Sam Altman is to return as CEO of OpenAI after almost its entire workforce threatened to quit unless he was reinstated.

The future of the ChatGPT maker was up in the air after the shock removal of co-founders Altman and Greg Brockman on Friday.

The duo, CEO and president respectively, were removed by the board of directors – which oversees the company’s non-profit mission – after it accused Altman of not being “consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities”.

The backlash saw almost all of OpenAI’s 770 employees sign an open letter calling on its board to resign and for the reinstatement of Altman and Brockman, both of whom were quickly hired by Microsoft – which has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI in return for a 49% stake – to lead “a new advanced AI research team”, seen as a move to give them oversight over OpenAI despite their removal. Microsoft also extended a hiring invitation to all its workers.

“We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam Altman to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (chair), Larry Summers and Adam D’Angelo. We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this,” OpenAI wrote on X.

Brockman also confirmed his return via a post.

Altman himself posted on X: “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… I’m looking forward to returning to OpenAI.”

Taylor is a former co-CEO of CRM giant Salesforce and co-creator of Google Maps, while Summers was US Treasury Secretary to President Clinton. Quora CEO D’Angelo is a current board member and played a role in Altman’s firing alongside Tasha McCauley, Helen Toner and co-founder/chief scientist Ilya Sutskever.

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Sutskever had expressed his regret over the move to oust his fellow founders: “Now I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.”

There is no indication of the role going forward for former Twitch boss Emmett Shear, who had been installed as interim CEO. This summer Shear described the company’s generative AI as “like someone invented a way to make 10x more powerful fusion bombs out of sand and bleach, that anyone could do at home”.

Shear said he was “deeply pleased” by Altman’s return after “72 very intense hours of work”, adding: “Coming into OpenAI, I wasn’t sure what the right path would be… [this is] the pathway that maximized safety alongside doing right by all stakeholders involved”. 

OpenAI will reportedly conduct an independent investigation into the sacking of Altman.

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