OpenAI boss who worried AI was going 'too far' leaves company days after supercharged new ChatGPT announced

computer scientist Ilya Sutskever with a headset microphone on stage

Ilya Sutskever, Russian Israeli-Canadian computer scientist and co-founder and Chief Scientist of OpenAI, pictured speaking at Tel Aviv University about ChatGPT and AI

Aaron Brown

By Aaron Brown

Published: 15/05/2024

- 15:59

Updated: 15/05/2024

- 16:06

Co-founder Ilya Sutskever played a key role in the ousting of CEO Sam Altman last year

OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever has announced plans to leave the start-up less than 48 hours after the firm unveiled its latest version of the ChatGPT chatbot, capable of real-time conversations, flirting, and analysing vast numbers of documents. Mr Sutskever played a key part in the dramatic firing of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman in November last year.

At the time, New York Magazine's Kara Swisher previously reported the decision to oust Altman was driven by Sutskever’s concerns that he had pushed AI technology “too far, too fast.”

Days after the power struggle — and with Sam Altman set to run a rival AI division within Microsoft, Ilya Sutskever reversed course, signing an employee letter demanding that Sam Altman return and expressing regret for his "participation in the board's actions."

With Altman returned to his previous position, Ilya Sutskever was dropped from the board of OpenAI. Since then, his position within the company has been unclear.

Equipped with a $10 billion investment from Microsoft, which relies on ChatGPT to power its paid-for Copilot feature in Windows 10 and Windows 11, OpenAI hosted a live stream event on Monday to confirm the latest iteration of its generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbot. The new model, known as GPT-4o, capable of realistic voice conversation and able to interact across texts and images.

It's also capable of recalling previous conversations and context, thanks to its new memory capabilities. The powerful new tool has drawn widespread comparisons with to the AI voiced by Scarlett Johansson in the Academy Award-winning film Her by Spike Jonze. In the film, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) develops a romantic relationship with the talkative AI, who speaks to him via an earpiece.

Commenting on the departure of the OpenAI co-founder in a company blog, CEO Sam Altman wrote: "Ilya and OpenAI are going to part ways. 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. His brilliance and vision are well known; his warmth and compassion are less well known but no less important.

"OpenAI would not be what it is without him. Although he has something personally meaningful he is going to go work on, I am forever grateful for what he did here and committed to finishing the mission we started together. I am happy that for so long I got to be close to such genuinely remarkable genius, and someone so focused on getting to the best future for humanity."

Jakub Pachocki will be the company's new chief scientist, the company said on its blog. Pachocki has previously served as OpenAI's director of research and led the development of GPT-4 and OpenAI Five.

"After almost a decade, I have made the decision to leave OpenAI," Sutskever confirmed in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. Sutskever added that he will leave to work on a project "that is very personally meaningful to me about which I will share details in due time."

Shortly after launching in late 2022, ChatGPT was called the fastest application ever to reach 100 million monthly active users.

However, worldwide traffic to ChatGPT's website has been on a roller-coaster ride in the past year and is only now returning to its May 2023 peak, according to analytics firm Similarweb. Sutskever has long been a prominent researcher in the AI field.

Before founding OpenAI, he worked as a researcher at Google Brain, and was a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford, according to his personal website. He started his career working with Geoffrey Hinton, one of the so-called "godfathers of AI".

Google revealed its response to ChatGPT-4o during the two-hour opening keynote at its Google I/O developers conference on May 14. Known as Gemini 1.5, the new AI model can identify objects seen through the viewfinder of your camera.

It will play a pivotal role in the first major shake-up to Google search in its 26-year history.

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