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Former OpenAI Board Member Helen Toner Details Reasons for Sam Altman’s Firing

The OpenAI board members who fired Sam Altman in November 2023 reportedly did so because, “We just couldn’t believe things that Sam was telling us.”

So said one of those people, former OpenAI board member Helen Toner, while speaking on a podcast called The TED AI Show, Bloomberg reported Tuesday (May 28).

Toner said during the podcast that the board learned of OpenAI’s 2022 launch of its chatbot ChatGPT after the fact, via Twitter; that Altman didn’t disclose his involvement with the company’s startup fund; and that, on multiple occasions, Altman gave the board inaccurate information about the company’s formal safety processes, according to the report.

Altman’s ouster from the company lasted less than a week.

When asked for comments, OpenAI directed PYMNTS to the statement it provided to the TED podcast, in which board chair Bret Taylor said that an independent review of Altman’s firing “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.”

In the TED podcast, Toner gave her fullest account of reasons the board fired Altman, the Bloomberg report said. At the time of the firing, the board said only that Altman had not been “consistently candid” in his interactions with them.

In a Tuesday post on X, Toner shared a link to the podcast and wrote: “Most of the episode is about AI policy more broadly, but this was my first longform interview since the OpenAI investigation closed, so we also talked a bit about November.”

OpenAI announced on Nov. 17 that Altman would depart the company, leaving his positions as both CEO and a member of the board of directors.

The firm said in a blog post making the announcement that the board had concluded that Altman “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”

By Nov. 19, it was reported that OpenAI investors were pushing for Altman’s reinstatement but that discussions had reached a stalemate.

On Nov. 20, it was reported that more than 500 of OpenAI’s 770 employees had signed a letter saying they would leave the company if the board did not resign and reinstate Altman.

On Nov. 22, less than a week after Altman’s ouster, OpenAI announced that he would return to the company and that a new board would be in place.