OpenAI Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever Departs 6 Months After Failed Sam Altman Ouster

Sutskever said he is moving onto a project that is "personally meaningful to him."

Ilya Sutskever
Sam Altman (L), US entrepreneur, investor, programmer, and founder and CEO of artificial intelligence company OpenAI, and the company’s co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, speak together at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv on June 5, 2023. JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Ilya Sutskever, the co-founder and chief scientist of OpenAI for nearly a decade, is leaving the company six months after he led a failed ouster of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman last year. Sutskever’s job security has been a topic of speculation on social media since Altman was reinstated CEO and overhauled its board just days after the dramatic coup in late November of 2023. Altman and Sutskever’s parting words seemed amicable enough. In an X post announcing Sutskever’s departure yesterday (May 14), Altman called him “one of the greatest minds of our generation, a guiding light of our field, and a dear friend.”

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“His brilliance and vision are well known; his warmth and compassion are less well known but no less important,” Altman added. In a shorter X post, Sutskever said “it was an honor and a privilege to have worked together” with Altman and that he “will miss everyone dearly.” Sutskever said he is moving onto a project that is “personally meaningful to him.” His chief scientist role will be filled by Jakub Pachocki, OpenAI’s head of research who led the development of the GPT-4 large language model.

Who is Ilya Sutskever?

Sutskever, 37, is a computer scientist known for his contribution to the field of deep learning, a subset of A.I. He co-invented AlexNet, a convolutional neural network architecture, while studying for his doctoral degree at the University of Toronto under Geoffrey Hinton, a pioneering academic widely regarded as “the Godfather of A.I.” Sutskever is a co-author of the AlphaGo paper published in 2016.

Sutskever was born in Russia and grew up in Israel, where he attended college before moving with his family to Canada. He received a college degree in mathematics from the University of Toronto in 2005 at age 18 or 19 and later pursued a master’s and Ph.D. in computer science.

From 2013 to 2015, Sutskever was a research scientist at Google Brain, an A.I. research unit of Google. He left Google in late 2015 to start OpenAI with Altman, Elon Musk and three other co-founders. Sutskever served as the organization’s chief scientist and joined its board in 2015.

OpenAI was most recently valued by private investors at $80 billion. It’s unclear how much equity Sutskever owns in the company. In 2019, OpenAI transitioned from a nonprofit to a “capped-profit” model under OpenAI LP. The new structure was designed to attract capital by offering a limited return on investment, but exact details about individual equity stakes are typically not disclosed. Altman said he owns no equity in OpenAI during a Congressional hearing in May 2013.

The failed coup against Sam Altman

Sutskever was the central figure of OpenAI’s failed coup against Altman last year. On Nov. 17, OpenAI’s four-person board fired Altman with little notice to the company’s management team, investors or Altman himself. In a message to OpenAI employees two days later, the board said their decision was “not about any singular incident” but because Altman has “lost the trust of the board of directors.” The Wall Street Journal reported that one of the board’s concerns was Altman’s involvement in two outside business endeavors while running OpenAI: a consumer hardware device he’d been building with Apple’s former design chief Jony Ive and an A.I. chip startup.

Amid strong employee pushback, OpenAI’s board hired back Altman just days later, and Sutskever posted on X saying he deeply regretted participating in the board’s actions. After Altman’s return, OpenAI formed a new board, comprised of existing member, Quora co-founder Adam D’Angelo, and two new members: former Twitter chairman Bret Taylor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Sutskever and the two other former directors, academics Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner, were pushed out.

OpenAI Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever Departs 6 Months After Failed Sam Altman Ouster