It was the biggest tech soap opera in recent memory for some of us. Only surpassed by Apple and Steve Jobs, when the latter was fired, only to return years later as its savior. Altman’s story has been a bit more express.
We’re still waiting for a definitive answer to the question of why Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, was unceremoniously ousted from the company last month, only to be reinstated after several days of utter chaos.
Since then, some theories have emerged, ranging from a potentially dangerous new-generation AI model to a simple boardroom drama.
A dismissal that could be motivated by personal business
Now, if we stick to the latest news, it seems that Sam Altman’s personal investments have also had something to do with it.
As Wired reports, OpenAI signed a letter of intent to invest $51 million in AI chips for a startup called Rain AI, a company in which Altman himself had already invested.
In other words, it’s almost certain that Sam Altman had a financial interest in a company that was about to receive funding from OpenAI, raising ethical questions about the oddly structured OpenAI and further obscuring one of the most puzzling tech stories of the year.
Rain, a San Francisco-based company, aims to replicate some functions of the human brain through a computer chip dubbed a “neuromorphic processing unit.”
According to documents obtained by Wired, Altman had already invested over a million dollars in the company before the letter of intent.
“Over four years ago, we signed a non-binding letter of intent with Rain to engage in discussions about a formal agreement,” an OpenAI spokesperson told the English publication.
The board of directors did not approve of this deal between the two companies
The blending of his personal business with OpenAI’s certainly played a role in Altman’s dismissal. Internal sources told Wired that it undoubtedly had an impact.
At the time of his dismissal last month, the nonprofit company’s board remained vague, stating in a brief release that Altman “was not consistently forthcoming in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to fulfill its responsibilities.”
The news of Altman’s personal investment in Rain also highlights the race to secure AI chips in the burgeoning industry. Companies like OpenAI and Google are competing to acquire the hardware necessary to power and train increasingly capable AI models.
OpenAI has faced significant headwinds in its own efforts to keep tools like ChatGPT running. Following the announcement of several new features last month, the company had to halt new sign-ups due to an influx of new users that “exceeded our capacity,” according to Altman.
It’s not yet clear if Rain AI will be able to provide a short-term solution. After a national security investigation by a US government agency, a Saudi venture capital fund had to sell its substantial stake in the company last year, as Bloomberg reported at the time.
In summary, it’s still early to determine if Sam Altman was dismissed for prioritizing his personal investments. However, things don’t look good, especially considering the chaos the company has experienced in recent weeks.
What we can say is that now the CEO of OpenAI has complete control of the new board, with Microsoft as a distinguished spectator, so the good ol’ Sam Altman doesn’t have anything to worry about. The move has worked out well for him.