Ex-OpenAI board member provides her first detailed account of CEO ouster

FILE PHOTO: Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, attends the 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, January 18, 2024. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/ file photo

SAN FRANCISCO - OpenAI's board only learned of the existence of ChatGPT when they saw it on Twitter, former board member Helen Toner said in an interview on "The Ted AI Show" podcast that aired Tuesday.

Toner provided her first detailed account of the backstory behind the dramatic firing and rehiring last November of OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, painting a picture of a manipulative executive who fostered a "toxic atmosphere".

Toner said one catalyst for Altman's ousting was when two OpenAI executives reported instances of "psychological abuse" to the board.

"They were really serious, to the point where they actually sent us screenshots and documentation of some of the instances they were telling us about..." she said.

Altman did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

When asked for comment, OpenAI referred to a statement current OpenAI board chair Bret Taylor provided to "The Ted AI Show" podcast, which said a review had been conducted into the events of last November.

"We are disappointed that Miss Toner continues to revisit these issues...The review concluded that the prior board's decision was not based on concerns regarding product safety or security, the pace of development, OpenAI's finances, or its statements to investors, customers, or business partners."

Altman triumphantly returned to OpenAI four days after he was fired, after nearly all of OpenAI's then 700-strong staff threatened to leave and unless the board stepped down and reinstated him.

On the podcast, Toner attributed Altman's swift return to employees being told that the company would collapse without him. Additionally, once a potential return seemed likely, employees feared retaliation from Altman if they did not support him, she said.

Microsoft-backed OpenAI kicked off the generative artificial intelligence craze when it launched the viral ChatGPT chatbot in 2022.

(Reporting by Anna Tong in San Francisco; Editing by Michael Perry)

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