OpenAI Taps ex-Twitch CEO to Lead as Altman Joins Microsoft

(Bloomberg) — OpenAI’s board hired former Twitch chief Emmett Shear as chief executive officer, defying calls from investors to reinstate the ousted Sam Altman.

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Altman and Greg Brockman, who quit the board around the same time, will join Microsoft Corp. and help lead a newly created in-house AI development team. CEO Satya Nadella said in a post early on Monday that his company remains committed to the OpenAI relationship and was looking forward to working with Shear and new leadership.

Shear stepped down as CEO of Inc.’s game-streaming site Twitch earlier this year. He won over directors because of his past recognition of the existential threats that AI presented, one of the people said. A computer scientist who spent more than a decade building Twitch into one of the world’s most successful video platforms, Shear is regarded as having the heft to lead a large engineering group, the person added.

Shear’s appointment cuts to the heart of the divisions that built up at OpenAI over the years, culminating with the removal of Altman as CEO and a director. One of the fissures was Altman’s drive to turn OpenAI, which began as a nonprofit organization, into a successful business — and how quickly he wanted the company to crank out products and sign up customers. That ran headlong into board member concerns over the safety of artificial intelligence tools capable of generating text, images and even computer code with minimal prompting.

OpenAI President Brockman quit on Friday hours after Altman’s firing. The remaining board of directors are OpenAI Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, who honchoed Altman’s firing, as well as Quora Inc. CEO Adam D’Angelo, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

Like some members of OpenAI’s board, Shear has ties to the sometimes controversial effective altruism movement, which sees serious risks from advanced AI. Many effective altruists — a pseudo-philosophical movement that seeks to donate money to head off existential risks — have imagined scenarios in which a powerful AI system could wreak widespread harm.

In September, Shear tweeted that he’s “in favor of a slowdown” of artificial intelligence technological advancement. “We can’t learn how to build a safe AI without experimenting, and we can’t experiment without progress, but we probably shouldn’t be barreling ahead at max speed either,” he added.

Shear and representatives of OpenAI didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Read More: Silicon Valley’s Obsession With Rogue AI Helps Bury Bad Behavior

His appointment marks a turning point in the frenetic aftermath of Altman’s firing, which stunned Silicon Valley and set off an almost immediate campaign led by Nadella and other OpenAI executives to get Altman reinstated. OpenAI and its globe-trotting co-founder Altman kicked off a race for artificial intelligence supremacy from Washington to Beijing, inviting comparisons to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Altman attached several conditions to his return, including changes to the way OpenAI is governed, the removal of the board and a statement absolving him of wrongdoing, people with knowledge of the matter have said. The board was ultimately unwilling to give in to the demands, some of the people said, and instead embarked on their own search for a CEO. The decision to hire Shear is a stinging rebuke to the investors.

Read More: The Doomed Mission Behind Sam Altman’s Shock Ouster From OpenAI

Fallout from the board’s decision to defy investors is likely to be widespread. Thrive Capital had been expected to lead an offer for employee shares, a deal that would value OpenAI at $86 billion. As of this weekend, the firm had not yet wired the money and it told OpenAI that Altman’s departure will affect its actions.

The turmoil also threatens to undermine Microsoft’s biggest investment in AI, a $13 billion bet on OpenAI and its former CEO. The US software leader, which fought to reinstate Altman, owns almost half of the startup but wasn’t able to sway the board. The company’s shares fell Friday after Altman was fired, and investors will be on the lookout for further weakness when the market opens Monday.

When he departed Twitch, which he co-founded, Shear said he wanted to spend more time with his son. “Twitch often feels to me like a child I’ve been raising as well,” Shear said at the time. “And while I will always want to be there if Twitch needs me, at 16 years old it feels to me Twitch is ready to move out of the house and venture alone.”

Ethan Kurzweil, a partner at venture capital firm Bessemer Partners, was on the board of Twitch when Emmett was CEO. “It’s a great pick,” Kurzweil said in a text message. “No easy task to pick up the pieces right now but Emmett has all of the skills to succeed in this and I would think enough credibility to calm the rocky waters right now. He’s forward thinking and a very deep technologist but also a good communicator.”

Shear departed just days before Twitch announced job cuts that affected the company’s ability to police abusive or illegal behavior. At a time when the toxicity associated with gaming culture began running rampant on Twitch, Shear championed trust and safety efforts, people with knowledge of the platform told Bloomberg at the time.

Representatives for OpenAI and Shear didn’t respond to requests for comment. Hours after Sutskever announced Shear’s appointment internally, OpenAI still hadn’t issued a statement.

Sutskever also told staff that Altman wouldn’t be returning. The day before, on Saturday, Shear favorited a post on X that supported Altman’s ouster that read, “congratulations to ilya for taking his company back after (Altman’s) nefarious coup.”

–With assistance from Katie Roof, Amy Thomson and Cecilia D’Anastasio.

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