A timeline of the OpenAI, Sam Altman saga.

A Definitive Timeline Of The OpenAI and Sam Altman Saga

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We’ll be honest, it’s the most fun we’ve had in the newsroom since FTX collapsed last November.

Nearly valued at a peak of US$89 billion (AU$135 billion), OpenAI is now in shambles. The situation doesn’t look like it’s getting any better soon. As someone so eloquently put it on X, it’s like we lived through three seasons of Succession

If you’re still trying to weed through the noise and figure out how it unfolded, look no further. Here’s a full timeline of the OpenAI and Sam Altman saga. All dates are in US Pacific time.

November 17, Friday

OpenAI releases a statement announcing a “leadership transition”. In the statement, the company said that CEO Sam Altman “will depart and leave the board of directors”. CTO Mira Murati will serve as interim CEO.

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.”

Hours later, Greg Brockman, co-founder of OpenAI who’s also on the board, said on X he “quit”.

Moments later, Greg Brockman followed up with a post detailing OpenAI CTO, Ilya Sutskever’s role in removing Sam Altman as CEO. More on the tension between Altman, Brockman, and Sutskever here.

Microsoft was completely blindsided by the news, and was informed one minute before OpenAI’s announcement went public. Watch our video about Microsoft’s relationship with OpenAI here.

November 18, Saturday

At least three speculations had been circulating on OpenAI and Sam Altman since his departure:

  1. That Sam Altman and Greg Brockman are planning to launch their own AI venture;
  2. That OpenAI’s investors are planning to reinstate Altman as CEO, threatening a mass employee revolt;
  3. That Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is “furious” but is also mediating discussions between OpenAI executives to reinstate Altman as CEO.

Citing sources, The Information also reported that OpenAI Chief Strategy Officer Jason Kwon told employees that the board was confident that they could bring Sam back.  

November 19, Sunday

News breaks across the interwebs that OpenAI leaders were stalling on efforts to lure Sam Altman back after firing him. The tea starts seriously spilling from this point. 

Meanwhile, Altman was getting busy professing love for the OpenAI team.

Altman’s supporters seem unhappy with the board’s handling of the situation, and believe that Altman is essential for OpenAI’s vision and success. Altman rocked up to OpenAI’s San Francisco headquarters to spill some more tea, where some executives were actively advocating for his reinstatement as CEO.

He teased a selfie with a lanyard that spelled “guest”.

Figures such as Murati are actively advocating for Altman’s reinstatement, yet the board is showing resistance to this.

OpenAI named Emmett Shear, co-founder of video streaming platform Twitch, as the interim CEO, taking over from Murati. Fun fact: Shear and Altman were ‘batch mates’ who joined startup accelerator fund YCombinator in the same year – way back in 2011.

November 20, Monday

Sam Altman, along with Greg Brockman and their team, declare their decision to join Microsoft in order to spearhead a new AI research team. Someone put the kettle on.

Microsoft CEO Nadella expressed openness to other OpenAI personnel, assuring them of the necessary resources should they opt to join the venture. A mutiny in OpenAI looks likely. 

In a surprising turn of events, Ilya Sutskever took to X to express remorse for his role in removing Altman, vowing to use all available means to reinstate Altman as the CEO. His tears cool down the tea.

Tensions escalated after a letter, signed by nearly 500 of OpenAI’s approximately 770 employees, including Sutskever himself, was made public. The letter was a collective threat to resign unless the startup’s board resigned and reinstated Altman.

However, reports from The Verge suggested Altman’s transition to Microsoft may not be final. The mutiny is off. Altman and Brockman seem to remain open to the possibility of returning to OpenAI. Everyone might kiss and make up.

However, Altman and Brockman’s return hinges on the willingness of the remaining board members, who initially ousted Altman, to go far, far away and not come back.

November 21, Tuesday

97% of OpenAI staff have now signed the letter threatening to leave. The company’s investors are now exploring legal ways to force the board to reverse its decision to fire Sam Altman.

Per Bloomberg, not even Emmett Shear wants the job — he has reportedly told people close to OpenAI that he does not plan to remain as CEO if the board is unable to explain why they fired Altman.

More “fruitful negotiations” are taking place, per journalist Kara Swisher. Two sides are involved in the discussion: Sam Altman’s side, where he brings a “crew” of well-known friends including AirBnB co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, and the OpenAI board’s side, including interim CEO Emmett Shear.

November 22, Wednesday

And he’s back.

Altman said in a Tweet, I love OpenAI, and everything I’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together. When I decided to join msft on sun evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team. With the new board and [with] Satya’s support, I’m looking forward to returning to OpenAI, and building on our strong partnership with msft.

Has somebody told the new CEO who already quit at Twitch? Yep, 22 minutes ago, they did.