On Sam Altman's Forced Ousting as OpenAI CEO & The Idolatry of Tech "Gods"

17 Nov 2023

Well well well. Look at that Friday afternoon news dump….

Sam Altman is was the Face of OpenAI, the Maker of ChatGPT

Just last week (also on a Friday), I wrote about OpenAI’s latest GPTs launch following its first ever DevDay conference. Companies typically do this when they get big. Think: Apple’s demo of the iPhone, or the App Store. Sam Altman gave the keynote speech for that launch which intro-ed a suit of product features by OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT. His speech was aspirational and grand, emulating similar feelings to those that Steve Jobs used to make.

Just under a year ago, my story on ChatGPT was the first of over 500+ stories HackerNoon currently hosts, and counting, on the absolutely tectonic shift that is chatGPT, LLMs (Large Language Models), and AI as a whole. AI was having a moment. It still is. The world hasn’t looked back since.

Tech’s New Golden Boy and Its Latest Hope

If you don’t live under a rock, you probably know who Sam Altman is. Just under a year, he went from being a semi-famous-yet-obscured-to-the-public-at-large technologist, having previously served as president of Y Combinator, the most well-known startup incubator in Silicon Valley ( here’s his original 2017 essay on UBI titled American Equity, published on HackerNoon)… to being a household name (in other words, famous-famous), among the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates. He was among the few CEOs invited to the White House to recently advise the government on AI regulation. This also gave rise to the White House’s first ever Executive Order on AI, which you can read here. (The AI industry’s reaction to this EO has been… mixed.)

May I remind you, right around the time of Sam Altman’s meteoric rise, another Sam was having his (less positive) moment. The darling of Crypto, people used to call him. The rise of a “good” Sam feels diametrically opposed to the downfall of crypto’s golden boy Sam Bankman-Fried. “He’s a good one”, touted tech journalist Kara Swisher on her podcast “Pivot”, referring to Sam Altman.

The parallel rise and fall of the 2 CEOs, I’m sure, would be a fascinating topic to unpack for months if not years to come, for those interested in tech and invested in its long term future, as well as those on both sides of the spectrum of techno-optimism (as Marc Andreesen calls it). As people were losing hope in crypto, due to 1 Sam, they were gaining hope in AI, thanks to another Sam. This time would be different, people were feeling. Redemption for tech again!


Sam Altman’s Sudden Ousting as CEO

In a public blog post published early afternoon Friday, November 17, OpenAI stated Sam Altman’s sudden departure following a “deliberate review process” which rendered the Board no longer have “confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.” See the full statement here.

People were having questions…


What was in that deliberate review? Lacking confidence in what way? Does it have anything to do with his multiple lawsuits? Or because he wore a neon polo with a double popped collar to OpenAI Dev Day? Or the allegation that OpenAI hides under its 501(c)3 umbrella while being a corporation at heart? Or his sister’s allegation of child-on-child sexual abuse? Or his (apparent/possible) bid to run for President as a Democrat in 2024?

And most importantly, why now? Wasn’t he just representing the company in many important moments, as recent as last week?

CTO Mira Murati to Serve as OpenAI’s Interim CEO

In that same official annoucement, the company briefly mentioned the temporary replacement for Altman. Her name is Mira Murati.

Screenshot Google.com Image Search

Here’s what OpenAI said about Murati:

“Mira Murati, the company’s chief technology officer, will serve as interim CEO, effective immediately.

A member of OpenAI’s leadership team for five years, Mira has played a critical role in OpenAI’s evolution into a global AI leader. She brings a unique skill set, understanding of the company’s values, operations, and business, and already leads the company’s research, product, and safety functions. Given her long tenure and close engagement with all aspects of the company, including her experience in AI governance and policy, the board believes she is uniquely qualified for the role and anticipates a seamless transition while it conducts a formal search for a permanent CEO.”

Personally, I have an interest in this person, as she was only 2 years my senior at UWC (United World College), the high school system which I was also a part of :) I went to the one in India, and she went to the one in Canada. Also, excited that the CTO of such a company is a woman. But I digress…

My concluding thoughts on the Idolatry of Technologists

The company is on the hunt now for its permanent CEO, as cited in the blog post. The sudden ousting of Sam Altman definitely came as a surprise to the tech world, down to the company’s own employees (as reported by the Verge, who’s in contact with many sources within the company). It seems that their employees learned about the news around the same time the public did.

It also seems like whatever Sam did, only a handful of the higher ups at OpenAI (and probably its many lawyers now), are privy to.


What I can say now, is this rather crude take. This is just another blow to the Marc Andreesens of the world. And by that I mean the people at the highest totem pole of tech, the techno-optimists, the people who love to argue for a world free of tech scrutiny and who are are okay with the Idolization, over-glorification or even Apotheosis of the technologists who make it happen (Apotheosis is a word I just googled. It means treating someone as though they are god). You know the type. They are the ones with checked marks on Twitter, I mean, X. The Musk “groupies”, if you will.

Ever since Sam ascended to his current position, I’ve seen a number of behaviors from Sam’s groupie. My ex-employer included. No shade to him, of course.

Time will tell. But right now, I’m excited for Mira!