When Mira Murati appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah last October, OpenAI was only a month away from releasing ChatGPT.
Murati, as the company’s chief technology officer, had been responsible for leading the teams that pushed out the artificial intelligence chatbot that would catapult AI technology—and the debate about its use—into the mainstream.
On his show, Noah Murati asked how she grappled with the implications AI has for jobs. Murati said technology not only has an effect on society, but society “can and should also shape it”.
“There are a multitude of issues that we wrestle with every day,” she said.
Little did anyone know that a year later, one person whose job would be affected would be Murati’s boss: Sam Altman. Now, Murati has replaced the rising Silicon Valley star as CEO.
In a surprise statement, the company’s board said Friday that Altman’s departure “follows a deliberative board review process that concluded he was not consistently honest in his communications with the board” and that it lost “confidence in his abilities.” to continue to lead OpenAI”.
Questions remain about what exactly transpired between Altman and his company’s board of directors, which includes respected technology researchers and business executives. But the board said Murati can provide a smooth transition for the company as it looks for a permanent replacement.
Murati joined the company in 2018 as vice president of applied AI and partnerships, positioning himself to play key roles in the company’s development of its AI chatbot systems and Dall-E, which uses AI to create works of art. She was promoted to senior vice president of research, product and partnerships in 2020 and to chief technology officer in 2022.
“Given her long tenure and close involvement with all aspects of the company, including her experience in AI management and policy, the board believes she is uniquely qualified for the role and expects a seamless transition while conducting a formal search for a permanent CEO,” the board said in a statement.
Born in Albania, Murati moved to Canada when she was a teenager to study at an international school in Vancouver. She earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Dartmouth and eventually came to San Francisco to lead product and engineering teams at Leap Motion, which was developing a computer system that could track hand and finger movements.
During a brief stint at Tesla, she played a key role as a senior product manager in the development of the electric car maker’s Model X.
Murati told Fortune magazine earlier this year that growing up in Albania was a formative experience for her, as was working at Tesla, going “through the whole experience of designing and implementing an entire vehicle”.
Murati often emphasizes in interviews that OpenAI was a non-profit when she joined in 2018 and functioned more like a research lab than a typical Silicon Valley startup company.
“I had already worked in AI applications at Tesla,” she told Fortune. “But I was more interested in general intelligence. I wasn’t sure it would happen at the time, but I knew that even if we just got very close, the things we would build along the way would be incredible.
“I wanted to be a part of that.”
Murati has often spoken publicly about the power of AI as a tool, echoing sentiments expressed by Altman, a key champion of AI technology in a world that has grown skeptical of corporate technology.
“There are a lot of hard issues to figure out,” she told Time magazine earlier this year. “How do you get the model to do what you want it to do and how do you ensure that it is consistent with human intent and ultimately in the service of humanity?”
Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, who has pumped 13 billion USD into OpenAI in a key partnership managed by Murati, wrote in Time magazine in September that Murati has “demonstrated ability to bring together teams with technical expertise, commercial acumen and a deep understanding of the importance of mission”.
“As a result,” he wrote, “Mira has helped build some of the most exciting AI technologies we’ve ever seen.”
In a tumultuous period for OpenAI, Murati on Friday urged staff to remain focused on the company’s “core values.” The company is currently in negotiations for a new financing round, which could push its valuation up to at least DKK 80 billion. USD.
“We are now at a critical juncture where our tools are being widely deployed, developers are actively building on our platforms, and policymakers are considering the best way to regulate these systems,” she wrote.