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Who Is Emmett Shear? Sam Altman’s OpenAI Replacement Wants to Automate CEOs

Last Updated November 20, 2023 12:13 PM
Teuta Franjkovic
Last Updated November 20, 2023 12:13 PM

Key Takeaways

  • Sam Altman was removed as CEO of OpenAI.
  • The OpenAI board rejected Altman’s reinstatement terms and named Emmett Shear as interim CEO.
  • Altman will be joining Microsoft to spearhead a new advanced AI research team.

Despite discussions to negotiate his reinstatement on Sunday, November 19, Sam Altman will not resume his role as OpenAI’s chief executive, according to sources familiar with the matter. This development marks the latest turn in a dramatic boardroom showdown in Silicon Valley.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced  early Monday via Twitter that both Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, the former president of OpenAI who resigned in solidarity with Altman, will be joining Microsoft to spearhead a new advanced AI research team. Microsoft is a huge investor in OpenAI.

Altman Out, Shear In: OpenAI CEO Abruptly Replaced

Emmett Shear, co-founder of Twitch, the widely-used video game streaming platform acquired by Amazon in 2014 , is set to take on the role of interim CEO at OpenAI.

This change follows a recent management reshuffle where Mira Murati , named interim CEO on Friday, November 17, will be replaced by Shear. The information comes from sources speaking anonymously to discuss internal matters.

The recent events unfolded after a tumultuous weekend, marked by surprise and upheaval as OpenAI investors and employees rallied to reinstate Sam Altman following the board’s decision to terminate him on Friday.

The board’s statement  on Altman’s removal cited a lack of full transparency in his communications as the reason, offering a vague explanation for the move. This development had a notable impact in Silicon Valley and government circles , where Altman had emerged as a significant influencer in shaping AI policy and regulations.

A source familiar with the board’s discussions revealed  that the decision to remove Sam Altman as OpenAI’s CEO was not related to concerns about the company’s products or services, and it did not stem from a debate over the balance between safety and commercialization.

Despite Altman’s talent, influence, and popularity, the board reportedly believed that the pressure on OpenAI’s CEO would intensify as the company approaches its goal of developing “artificial general intelligence,” surpassing human intelligence.

Altman engaged in discussions about his potential return to the company, sharing a photo  from the OpenAI office on X (formerly Twitter).

Talks involved the possibility of replacing the board with new directors, including names like Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. However, negotiations broke down  by late Sunday night, leading to the announcement of Emmett Shear as the interim CEO. Requests for comments from OpenAI, Shear, and Altman have not been returned.

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella expressed eagerness  to collaborate with Shear and OpenAI’s new leadership team.

Who Is Emmett Shear? Sam Altman’s OpenAI Replacement Wants to Automate CEOs

While Emmett Shear is a prominent figure in Silicon Valley, his name remains relatively unknown to the general public. Shear played a pivotal role in the transformation of Twitch, the live-streaming platform he co-founded in 2007 alongside Justin Kan, Michael Seibel, and Kyle Vogt.

The platform evolved from its origins of broadcasting Justin Kan’s life around the clock to becoming a global phenomenon.

As a computer scientist who spent over a decade building Twitch into one of the world’s most successful video platforms, Shear is seen as having the expertise to lead a large engineering group. Additionally, he shares ties with the sometimes controversial effective altruism movement, which recognizes serious risks associated with advanced AI.

Shear, along with some members of OpenAI’s board, has been associated with effective altruists  who contemplate scenarios where a powerful AI system could cause widespread harm.

In a tweet from September, Shear expressed support for a slowdown in the technological advancement of artificial intelligence, stating , “We can’t learn how to build a safe AI without experimenting, and we can’t experiment without progress, but we probably shouldn’t be barreling ahead at max speed either.”

OpenAI, renowned for its widely used generative AI chatbot, ChatGPT, relies on a potent technology known as a large language model (LLM).

Taking the reins at OpenAI, Shear is poised to confront regulatory pressures intensifying within the AI model industry. These pressures stem from concerns about misinformation and the potential impact on employment posed by this evolving technology.

Upon his departure from Twitch, the platform he co-founded, Shear expressed a desire  to dedicate more time to his son.

He likened Twitch to a child he had been raising, stating, ‘Twitch often feels to me like a child I’ve been raising as well. And while I will always want to be there if Twitch needs me, at 16 years old, it feels to me Twitch is ready to move out of the house and venture alone.”

Ethan Kurzweil, a partner at venture capital firm Bessemer Partners and a member of the Twitch board during Shear’s tenure as CEO, praised the decision, stating: 

“It’s a great pick. No easy task to pick up the pieces right now, but Emmett has all the skills to succeed in this and I would think enough credibility to calm the rocky waters right now. He’s forward-thinking and a very deep technologist but also a good communicator.”

Shear Proposes CEO Automatization?

Shear’s departure from Twitch occurred shortly before the platform announced job cuts, impacting its capacity to monitor and address abusive or illegal behavior. During his tenure, particularly amid the surge of toxicity in gaming culture on Twitch, Shear prioritized trust and safety initiatives.

It will be interesting to see if he owns his statement  that CEOs should be “automatized” and that “we will see management get widely automated, leading to flatter and more dynamic organizations.”

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