OpenAI taps Emmett Shear to succeed Sam Altman as chief executive

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OpenAI’s board has selected Emmett Shear, co-founder of video streaming service Twitch, as its interim chief executive, according to two people briefed on the matter.

The unexpected move is expected to deepen rifts at the company exposed by the sacking of co-founder Sam Altman on Friday.

Shear is the second interim appointment in three days, after the board initially replaced Altman with chief technology officer Mira Murati on Friday afternoon, a decision that plunged the leading generative artificial intelligence company into crisis. 

OpenAI’s leading investors including Microsoft and dozens of employees rallied to Altman’s side over the weekend in an effort to have him reinstated as chief executive.

On Sunday afternoon, their attempts looked likely to succeed when Altman made a dramatic return to the company office. Brandishing a guest pass, the former boss posted to X: “first and last time I ever wear one of these”.

But in a message to staff late on Sunday night, co-founder Ilya Sutskever, who remains on the board, announced Shear’s appointment, dashing hopes of a speedy return for Altman and raising further questions about the company’s future. 

One person with knowledge of the board’s decision to appoint Shear said: “He was really strongly recommended by a bunch of senior Silicon Valley folks. He understood the mission, he understood that he might have a rough patch on his hands because employees are super unhappy.”

The non-profit board, which controls the for-profit company, will remain in place, but neither Altman nor his co-founder Greg Brockman, who also left OpenAI on Friday, will return, according to one of the people with knowledge of the discussions.

It was not immediately clear what would happen to Murati, OpenAI’s chief technology officer originally picked by the board to run the company.

Alongside Sutskever on the board are independent directors Adam D’Angelo, the chief executive of Quora; technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley; and Helen Toner from the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.  

Unlike a typical for-profit company, which has fiduciary duties to shareholders, OpenAI’s board is committed to a charter that pledges to ensure AI is developed for the benefit of all humanity.  

In announcing the decision to sack Altman on Friday, the board claimed he had not been “completely candid”. A person with knowledge of the decision said it had become “impossible to oversee” Altman, whose “superpower” was to shape narratives and influence powerful people for his own purposes.

“There was no one big problem. The board reached the point where they couldn’t believe what Sam told them,” said the person with direct knowledge of the board’s decision.

Altman’s sacking followed growing unease about the pace of development and commercialisation of the powerful technology OpenAI is building, as well as concerns about Altman fundraising for projects outside of the company, including a plan to develop a chip factory with the support of Middle Eastern backers, according to people with knowledge of the dispute. 

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