A new, diverse OpenAI board takes shape as Sam Altman returns

New Delhi: A series of events that could potentially calm the turmoil at OpenAI. Sam Altman, former CEO who was fired by the company’s board late last week, is likely to return in the same role, with the artificial intelligence company suggesting an agreement is in place. Crucially, a new board will be constituted to work alongside the returning Altman and the while the expectation is a fresh start to governance, they aren’t completely cutting ties with the previous board.

Sam Altman, left, appears onstage with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at OpenAI’s first developer conference, on Nov. 6, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP)

In its evolving configuration, the board will have Bret Taylor as Chair, as well as Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo. “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,” says an OpenAI statement.

For now, details are awaited on the exact number of board members in its final configuration, but the expectation is the strength will be closer to seven. Expect announcements of new board members in the coming days. “We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this,” the company’s statement adds.

Despite scepticism drawn from what’s unfolded over the past few days, there seems a degree of certainty this time. “With the new board and with Satya’s (Satya Nadell) support, I’m looking forward to returning to OpenAI, and building on our strong partnership with Microsoft,” says Altman, in a statement.

Altman returns, closing the chapter on short tenures of interim CEO Emmett Shear who previously was at Twitch, and OpenAI CTO Mira Murati. The board which ousted Altman on November 17 for being “not consistently candid in his communications”, faced pressure from employees as well as investors including Microsoft, with CEO Satya Nadella offering Altman a role, which was accepted.

As he chairs the new OpenAI board, Taylor brings considerable experience. He is former co-CEO of Salesforce, though his last role was as board member at e-commerce company Shopify. The 43-year-old has previously been chairman of the board at Twitter prior to Elon Musk walking into the building with a kitchen sink, CEO of software company Quip, chief technology officer at Facebook and founded social network FriendFeed in 2009.

Also Read: In this kerfuffle, no one is sure where OpenAI, Microsoft or Sam Altman stand

Larry, or Lawrence H. Summers, is as close a wildcard pick as could have been possible. The 68-year-old was director of National Economic Council for then-President Barack Obama and has served as U.S. secretary of the treasury from 1999 to 2001, director of the National Economic Council from 2009 to 2010 and Chief Economist at the World Bank.

His appointment should help OpenAI with an outsider’s perspective, something rare in Silicon Valley’s often close-knit ecosystem. With an increasing spectrum of regulation, Summers will be able to provide OpenAI with guidance on the framework to work within, and well as a crucial bridge between the company, government, regulatory bodies and academia. Summers was also president of Harvard University.

The 39-year-old D’ Angelo, was on the previous OpenAI board too. His continuation is indicative of the role he played during the tumultuous past few days, negotiating for a possible return of Altman for OpenAI. He is also CEO of Quora and has previously been CTO at Facebook. He also invested in Instagram, before its acquisition by Facebook.

There is no place for previous board members Tasha McCauley, Helen Toner and Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist. “And now, we all get some sleep,” is all Toner posted on X, embellished with a sleep emoji.

Microsoft, with 49% share in the for-profit division of OpenAI and having invested more than $10 billion, is considering a seat on the new board. Their move, however, will depend on whether such a position would invite regulatory scrutiny, given the tech giant’s stake and scope of business with OpenAI.

Nevertheless, beginning of a reconstitution of OpenAI’s board and Altman’s return will assuage fears of many tech companies which rely on OpenAI’s models. None more so than Microsoft, and the relief in Nadella statement is all too clear.

“We are encouraged by the changes to the OpenAI board. We believe this is a first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance,” he wrote on X. There’s a lot at stake for Microsoft, since OpenAI’s models play a critical role in the company’s spread of AI tools for enterprises and millions of Windows PC users.

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