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OpenAI, the buzzy AI startup behind the fastest-growing business application of all time, ChatGPT, faced a weekend of turmoil that rivaled a Shakespearean tragedy.

On Friday, the organization announced the abrupt termination of its CEO Sam Altman, accusing him of being “not consistently candid in his communications.” It also removed president Greg Brockman in a boardroom coup that shocked the tech and business worlds.

The news triggered a wave of speculation about the motives behind this sudden ouster. What dark secrets was Altman concealing from his co-workers and backers? How would he respond to his downfall? Would he launch his own venture capital fund or rival company?

By Saturday, some sources claimed that Altman would make a comeback to OpenAI after influential figures like Microsoft’s Satya Nadella intervened on his behalf. Reportedly, many OpenAI employees threatened to quit if their beloved leader was not reinstated.

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But by Sunday evening, it was clear that Altman’s tenure at OpenAI was over. The board appointed a new CEO named Emmett Shear, a co-founder of the live-streaming platform Twitch. 

For those were just as shocked and confused by this whirlwind saga as us, here is a short timeline of how it all unfolded:

Thursday, November 16

  • Thursday morning: Sam Altman participates in a series of public engagements during the day as normal. He begins the day speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in downtown San Francisco. Later, he is seen at a warehouse in Oakland discussing generative AI with artists. This would turn out to be his last public appearance as the CEO of OpenAI.
  • Thursday Evening: Altman ends his talk at the Oakland warehouse abruptly, telling the audience that he was late for a meeting, according to The Verge. It is unknown whether this was the meeting where Altman was informed of his impending dismissal.

Friday, November 17

  • Friday afternoon: Sam Altman is fired by OpenAI’s board of directors for not being “consistently candid in his communications.” The news of his dismissal is made public on the same day, catching employees, industry peers, and even major investors like Microsoft off guard. 
  • Friday afternoon: Sam Altman breaks his silence. He tweets: “i loved my time at openai. it was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. most of all i loved working with such talented people. will have more to say about what’s next later. ?.”
  • Friday late afternoon: In a sympathetic move, OpenAI co-founder and board chairman Greg Brockman unexpectedly resigns as the fallout begins. Brockman’s departure marks a significant leadership shift at the company, amplifying its internal disruption.
  • Friday evening: Brockman adds critical detail. He tweets: “Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today… Last night, Sam got a text from Ilya asking to talk at noon Friday. Sam joined a Google Meet and the whole board, except Greg, was there. Ilya told Sam he was being fired and that the news was going out very soon.”
  • Friday evening: Forbes reports that key venture capital backers, including Vinod Khosla and Reid Hoffman, were not informed in advance of Altman’s dismissal. The investors, blindsided by the news, express shock and confusion.

Saturday, November 18

  • Saturday morning: CNN Business reports that tensions over Altman’s aggressive approach to AI development versus the board’s more cautious stance may have been a significant factor.
  • Saturday morning: OpenAI’s chief strategy officer Jason Kwon told employees that the company is “optimistic” about Altman returning. Meanwhile, a number of OpenAI employees voice their support for Altman by tweeting heart emojis, including interim CEO Mira Murati.

Sunday, November 19

  • Sunday afternoon: Sam Altman makes an unexpected appearance at the OpenAI headquarters in San Francisco. His visit sparks speculation about potential negotiations for his reinstatement.
  • Sunday afternoon: The New York Times reports the discussions between Altman, the board, and key stakeholders reach an impasse due to disagreements over the future board composition.
  • Sunday afternoon: Forbes reports that Microsoft, which has invested over $10 billion into OpenAI, was informed of Altman’s firing just one minute before the official press release. This revelation added another layer to the unfolding drama.
  • Sunday evening: The Information confirms that Altman will not return as OpenAI’s CEO. Instead, Emmett Shear, co-founder of the Amazon-owned video streaming site Twitch, would take over as interim CEO.
  • Sunday evening: In a final plot twist, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella tweets: “We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap…and we’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team. We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”

What’s next: Microsoft comes to Altman’s rescue

So what’s next for OpenAI after this tumultuous weekend? Altman may be scuffed up, but don’t count him out just yet. With his connections and new job at Microsoft, he could resurface stronger than ever, managing a new project that makes OpenAI rue the day they turned on their former leader.

As for OpenAI, only time will tell if Emmett Sheer has the chops to lead them to glory in the AI arms race. But with restless employees, their spurned co-founder thriving under a rival banner, and controversies around ChatGPT still simmering, OpenAI likely faces continued turbulence ahead.

For tech industry observers, this soap opera serves as a reminder that Silicon Valley can be callous and ruthless. Tech companies may paint themselves as idealistic change agents, but at the end of the day, the quest for power and fortune governs all. OpenAI’s palace intrigue simply ripped the noble facade aside, showing the ugliness beneath. One thing’s certain — this likely isn’t the last scheme, betrayal, or overthrow we’ll see as AI empires battle for supremacy in the decade ahead.

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