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Sam Altman rejoins OpenAI board of directors as investigation into his ouster comes to a close

OpenAI announced its new board of directors on Friday, as well as the conclusion of an internal inquiry by US law firm WilmerHale into the circumstances that led to the dismissal of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.  

Sam Altman will also joined the OpenAI board.  

The newest board members are:  

Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, serves on the Board of Directors of Pfizer and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.  

Nicole Seligman, former EVP and Global General Counsel of Sony and President of Sony Entertainment, is on the boards of Paramount Global, Meira GTx, and Intuitive Machines, Inc.  

Fidji Simo, Instacart’s CEO and Chair, also serves on Shopify’s Board of Directors. 

The three new members will “work closely with current board members Adam D’Angelo, Larry Summers, and Bret Taylor, as well as Greg, Sam, and OpenAI’s senior management,” according to a press statement.  

According to a Zoom session with media, OpenAI plans to increase its board in the future.  

OpenAI did not publish the inquiry report, but did release a summary of its conclusions. 

“The review concluded there was a significant breakdown of trust between the prior board and Sam and Greg,” Taylor stated. He went on to say that the investigation “concluded the board acted in good faith… [and] did not anticipate some of the instability that led afterwards.”  

Taylor further stated that the board’s concerns were not related to product safety and security, OpenAI’s finances, or comments to consumers or business partners, but rather to “a breakdown in trust between the board and Mr. Altman.”  

WilmerHale’s investigation began in December, and the lawyers filed their findings today, which included hundreds of interviews with former OpenAI board members and advisors, current executives, and other witnesses. According to the announcement, the probe included the review of more than 30,000 documents. 

“We have unanimously concluded that Sam and Greg are the right leaders for OpenAI,” Bret Taylor, head of the OpenAI board, said in a statement.  

“I am very grateful to Bret, Larry, and WilmerHale,” Altman stated on the Zoom call with reporters. He went on to say of Mira Murati, the CTO, “Mira in particular is incremental to OpenAI all the time … but through that period in November, she has done an amazing job helping to lead the company.”  

He also stated that he is “excited to be moving forward here” and wants the incident to be “over.” He also expressed regret for how he handled disagreements with the board. 

In November, OpenAI’s board removed Altman, provoking resignations – or threats of resignation – including an open letter signed by nearly all of OpenAI’s staff, as well as outrage from investors, including Microsoft. Within a week, Altman was back at the company, and board members Helen Toner, Tasha McCauley, and Ilya Sutskever, who had voted to remove Altman, were dismissed. Adam D’Angelo, who had also voted to remove Altman, remained on the board.  

When questioned about Sutskever’s status during the Zoom session with reporters, Altman stated there were no updates to provide.  

“I love Ilya…” “I hope we work together for the rest of our careers, or my career,” Altman remarked. “Nothing to announce today.” 

Since then, OpenAI has announced new board members, including Bret Taylor, former Salesforce co-CEO, and Larry Summers, a former Treasury Secretary. Microsoft received a non-voting board observer post. 

ChatGPT set records as the fastest-growing consumer app in history when it launched in November 2022, and it now has about 100 million weekly active users, as well as more than 92% of Fortune 500 organizations using the platform, according to OpenAI. Last year, Microsoft invested another $10 billion in the company, making it the largest AI investment of the year.  

According to PitchBook, OpenAI has apparently concluded a deal that will allow employees to sell shares at a $86 billion valuation, however the transaction took longer to complete than planned due to the events surrounding Altman’s dismissal.  

The company’s rollercoaster of a few weeks is still having an impact months later. 

Elon Musk, the billionaire tech entrepreneur, sued OpenAI co-founders Sam Altman and Greg Brockman this month for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, according to court records released on Thursday.  

Musk and his attorneys claim in their case that ChatGPT “has been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft.” They further allege that this arrangement violates the founding agreement and 2015 certification of incorporation that OpenAI agreed with Musk, who was a key donor to an OpenAI cofounder in its early years. 

As terms of Microsoft’s contract with OpenAI, the tech behemoth only has access to OpenAI’s “pre-AGI” technology, and it is up to OpenAI’s board to decide if the business has achieved that milestone. Musk argued in his filing that since the OpenAI board shuffle in November, when Toner, McCauley, and Sutskever were removed, the new board is “ill-equipped” to independently determine whether OpenAI has reached AGI and thus whether its technology is outside the scope of the exclusivity agreement with Microsoft.  

Lawyers told CNBC that they questioned Musk’s case’s legal plausibility, and OpenAI has stated that it intends to file a request to dismiss all of Musk’s claims. 

In reaction to the high-profile case, OpenAI published earlier emails from Musk in which the Tesla and SpaceX CEO pushed the emerging business to raise at least $1 billion in investment and agreed that it should “start being less open” over time and “not share” the company’s science with the public.  

Musk’s lawsuit comes after some criticism regarding Altman’s earlier chip attempts and investments.  

Just before his temporary dismissal, Altman was apparently seeking billions of dollars for a new semiconductor startup code-named “Tigris” that would eventually compete with Nvidia, flying to the Middle East to raise funds from investors. 

In 2018, Altman personally invested in Rain Neuromorphics, an AI chip firm situated near OpenAI’s San Francisco headquarters, and in 2019, OpenAI signed a letter of intent to invest $51 million in Rain’s chips. In December, the US forced a Saudi Aramco-backed venture capital firm to sell its Rain shares.  

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