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ChatGPT inventor Altman: Negotiations inconclusive

Photo: Carlos Barria / REUTERS

According to media reports, the ChatGPT developer company OpenAI will not see the return of co-founder Sam Altman after all. After hours of negotiations over the weekend, the employees were instead presented with another interim boss, as reported by the industry service »The Information« and the news agency Bloomberg, among others. It is the co-founder and long-time head of the gaming-focused streaming service Twitch, Emmett Shear.

Shear was a co-founder of Twitch and had retired from Amazon's live video streaming platform earlier this year. However, an official confirmation from the company is still pending.

Altman and former OpenAI president Greg Brockman had met with executives at the headquarters of the company behind the popular chatbot ChatGPT on Sunday to negotiate a possible return. According to reports, topics such as improving the company's management structure were also discussed. According to media reports, investors in the AI company demanded that the ousted Altman be brought back. Strategy chief Jason Kwon wrote in an email to employees on Sunday night that they were "optimistic" that such a solution could be reached.

However, Altman is also considering starting a new artificial intelligence (AI) company, Reuters reported on Sunday.

For-profit or non-profit?

OpenAI's board of directors had surprisingly withdrawn its confidence in Altman on Friday. It was said that he had not been sincere in his communication with the supervisory board. The 38-year-old Altman was the face of OpenAI – and, by extension, of the artificial intelligence boom.

According to media reports, the background to the expulsion is a dispute over direction: Part of the management team at OpenAI was of the opinion that Altman had the AI software developed too quickly and wanted to bring it to market with a too commercial approach. They would have gotten the majority of the board of directors on their side.

The chatbot ChatGPT can formulate sentences at the linguistic level of a human. Its release about a year ago sparked an AI hype. OpenAI thus became a pioneer in the technology. Microsoft entered into a multibillion-dollar pact with the company to bring its technology into the company's products. Other tech heavyweights such as Google, Amazon and the Facebook group Meta presented competing software.

Renowned technology journalist Kara Swisher wrote that it was triggered by differences between two camps of OpenAI – the for-profit wing and the non-profit wing. OpenAI was founded in 2015 by Altman and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, among others, as a not-for-profit start-up to research AI. However, over time, OpenAI became more and more of a for-profit company. Musk, among others, criticized this again and again.

Note between the lines

Even the official announcement contained a hint of such tensions between the lines. It emphasized that OpenAI was built for a mission: "to ensure that general artificial intelligence benefits all of humanity." The company remains committed to this goal.

According to information from Swisher and The Information, one of the initiators of the revolt against Altman was chief scientist Ilya Sutskever – another co-founder of OpenAI. According to Bloomberg, there were disagreements about how quickly the AI software should be developed, how to market it, and how to minimize risks. Altman's attempts to raise money from investors for the development of his own AI chip have also caused controversy.

Microsoft emphasized on Friday that it is sticking to its cooperation with OpenAI. At the same time, the software giant made it clear that the AI company could not simply withdraw from the cooperation: "We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI and have access to everything necessary to implement our innovation agenda."

For OpenAI, the pioneering role is lucrative: According to media reports, a sale of employee shares was assumed to have a total valuation of 86 billion dollars. As a result, OpenAI rose to the ranks of the most valuable non-listed companies – alongside the video service TikTok and Musk's space company SpaceX.