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Who is Sam Altman? – OpenAI CEO returns with new board

The man, the myth, the CEO.

Reviewed By: Kevin Pocock

Last Updated on December 5, 2023
Who is Sam Altman, ex-CEO of OpenAI and American artificial intelligence (AI) entrepreneur.
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Samuel Harris Altman is once again the CEO of OpenAI, the AI startup behind ChatGPT. The American entrepreneur, who created ChatGPT along with OpenAI President Greg Brockman, was recently ousted from the firm but is now set to return. In a surprise “hostile takeover” that shocked Silicon Valley, the firm’s Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever reportedly conspired with OpenAI’s board to fire the tech executive. The departing pair were offered the option to lead a “new advanced AI research” subsidiary by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, before finally opting to return to OpenAI. That said, who is Sam Altman, the man behind all the drama?

Why is Sam Altman famous?

Sam Altman is a serial entrepreneur and executive leader, having held multiple notable roles in the tech industry, including CEO of OpenAI from 2019 – 2023. He also co-founded the AI research and development firm with several others in 2015. This is notable because OpenAI is the world’s foremost company in the field of artificial intelligence. Supported by funding from Elon Musk, Peter Theil, and Reid Hoffman, the ChatGPT empire has been on a historic run since, toward the ultimate goal of artificial general intelligence (AGI).

Prior to this role, Altman was the CEO of Reddit “for eight days in 2014 after CEO Yishan Wong resigned”, succeeded by Reddit’s own co-founder Steve Huffman. Altman was also Chairman of the Board of Y Combinator from March 2019 until early 2020, following five years as President, and a further three years as Partner since 2011. Altman was actually a millionaire business executive before any of this, selling Loopt (which he co-founded) for $43.4 million USD in March 2012, at the age of 26. In fact, Altman has been refining an incredible ability for fundraising and capital allocation (in the millions of dollars) since the age of 19.

Following in the footsteps of his childhood idol Steve Jobs, Altman is also a college dropout. Jobs attended Reed College, a liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon, and dropped out the same year in 1972. By comparison, Altman attended Stanford University, California in 2005 and dropped out that same year before earning his degree in computer science. Sources say this has had little negative impact on his career in computer science.

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Altman has most recently made headlines against his own will, after being ousted by the OpenAI’s board on Friday, November 17th, 2023. Initially citing a “lack of consistently candid communication”, we’ve since learned from CTO Mira Murati that was, at least in part, related to the developments of an AI model called Q*. The model, completely separate from the GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 models of ChatGPT, may solve the challenges that current AI models generally have with maths, and could eventually play a role in the discovery of AGI (artificial general intelligence).

Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati was the first candidate for interim CEO. Despite her seeming a perfect fit for the role, the OpenAI board of directors swiftly crumbled in direction, hiring ex-CEO of Twitch Emmett Shear for the temporary role. Days later, the board also agreed to fire itself, appointing “Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo” as the initial members of the new board. Hundreds of OpenAI employees had openly declared an interest in following OpenAI’s co-founder to continue their generative AI research under Microsoft’s new “advanced AI research team”, which will no longer be necessary as of Altman and Brockman’s return.

OpenAI confirm via X (formerly Twitter) that the ex-CEO will return and that the board will resign
OpenAI confirmed via X (formerly Twitter) that the ex-CEO will return, and that the board of directors will be replaced.

Microsoft already has a corporate leadership for its AI efforts. Altman and Brockman would presumably have been working directly with:

  • Neel Sundaresan, Vice President of AI and Cloud
  • Eric Horvitz, Chief Scientific Officer
  • Natasha Crampton, Chief Responsible AI Officer
  • Kevin Scott, Chief Technology Officer and Corporate Vice President of AI
  • Lili Cheng, Corporate Vice President of AI and Research
  • Jordi Ribas, Corporate Vice President of Search & AI

How old is Sam Altman?

Sam Altman is 38 years old. Born in St Louis, Missouri, on April 22nd, 1985, Altman is the son of dermatologist Connie Gibstine.

Does Sam Altman have a brother?

Jack Altman is Sam Altmans brother. He is the CEO of Lattice, “a people management platform that empowers leaders to build engaged, high-performing teams that inspire winning cultures.”

Despite being a successful senior executive in his own right, and now the only CEO between them, he’s quite outspoken in support of his high-profile brother.

Tweeting on Saturday, November 18th, Jack Altman issued a sweeping warning “To all the people gleefully hating today, please know you’re betting against the wrong guy.”

Vindication has been sweet, and very very swift.

Jack Altman tweets in support of ousted brother Sam Altman, amid OpenAI coup attempt.
Jack Altman tweets in support of ousted brother Sam Altman, amid OpenAI coup attempt.

Steve is an AI Content Writer for PC Guide, writing about all things artificial intelligence. He currently leads the AI reviews on the website.