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OpenAI reinstates Sam Altman as its chief executive

Sam Altman looks on during the APEC CEO Summit at Moscone West on Nov. 16, 2023 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
Sam Altman looks on during the APEC CEO Summit at Moscone West on Nov. 16, 2023 in San Francisco, California.

OpenAI said late Tuesday it had reinstated Sam Altman as its chief executive in a stunning reversal that capped five days of drama that rocked the artificial intelligence community.

The company, maker of the popular ChatGPT, said it would also create a new board of directors. This comes after the former board voted to fire Altman as CEO late last week.

"We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D'Angelo," OpenAI said in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter. "We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this."

The announcement was the latest development in a drama that began last Friday, when OpenAI's board of directors removed Altman over apparent differences of balancing safety with artificial intelligence with the desire to release new AI tools into the world.

However, internal dissent within OpenAI over Altman's removal quickly became publicly known, as hundreds of employees demanded his return.

But by early on Monday morning, Microsoft, which owns 49% of OpenAI, announced it had hired Altman to lead its new AI team. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also announced that Greg Brockman, a board member and the former president of OpenAI who quit in protest after Altman's sudden departure, would be joining the new AI division at Microsoft alongside Altman.

Later Monday, an estimated 97% of OpenAI's employees had signed a letter stating that the board had jeopardized the mission of OpenAI. The letter demanded the board be dissolved and that Altman and another co-founder, Greg Brockman, be reinstated. Otherwise, all of them would quit in protest.

Minutes after OpenAI announced Altman's return to the company, Altman also posted, saying "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."

Altman, Brockman, Elon Musk and others founded OpenAI about eight years ago as a nonprofit AI research lab. Under Altman's leadership, it transformed into a lucrative juggernaut. Last year, the company released ChatGPT, setting the pace for the tech industry's focus on a sophisticated type of artificial intelligence known as generative AI.

NPR's Bobby Allyn contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr is a tech reporter for NPR. She examines the choices tech companies make and the influence they wield over our lives and society.