Then-OpenAI CEO Sam Altman participates in a discussion titled "Charting the Way Forward: The Future of Artificial Intelligence" during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEOs' Summit, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
(CNN) -- The surprise firing of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman unfolded on Friday as abruptly as it was publicly revealed, according to one of the company's co-founders, who said he had also been demoted to a lesser position before resigning.
The explosive leadership shift, which rocked a giant in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry, happened extremely quickly, Greg Brockman, the company's co-founder and former chairman, said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
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A key factor in Altman's ouster was the presence of tensions between Altman, who favored pushing AI development more aggressively, and OpenAI's board members, who wanted to tread more cautiously, according to CNN contributor Kara Swisher, who spoke to sources with knowledge of the crisis at the company.
Brockman's post, which appeared to be a joint statement speaking for him and Altman, said the two were "still trying to figure out exactly what happened," but summarized the sequence of events that led to Altman's firing.
On Thursday night, Altman received a text message from Ilya Sutskever, another OpenAI co-founder and its chief scientist, according to Brockman. The text message asked Altman to attend a meeting the next day.
"Sam joined Google Meet and the whole board of directors, except Greg, was there," Brockman said, referring to himself. "Ilya told Sam that he was going to be fired and that the news would come out very soon."
"At 12:19 p.m., Greg received a text message from Ilya asking to make a quick call," Brockman continued. "At 12:23, Ilya sent a link to Google Meet. Greg was told that he was going to be removed from the board of directors (but that he was vital to the company and would keep his job) and that Sam had been fired. Around the same time, OpenAI published the blog post."
According to Swisher, Altman didn't find out about the topic of the meeting until 30 minutes before.
After receiving the news of his own dismissal as chairman of the board of directors, Brockman announced that he would be leaving the company.
What drove the board's decision were Sutskever's concerns, which appear to have been exacerbated by OpenAI's recent developer conference and the announcement of a way for anyone to create their own versions of ChatGPT, Swisher reported, citing its sources. Swisher added that it represented "a turning point where Altman pushed too much, too fast" for Sutskever, who "put the board on his side."
In its announcement of Altman's firing, OpenAI claimed that Altman had not been "forthcoming" enough with the board and that he had hindered the board's ability to carry out its responsibilities.
A never-ending drama
The suddenness of the decision was reflected in how some of OpenAI's most important partners were unaware of what happened.
Microsoft, which has invested billions in OpenAI and integrated its technology into the Bing search engine, was not informed of Altman's firing until "just before" the public announcement, Swisher said, while employees received no prior warning.
On Friday night, Altman posted on X that he "loved working with such talented people" at OpenAI and that he "will have more to say about what's next down the road."
He added that "if I start to get out of control, OpenAI's board of directors should go after me for the full value of my shares."
In his post, Brockman hinted that he and Altman may already be moving on. "Please don't waste time worrying. We'll be fine," Brockman said. "Better things will come soon."
CNN has reached out to OpenAI for comment on Brockman and Swisher's accounts of how the events occurred.
An interim CEO
In announcing Altman's firing, OpenAI said chief technology officer Mira Murati will act as interim CEO.
In a statement on its website, OpenAI said Murati is "exceptionally qualified" and that the company has "the utmost confidence in its ability to lead OpenAI during this transition period."
Murati, 34, has been part of OpenAI's leadership team for five years, according to the company. The statement said she will step in while the board "conducts a formal search for a permanent executive director."
The move immediately catapults Murati, who is already a major figure in the AI company, as one of the most recognizable and highest-profile women in tech.
And it puts her at the top of the company as questions arise about what Altman's removal means, the direction of the board of directors, and even the purpose of the company and artificial intelligence itself.
But in a way, this is familiar ground for Murati, a Dartmouth-educated engineer. In July, when OpenAI's head of trust and safety announced plans to step down, Murati took over as interim director of that team.
Murati has previously spoken about his high hopes for AI. In 2022, for example, he told CNN that AI "is really an extension of the human mind, and I hope that we figure out how to implement it in a way that is very beneficial and effective."
No matter who is in charge, OpenAI faces a litany of challenges even before the restructuring of senior management. There are a growing number of competitors and startups in the AI space, and increased government regulations may hinder the growth of the industry.