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Ongoing Talks at OpenAI over Sam Altman’s Return Amidst Board Disagreements

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Conversations at OpenAI to reinstate Sam Altman, the ousted chief executive, extended into Sunday evening, with disagreements arising over the composition of the company’s board of directors, according to two individuals familiar with the ongoing discussions.

Throughout the weekend, Altman, aged 38, engaged in a concerted effort to influence the four-person board of directors that removed him on 17th Nov, leveraging support from investors, employees, and OpenAI executives, according to three sources acquainted with the matter.

Altman was physically present at the OpenAI headquarters on Sunday afternoon, sharing a photo on X (formerly Twitter) wearing a guest identification badge, captioned, “First and last time I ever wear one of these.”

The discussions involved exploring the potential reshaping of the company’s board if Altman were to return as CEO. However, there is currently no consensus among board members on the structure of a reconfigured board, and Altman’s reinstatement remains uncertain, according to two of the sources.

Altman and investors are inclined to retain voices concerned about AI safety while ensuring representation from board members with expertise in technology and product commercialization. The unconventional governance structure of OpenAI, which limits profits, may undergo alterations while preserving checks and balances focused on technology safety. The company aims to establish a viable board by Monday morning.

In the long run, Altman and supporters advocate for a shift towards a more traditional structure to align with OpenAI’s evolution into an $80 billion business. The events since the 17th prompted a reassessment of OpenAI’s existing structure, signaling a need for change.

The aftermath of Altman’s ousting has seen significant activity, prompting scrutiny of the circumstances. On the afternoon of November 19th, Will Hurd, a former OpenAI board member and Republican congressman, was outside the company’s San Francisco headquarters, delving into details related to Altman’s dismissal.

Hurd disclosed that the company had sought his assistance before Altman’s removal, and he traveled from Texas to San Francisco to navigate the leadership upheaval. Addressing the importance of trust and transparency in the industry, Hurd emphasized the significance of addressing governance issues.

Before Altman’s removal, OpenAI’s board comprised six members, including Altman and Greg Brockman, a co-founder and board chairman who resigned on Friday in solidarity. The other board members include Ilya Sutskever, Adam D’Angelo (CEO of Quora), Helen Toner (Director of Strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology), and Tasha McCauley (Entrepreneur and Computer Scientist).

Since Friday, those close to the company have sought clarity on why Altman was dismissed. OpenAI’s Chief Operating Officer, Brad Lightcap, assured staff in a note on Saturday that there was no “malfeasance” involved.

Investors, learning of Altman’s ouster, initiated a campaign—privately and on social media—to overturn the decision, reaching out to Microsoft, the largest shareholder with significant influence over OpenAI.

The ongoing deadlock is the latest development in a series of power struggles at OpenAI, highlighting the divide in the AI community between those viewing AI as a substantial business opportunity and those expressing concerns about potential risks associated with rapid advancements.

OpenAI was recently in discussions to raise a new funding round valuing the company at over $80 billion, according to reports. Altman’s potential reinstatement would represent a significant turnaround for OpenAI, which cited his lack of consistent candor in discussions with the board as the reason for his removal.

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