Former OpenAI Board Member Explains Why Sam Altman Was Fired Last Fall

Former OpenAI Board member, Helen Toner, has spoken out about the circumstances leading to the temporary four-day resignation of OpenAI Founder, Sam Altman, last November. Altman resumed his role as CEO following a change in board composition as Toner resigned from the board, citing Altman’s role in fostering a “toxic atmosphere” within the company.

Toner revealed her insights during an interview on The Ted AI Show last Tuesday. According to her, Altman’s resignation was triggered by complaints from two company executives of psychological humiliation. The board received screenshots and documents demonstrating such incidents. Toner characterized Altman as a “manipulative manager who contributed to the creation of a toxic atmosphere within the company”.

Given the current management’s distaste for airing dirty laundry in public, Toner’s claims drew criticism from OpenAI Board Chairman Bret Taylor. He reminded that the board’s special committee already conducted an investigation into the November events, concluding that it was not necessary to revisit their outcomes. The Board concluded at the time that Altman’s resignation in November was not motivated by safety concerns of OpenAI’s developments, the pace of these developments, the company’s financial performance, or any statements made regarding investors, clients or business partners.

When Altman returned to the CEO position just four days later, the majority of OpenAI’s 700 employees supported the decision. The staff threatened the board with a mass exodus if Altman was not reinstated as CEO. Toner admitted that OpenAI employees were then led to believe the company could not survive without him. When it became clear his return was inevitable, OpenAI staff feared those refusing to support Altman’s reinstatement might be fired.

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