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OpenAI to name new boss after firing co-founder

Emmett Shear. PHOTO | BBC

OpenAI is reportedly set to name Emmett Shear as its interim chief executive just 48 hours after the chaotic firing of boss and co-founder, Sam Altman.

Mr Shear’s appointment, widely reported in the US media, would be the second interim boss OpenAI has appointed since Friday.

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The board dismissed Mr Altman, saying it had lost confidence in him.

There was speculation he could return, reportedly following a backlash from staff and investors.

Mr Altman helped launch the firm which created the popular ChatGPT bot.

But on Sunday evening, OpenAI’s board said it “firmly stands by its decision as the only path to advance and defend the mission of OpenAI,” according to an internal memo, seen by The New York Times.

The BBC has contacted Mr Shear and OpenAI for comment.

Mr Shear is the former boss and co-founder of video streaming service Twitch. The memo to OpenAI’s staff said he has a “unique mix of skills, expertise and relationships that will drive OpenAI forward”.

On Friday, when OpenAI announced it was firing Mr Altman, it also named Mira Murati, the company’s chief technology officer, as its interim chief executive.

At the time, the board accused Mr Atlman of not being “consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities”.

The board did not specify what he is alleged to have not been candid about.

Mr Altman is seen as one of the most influential figures in the fast-growing generative AI space and his sacking sent shockwaves across the industry.

His ousting sparked an outpouring of support from Silicon Valley bosses, including former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt who called Mr Altman “a hero of mine” and said that he had “changed our collective world forever”.

However, whatever the board was so alarmed about on Friday has perhaps been overtaken by the global reaction to its decision. There may also have been fears of Mr Altman setting up a rival company and taking OpenAI’s top talent with him.

The 38-year-old had posted a photo of himself at OpenAI’s headquarters following his dismissal.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he is pictured holding a guest ID pass and comments: “First and last time i ever wear one of these”.

According to tech news site The Information, Mr Altman and Greg Brockman – another co-founder who quit on Friday as the company’s president – were invited to the firm’s San Francisco headquarters for talks on Sunday.

Reports this weekend suggested his sacking had angered current and former employees who were worried it might affect an upcoming $86bn (£69bn) share sale.

The firm’s venture capitalist backers and the tech giant Microsoft – which has a $10bn stake in OpenAI – are also believed to have called for his return.

Sources say there have been a couple of sleepless nights in Seattle, the headquarters of Microsoft, which has also integrated OpenAI’s technology into its applications.

Some speculated that Mr Altman could return and demand the creation of a new board of directors.

OpenAI is widely seen to be a company at its peak, with lucrative investment pouring in, and ChatGPT – which was launched almost a year ago – is used by millions.

Mr Altman has been the face of the firm’s rise. More than that, he is seen by many as the face of the industry more widely.

He testified before a US Congressional hearing to discuss the opportunities and risks created by the new technology and also appeared at the world’s first AI Safety Summit in the UK at the beginning of November.

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