Artificial intelligence

OpenAI co-founder Ilya Sutskever Intends To Leave Startup

OpenAI co-founder Ilya Sutskever announced on Tuesday that he is leaving the Microsoft-backed startup.

TakeAway Points:

  • Sutskever co-founded OpenAI with Sam Altman and others in 2015. Sutskever said he will work on a project that is “personally meaningful.”
  •  Sutskever will be replaced as chief scientist by OpenAI’s research director, Jake Pachocki.

Ilya Sutskever Intends to Leave OpenAI

“I am excited for what comes next—aa project that is very personally meaningful to me about which I will share details in due time,” Sutskever wrote in an X post on Tuesday.

The departure occurs months after OpenAI experienced a leadership crisis involving co-founder and CEO Sam Altman. 

The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets reported that Sutskever trained his focus on ensuring that artificial intelligence would not harm humans, while others, including Altman, were instead more eager to push ahead with delivering new technology. In November, OpenAI’s board said in a statement that Altman had not been ‘consistently candid in his communications with the board

In an open letter, nearly every employee of OpenAI declared their intention to quit in opposition to the board’s decision. A few days later, board members Sutskever, Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner—who had voted to remove Altman—were no longer on the company’s board. Adam D’Angelo remained on the board despite having voted to remove Altman as well.

When Altman received a question on Zoom concerning Sutskever’s status call with reporters at the time, he said there were no updates to share. “I love Ilya. … I hope we work together for the rest of our careers, my career, whatever,” Altman said. “Nothing to announce today.”

Altman expressed his opinions about Sutskever’s exit on Tuesday.

“This is very sad to me; Ilya is easily one of the greatest minds of our generation, a guiding light of our field, and a dear friend,” Altman wrote on X. “His brilliance and vision are well known; his warmth and compassion are less well known but no less important.” Altman said research director Jakub Pachocki, who has been at OpenAI since 2017, will replace Sutskever as chief scientist.

OpenAI New Board Members

Microsoft obtained a nonvoting position as a board observer. In March, OpenAI announced the composition of its new board and concluded an internal investigation by U.S. law firm WilmerHale into the circumstances surrounding Altman’s removal. 

Altman returned to the board, and three new members were named: Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Nicole Seligman, the former EVP and global general counsel of Sony and president of Sony Entertainment; and Fid.

The three new members will “work closely with current board members Adam D’Angelo, Larry Summers and Bret Taylor as well as Greg, Sam, and OpenAI’s senior management,” according to a company release in March, referencing OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman.

OpenAI’s New AI model

News of Sutskever’s departure comes a day after OpenAI launched a new AI model and desktop version of ChatGPT, along with an updated user interface, the company’s latest effort to expand use of its popular chatbot. The update brings the GPT-4 model to everyone, including OpenAI’s free users, technology chief Mira Murati said Monday in a livestreamed event. She added that the new model, GPT-4o, is “much faster,” with improved capabilities in text, video, and audio.

OpenAI said it eventually plans to allow users to video chat with ChatGPT.

“This is the first time that we are really making a huge step forward when it comes to ease of use,” Murati said.

According to a lawsuit Musk filed against OpenAI in March, Sutskever was a research scientist at Google in 2015 when Altman and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, another OpenAI co-founder, wanted him to become the company’s chief scientist.

“Dr. Sutskever went back and forth on whether to leave Google and join the project, but it was ultimately a call from Mr. Musk on the day OpenAI, Inc. was publicly announced that convinced Dr. Sutskever to commit to joining the project as OpenAI, Inc.’s Chief Scientist,” the legal filing said.

On Tuesday, Jan Leike, who co-led OpenAI’s Superalignment team alongside Sutskever, announced his departure from the startup on X.

Aiming for “scientific and technical advances to direct and manage AI systems considerably smarter than humanity,” the team was introduced last year. Over a four-year period, OpenAI dedicated 20% of its processing capacity to the project.

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