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OpenAI’s Chief AI Wizard, Ilya Sutskever, Is Leaving the Company

Ilya Sutskever, cofounder and chief scientist at OpenAI, has left the company. The former Google AI researcher was one of the four board members who voted in November to fire OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, triggering days of chaos that saw staff threaten to quit en masse and Altman ultimately restored.

Altman confirmed Sutskever’s departure Tuesday in a post on the social platform X. In the months after Altman’s return to OpenAI, Sutskever had rarely made public appearances for the company. On Monday, OpenAI showed off a new version of ChatGPT capable of rapid-fire, emotionally tinged conversation. Sutskever was conspicuously absent from the event, streamed from the company’s San Francisco offices.

“OpenAI would not be what it is without him,” Altman wrote in his post on Sutskever’s departure. “I am happy that for so long I got to be close to such [a] genuinely remarkable genius, and someone so focused on getting to the best future for humanity.”

Altman’s post announced that Jakub Pachocki, OpenAI’s research director, would be the company’s new chief scientist. Pachocki has been with OpenAI since 2017.

In his own post on X, Sutskever acknowledged his departure and hinted at future plans. “After almost a decade, I have made the decision to leave OpenAI. The company’s trajectory has been nothing short of miraculous, and I’m confident that OpenAI will build AGI that is both safe and beneficial” under its current leadership team, he wrote. “I am excited for what comes next—a project that is very personally meaningful to me about which I will share details in due time.”

Sutskever has not spoken publicly in detail about his role in the ejection of Altman last year, but after the CEO was restored he expressed regrets. “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI,” he posted on X in November. Sutskever has often spoken publicly of his belief that OpenAI was working towards developing so-called artificial general intelligence, or AGI, and of the need to do so safely.

Sutskever blazed a trail in machine learning from an early age, becoming a protégé of deep-learning pioneer Geoffrey Hinton at the University of Toronto. With Hinton and fellow grad student Alex Krizhevsky he cocreated an image-recognition system called AlexNet that stunned the world of AI with its accuracy and helped set off a flurry of investment in the then unfashionable technique of artificial neural networks.

Sustskever later worked on AI research at Google, where he helped establish the modern era of neural-network-based AI. In 2015 Altman invited him to dinner with Elon Musk and Greg Brockman to talk about the idea of starting a new AI lab to challenge corporate dominance of the technology. Sutskever, Musk, Brockman, and Altman became key founders of OpenAI, which was announced in December 2015. It later pivoted its model, creating a for-profit arm and taking huge investment from Microsoft and other backers. Musk left OpenAI in 2018 after disagreeing with the company’s strategy. The entrepreneur filed a lawsuit against the company in March this year claiming it had abandoned its founding mission of developing super-powerful AI to “benefit humanity,” and was instead enriching Microsoft.

Sutskever’s departure leaves just one of the four OpenAI board members who voted for Altman’s ouster with a role at the company. Adam D’Angelo, an early Facebook employee and CEO of Q&A site Quora, was the only existing member of the board to remain as a director when Altman returned as CEO.

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