As news of Sam Altman’s shock ousting from one of the world’s most powerful tech companies continues to spread across the world, interest has sparked in the company’s interim CEO, Mira Murati.
What happened at Open AI last week?
Last Friday, Sam Altman, the popular founder and CEO of OpenAI — the creators of ChatGPT, was sacked by the board of the company. According to Reuters, OpenAI’s chief operating officer, Brad Lightcap, explained Altman’s sacking in an internal company memo on Saturday was due to a “breakdown of communications”, not “malfeasance.”
A blog post was posted on the company website, stating that Altman was removed following “a deliberative review process by the board.”
Other reports cited the 38-year old tech wonder boy of generative AI had been fired for not being “consistently candid in his communications” with the board, which includes prominent tech individuals such as OpenAI’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and Director of Strategy at Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Helen Toner.
No further explanations have yet been released publicly.
Since his sacking, Altman posted on X, “i love the openai team so much” – which has garnered hundreds of likes, including from Mira Murati and Brad Lightcap.
The news sent shock waves through Silicon Valley and beyond — Altman has an almost unanimous positive public persona, and his company’s board has a charter that pledges to “act in the best interests of humanity throughout its development” and “ensure that artificial general intelligence (AGI)—by which we mean highly autonomous systems that outperform humans at most economically valuable work—benefits all of humanity.”
Altman has become the global face of generative AI, the technology everyone has been talking about since his company launched ChatGPT one year ago.
Over the weekend, one research scientist at OpenAI, Andrej Karpathy, wrote on X: “The board had a chance to explain their drastic actions and they did not take it.”
On the same day, tech news website, The Information reported that OpenAI was “optimistic” they would reinstate Altman into his former position, which he has held since 2019.
Immediately after Friday’s announcement of Altman’s sacking, the company’s chief technology officer, Mira Murati was appointed as interim CEO.
Let’s take a look at Murati, who, according to the New York Times, has been described by her company as having a “unique skill set” that would provide “a seamless transition while it conducts a formal search for a permanent C.E.O.”
Who is Mira Murati?
In March this year, Women’s Agenda took a close look at the then 34-year old Chief Technology Officer of OpenAI. (She is still 34, but no longer the CTO).
Born in Albania, raised in Canada, the Radiohead fan studied at Dartmouth College, where she built a hybrid racecar as a mechanical engineering student.
Earlier this year, Murati was announced as a board member of Unlearn.AI – a San Francisco-based health startup that focuses on novel applications of generative AI. Previously, she’d worked for huge companies including Tesla where she led the Model X, and at Leap Motion — a Silicon Valley VR company that builds hand tracking software.
In her position as CTO at OpenAI, she oversaw entire teams devoted to engineering tools such as to ChatGPT to ensure they “don’t mislead people, show bias, or snuff out humanity altogether.”
In July, Murati, who speaks Italian, Albanian, and English, was interviewed by WIRED, where she revealed her background had been in engineering, aerospace, automotive, VR, and AR.
Responding to a question about the release of GPT-4, Murati said, “It’s going to change entire industries; people have compared it to electricity or the printing press.”
“We have to make sure that people really experience for themselves what this technology is capable of versus reading about it in some press release, especially as the technological progress continues to be so rapid. It’s futile to resist it. I think it’s important to embrace it and figure out how it’s going to go well.”
Last year, she appeared on an episode of “The Daily Show”, sprucing a similar line of ideology to host Trevor Noah. “It’s very important to bring the public along, bring these technologies in the public consciousness, but in a way that’s responsible and safe,” she said.
Two months ago, Murati was named one of this year’s TIME100 Next, a list that celebrates emerging leaders whose accomplishments have dramatically inspired societal change. In her profile piece, Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella described Murati as a woman who has “demonstrated ability to assemble teams with technical expertise, commercial acumen and a deep appreciation for the importance of mission.”
“As a result, Mira has helped build some of the most exciting A.I. technologies we’ve ever seen,” Nadella wrote.
What’s happened in the past 24 hours?
Microsoft is one of OpenAI’s investors who have since Friday tried to get Altman reinstatement as CEO.
According to some reports, top investor and employees have been pressuring board members to get Altman back to his former position. There has even been reports that Microsoft executives and some venture backers (they include Thrive Capital, Tiger Global, Khosla Ventures and Sequoia Capital) —have been strategising on how to get Altman back, including “clearing out the board and reinstating Altman”, as reported in Financial Times.
One individual told the publication, “People in the negotiation say it should wrap today. The sticking point is that he wants the board to step down. This is a board that fired him [only on Friday].”
“The leverage that Sam [has] is support from employees and investors . . . but the board is not beholden to them.”
Jason Kwon, OpenAI’s chief strategy officer, sent a memo to his staff, saying “We are still working towards a resolution and we remain optimistic.”
“By resolution, we mean bringing back Sam, Greg, Jakub, Szymon, Aleksander and other colleagues (sorry if I missed you!) and remaining the place where people who want to work on AGI [artificial general intelligence] research, safety, products and policy can do their best work,” Kwon wrote.