Before Sam Altman was ousted from OpenAI last week, he and the company’s board of directors had been bickering for more than a year. The tension got worse as OpenAI became a mainstream name thanks to its popular ChatGPT chatbot.
Mr. Altman, the chief executive, recently made a move to push out one of the board’s members because he thought a research paper she had co-written was critical of the company.
Another member, Ilya Sutskever, who is also OpenAI’s chief scientist, thought Mr. Altman was not always being honest when talking with the board. And board members worried that Mr. Altman was too focused on expansion while they wanted to balance that growth with A.I. safety.
The news that he was being pushed out came in a videoconference on Friday afternoon, when Mr. Sutskever, who had worked closely with Mr. Altman at OpenAI for eight years, read to him a statement from the board. Though the decision stunned OpenAI’s employees, exposing its board members to tough questions about their qualifications to manage such a high-profile company, it was the culmination of long-simmering boardroom tension.
The rift also showed how building new A.I. systems is testing whether businesspeople who want to make money from artificial intelligence can work in sync with researchers who worry that what they are building could eventually eliminate jobs or become a threat to humanity if things like autonomous weapons grow out of control.
OpenAI was started in 2015 with an ambitious plan to one day create a superintelligent automated system that can do everything a human brain can do. But friction has long plagued the OpenAI board, which hasn’t even been able to agree on replacements for members who have stepped down.
Now the company’s continued existence is in doubt, largely because of that dysfunction. Nearly all of OpenAI’s 800 employees have threatened to follow Mr. Altman to Microsoft, which asked him to lead an A.I. lab with Greg Brockman, who quit his roles as OpenAI’s president and board chairman in solidarity with Mr. Altman.
The board had told Mr. Brockman that he would no longer be OpenAI’s chairman but invited him to stay on at the company — though he was not invited to the meeting where the decision was made to push him off the board and Mr. Altman out of the company.
The board has not said what it thought Mr. Altman was not being honest about.