the access it currently has to the company’s data and intellectual property, or it could have subsumed the company altogether. Clearly, this was a favorable situation for Altman: He would either return to OpenAI or continue his work with Microsoft’s full backing. Either way, he wouldn’t be wearing the guest pass again.

From all of this, one thing seems abundantly clear: The money always wins. [Continue reading…]

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