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What to know about new OpenAI interim CEO Emmett Shear

Written by on November 20, 2023

Lawrence Sumulong/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — OpenAI was thrown into upheaval in recent days after the sudden departure of CEO Sam Altman, who just three days later landed at Microsoft. The ouster elicited a letter from about 600 employees at OpenAI, all of whom threatened to resign unless Altman returns.

As the worker protest unfolded, OpenAI – maker of the popular conversation bot ChatGPT – appointed a replacement for Altman: Interim CEO Emmett Shear, the former chief executive at video game streaming platform Twitch. Shear revealed the news Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying he’d received a call from the company offering him the position only hours earlier.

“It’s clear that the process and communications around Sam’s removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust,” said Shear.

“I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence,” he added. “When the board shared the situation and asked me to take the role, I did not make the decision lightly. Ultimately I felt that I had a duty to help if I could.”

Here’s what to know about Shear, his attitude toward AI, and his plans for the company.

Who is Open AI interim CEO Emmett Shear?

Shear, who earned an undergraduate degree in computer programming from Yale University, is best known for his role as the founder and CEO of Twitch.

Launched in 2011, Twitch set out to become the preeminent online platform for livestream video content. Within two years, the site boasted 45 million unique visitors in a single month, Forbes reported. Amazon acquired Twitch for nearly $1 billion in 2014.

Shear stepped down as CEO of Twitch last year, comparing the 16-year-old company to a teenager. “Twitch is ready to move out of the house and venture alone,” Shear said.

Before Twitch, Shear co-founded a series of startups. One of the first, in 2005, was an early attempt at an integrated online calendar, called Kiko Calendar.

“Kiko Calendar was a story in repeated mistakes and failure,” Shear said at a 2014 event with startup accelerator Y Combinator, with which he has been affiliated on and off for nearly two decades. Kiko Calendar was later sold on eBay for $250,000, Shear said at the event.

What are Shear’s plans for OpenAI?

In his announcement on X accepting the role as interim CEO, Shear laid out his initial plans for the company over the coming weeks.

He vowed to hire an independent investigator to examine Altman’s ouster, to speak with an array of company stakeholders, and to reform the company’s management team as needed.

“Depending on the results everything we learn from these, I will drive changes in the organization – up to and including pushing strongly for significant governance changes if necessary,” Shear said.

Shear is among a large number of prominent tech industry figures who believe that AI poses an existential threat to humanity. In a podcast interview on “The Logan Bartlett Show,” in July, Shear described AI as “pretty inherently dangerous,” and placed the odds of a massive AI-related disaster in a range between 5% and 50% — an estimate that he called the “probability of doom.”

As recently as Wednesday, Shear “unironically” wondered aloud whether AI could largely replace one of corporate America’s most prominent job titles: the CEO.

“Most of the CEO job (and the majority of most executive jobs) are very automatable,” Shear declared on X.

He added, however, that “There are of course the occasional key decisions you can’t replace.”

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