The abrupt dismissal of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman Friday stunned employees and investors alike. But the leadership battle at the leading generative artificial intelligence company is far from over, as reports have since come out that Altman could, in fact, return to the company—if a new board of directors and governance structure is put into place. (The company’s investors, including Microsoft, Thrive Capital, and Khosla Ventures, are all lobbying for his reappointment to the company’s top role.)
Four of the six members of the company’s board voted to get rid of Altman. (In a related move, board chairman and OpenAI cofounder and president Greg Brockman was removed from the board.) In a memo sent to staff over the weekend, OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap said Altman’s exit was the result of a “breakdown of communications” and not a reflection of any sort of “malfeasance.” Brockman quit the company after he was demoted Friday.
Four board members were responsible for Altman’s ouster. And if he returns, it’s not unreasonable to expect that they could be on the way out. Here’s a look at the four board members who kicked off this dramatic executive whirlwind just days ago.
Sutskever is, at present, the sole cofounder of OpenAI who is still with the company. He oversees the board of directors and is chief scientist of OpenAI. In contrast to Altman’s sunny view of AI, Sutskever is more cautious: He views it as his duty, as he recently told MIT Technology Review, to prevent artificial intelligence from going rogue and presenting a threat to mankind. Given their different outlooks, it’s no surprise that Altman and Sutskever have, per Bloomberg, clashed in recent months over the pace at which generative AI is being commercialized.
Born in Russia, but raised in Jerusalem, he studied with AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton, who has recently warned about the dangers of AI. A short stint at Google led to him meeting and ultimately working with Elon Musk on the company that would become OpenAI. (Musk left the company in 2018 after a falling out.)
Beyond her work on OpenAI’s board, Toner is director of strategy and foundational research grants at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology. She previously served as senior research analyst at the effective altruism-minded nonprofit Open Philanthropy, advising policymakers on AI strategy and policy.
She studied AI in China, living in Beijing as a research affiliate at Oxford University’s Center for the Governance of AI. She joined OpenAI’s board in September 2021. At the time, both Altman and Brockman welcomed her with open arms.
“I greatly value Helen’s deep thinking around the long-term risks and effects of AI,” wrote Brockman in a 2021 blog post announcing her arrival on the board. “I’m looking forward to the impact she will have on our progress toward achieving our mission.”
McCauley is an adjunct senior management scientist at Rand Corporation and has been on the board of OpenAI since 2018. (She’s also married to actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.)
She’s CEO of GeoSim Systems, which performs advanced 3D-mapping technology, resulting in high-def 3D city models. And she was the cofounder of Fellow Robots, which is designing an AI-driven robot named Navii to improve the shoppers’ user experience.
The current CEO of Quora, D’Angelo spent four years at Facebook as chief technical officer. D’Angelo became friends with Mark Zuckerberg early in life, when the two attended the Phillips Exeter Academy boarding school. Also, he was a successful competitor in the TopCoder algorithm competitions, winning multiple competitions.
In terms of AI, he recently launched a chatbot on Quora called Poe—Platform for Open Exploration—which he describes as a Web browser for AI. (Quora is a customer of OpenAI for the product.) He’s been an OpenAI board member since 2018.
“We want to ensure that whatever is in control values humans or shares human value,” D’Angelo said in an interview with Semafor earlier this year. “It’s a solvable problem, and it’s important that this goes well. My role on the OpenAI board is to hopefully help make sure that we steer things in that direction. I don’t know when we get to this point where this is a risk, but it’s useful that people are thinking about it now.”