Who is Helen Toner? Ex-OpenAI board member led Sam Altman's ouster after he tried to push her out: Reports

Weeks before he was sacked, Sam Altman rebuked Helen Toner over a research paper

 Sam Altman and Helen Toner OpenAI CEO Sam Altman had a disagreement with former board member Helen Toner before he was fired | Reuters/CSET

Reinstated OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and the AI startup's former board members who ousted him last month had not been in good terms for over a year, according to latest reports.

Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, former GeoSim Systems CEO Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, the director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, were the former OpenAI board members. Of these, D'Angelo was the only member who was retained in the new initial board tasked with appointing a formal board of directors.

Back then, reports by The Information revealed that Altman was at loggerheads with Toner and that he tried to push her out of the board with the help of other directors.

Weeks before he was sacked, Altman rebuked Toner over a research paper she co-authored for Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, reported The New York Times, citing Altman's email  to colleagues. He reportedly told her that the paper -- which had criticized OpenAI's efforts to keep AI safe while praising Google-backed Anthorpic -- was dangerous to the company, especially because of scrutiny by the US' Federal Trade Commission.

Toner emphasised on the academic nature of the paper but Altman stood by his claims and wrote in the email to his colleagues: "I did not feel we're on the same page on the damage of all this... Any amount of criticism from a board member carries a lot of weight."

According to The New Yorker, Altman approached other board members to discuss Toner's removal and allegedly lied to them. "He'd play them off against each other by lying about what other people thought," a source told the outlet. "Things like that had been happening for years."

Former board member Sutskever who allegedly discussed the possibility of Toner's removal reportedly took a U-turn and sided with fellow directors to usurp Altman. In the official statement, the board had initially said that it no longer had "confidence in his ability to continue leading”.

Following this, OpenAI President Greg Brockman quit his post and vacated his seat at the board in support of Altman. Later, Brockman's wife Anna urged Sutskever to reverse the decision of ousting Altman, reported The Wall Street Journal, citing sources.

On November 20, Sutskever took to X, saying, "I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions."

The next day, Satya Nadella, CEO of OpenAI's biggest financial backer Microsoft, announced that Altman and Brockman will join his firm to lead an AI research team. Following this, more executives at OpenAI threatened to quit and follow Altman.

Things again took a turn when OpenAI announced that Altman was reinstated as its CEO. A new initial board was set up with three temporary members: former member D’Angelo; Bret Taylor, formerly co-CEO of Salesforce; and Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary. They will appoint a formal board with up to nine members.

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