Money, not mysticism, behind OpenAI coup

The tech industry in California has a long history of attracting brilliant weirdos and dreamy geniuses.

01 February 2024

Alistair Fairweather

On November 30, ChatGPT celebrated its first birthday, but the milestone was overshadowed by a bizarre palace coup – and subsequent reversal – at its parent company. Depending on which rumours you believe, the coup was caused by either a disagreement over business models, or over an existential risk to all human life.

The timeline of the kerfuffle is comically short. On Friday, November 17, the board of OpenAI (the company behind ChatGPT) abruptly fired CEO Sam Altman for undisclosed reasons. By Sunday, Altman (along with other senior staff who quit in protest) had been ostensibly hired by Microsoft, OpenAI's largest investor. The next day, 90% of the company's staff threatened to quit, and by Wednesday, 20th, Altman had been restored as CEO and the board largely replaced.

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