Elon Musk ties to OpenAI board may have ignited Sam Altman mutiny

Elon Musk’s cozy relationships with OpenAI’s board members may have been a key factor in artificial intelligence juggernaut’s surprise – and still mysterious – move to briefly oust Sam Altman as CEO, sources told On The Money.

The billionaire CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and X helped co-found the nonprofit in 2015 and he “knows everyone on the OpenAI board” – including Adam D’Angelo and the company’s Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, both of whom voted to oust Altman, a source said.

“At the end of the day everyone thinks they’re close to Elon,” another source added. “Anyone accepts a conversation with him.”

The extent of Musk’s possible behind-the-scenes machinations is unclear, but in public, the billionaire has waged a campaign supporting the board. He shared an anonymous, and unverified letter on X from former employees that accuses Altman of “deceit and manipulation.” 

Musk also shared a story that reported the board had recently been warned of a breakthrough that could “threaten humanity.” He labeled his post “extremely concerning.” The story said that it was this “unreported letter and AI algorithm” that catalyzed Altman’s removal.

From left: Ilya Sutskever, Elon Musk, Adam D'Angelo and Sam Altman
From left: Ilya Sutskever, Elon Musk, Adam D’Angelo and Sam Altman Paola Morrongiello

The combination of those concerns – plus having Elon in their ear – may have been enough to push some board members over the edge when it came to ousting Altman, according to some insiders.

In fact, sources say D’Angelo, who is also CEO of social Q&A website Quora, and others on the board felt confident that Musk would support their decision. At the very least, the notion of having Musk and other powerful supporters in their corner may have caused the board to miscalculate the employee and investor uproar that Altman’s firing would cause.

“Someone gave the board balls of titanium,” a source said. Having the knowledge that someone with Musk’s stature agreed with their decision helped confirm it was the right move — and gave them confidence to pull the trigger, sources add.

OpenAI logo
Sam Altman was briefly ousted as CEO of OpenAI. AP

Musk publicly came to the defense of OpenAI co-founder Sutskever. 

“I am very worried. Ilya has a good moral compass and does not seek power,” Musk said in a Nov. 19 post on X. “He would not take such drastic action unless he felt it was absolutely necessary.”

Sutskever later admitted that he regretted his involvement in the bizarre affair and has since departed from OpenAI’s board.

Musk expanded on his apparent concern over Sutskever’s actions during a bombshell appearance at the New York Times DealBook Summit on Wednesday – telling the crowd that he wanted more information about why the AI scientist had “felt so strongly as to fight Sam.”

“That sounds like a serious thing. I don’t think it was trivial. And I’m quite concerned that there’s some dangerous element of AI that they’ve discovered,” Musk said.

At the same time, Musk insisted that he doesn’t know the actual reason for the Altman ouster. 

“I’ve talked to a lot of people… I’ve not found anyone who knows why,” Musk said. 

Musk said that following the drama, he reached out to Sutskever but the OpenAI scientist declined to speak with Musk about the situation.

However, he also urged for more transparency about the situation. The reason is “either serious and we should know”… or it was “silly and the board should be fired.” 

Musk has a potential business motive for stoking dissent at OpenAI. He has been vocal about his concerns that AI may extinguish humanity; nevertheless, he continues to work on his own company xAI.

Many experts have suggested that the dystopian, Terminator-like predictions floated by executives like Musk and Altman are actually an attempt at “regulatory capture.” 

By vocally discussing the worst possibilities of an AI future, the experts say, leading executives can help shape regulation and gatekeep the technology from potential rivals.