Click to Enlarge / OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaking at the OpenAI DevDay on November 6, 2023 in San Francisco.

The OpenAI board has reportedly been in talks with Altman regarding his possible return to the company as CEO. This is just a little over a full day after the sudden firing of OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman. The VergePeople familiar with the situation were cited. The outlet reports that Altman is “ambivalent” If you were to return, would you want the company run differently?

The New York Times Reports The talks are part a campaign of pressure from OpenAI investors led by Microsoft who invested $13 billion into the for-profit arm.

The board would have to make a dramatic turn around, as it has received negative feedback. Intensive scrutiny The tech world has been shocked by the abrupt and surprising firing of one the most high-profile tech CEOs. Altman’s firing shocked both Microsoft and OpenAI employees. Push back During a Friday all-hands, Ilya Sutskever, the Chief Scientist of OpenAI, was criticized for his handling of this move.

The overtures toward Altman suggest that the board may have been surprised by the sizable reaction from the world at large—and is keenly feeling the aforementioned pressure from investors like Microsoft who have bet big on OpenAI’s technology.

A memo to the internal staff Axios Brad Lightcap, OpenAI’s COO confirmed on Saturday that Altman had not been fired because of criticism of the firing process. “malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices.” Altman could return to the company if he accepts the offer. There is no evidence of legal wrongdoing and there is broad support from the current board (excluding the present directors).

OpenAI blog post When the board first announced Altman’s firing Friday, it wrote that Altman was terminated because he “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.” In his memo from Saturday, COO Lightcap stated that the dismissal was due to a “breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.” OpenAI’s President Greg Brockman resigned Friday in solidarity with Altman after the firing.

Altman’s firing was attributed by several sources, citing OpenAI employees, to a cultural clash with OpenAI Chief Science Ilya Ilya Sutskever regarding safety and commercial issues. Sutskever was a board member at OpenAI and reportedly orchestrated Altman’s ouster. Brockman also found out about the firing. Brockman was chairman and Altman a board member. Four board members are left.

We do not know yet what Altman’s return to OpenAI would mean for Sutskever or whether Brockman, the three senior OpenAI scientists who also resigned, would return along with Altman. According to the New York Times Altman, Brockman, and other OpenAI researchers have taken preliminary planning steps towards founding a new AI-based company. They have also received support from investors should this happen.

“The best case for the board is that Sam and Greg come back, the 4 board members resign, and lay low for a long while,” Speculations Will Hubbard, venture capitalist on X. “The worst case for the board is that Sam and Greg start another company, take all OpenAI’s talent and future funding, and have a lawsuit brought against them.” A lawsuit is not planned.

Even if these talks with Altman do not result in anything, their mere existence is a new twist to this otherwise unusual sequence of events. Expect further updates as details emerge.