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OpenAI fired former CEO Sam Altman on Friday, and despite apparent attempts to reunite over the weekend, he's already joined Microsoft. And OpenAI's board has ultimately replaced him with interim CEO Emmett Shear, a Twitch co-founder.
After Altman was abruptly fired on November 17, OpenAI CTO Mira Murati was briefly named interim CEO. Over the weekend, however, Shear said he received a phone call inviting him to become the AI company’s next CEO—an offer he quickly accepted.
“I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence,” Shear wrote on Twitter Monday. “When the board shared the situation and asked me to take the role, I did not make the decision lightly. Ultimately, I felt that I had a duty to help if I could.”
Now, as Shear steps into his new leadership role at OpenAI, some of his tweets about women’s supposed rape fantasies, Nazis, and “giant death robots” have resurfaced.
Today I got a call inviting me to consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become the interim CEO of @OpenAI. After consulting with my family and reflecting on it for just a few hours, I accepted. I had recently resigned from my role as CEO of Twitch due to the birth of my…
— Emmett Shear (@eshear) November 20, 2023
But who is Emmett Shear, and why is one of Twitch’s co-founders joining the AI startup that may no longer be valued at nearly $90 billion?
His past comments on AI have led some industry observers to label him a “decel,” or someone who will potentially decelerate the rapid rate of evolution that the AI space has seen of late. Shear has also labeled himself an AI "doomer," or someone who envisions potentially dire consequences ahead for humanity.
When asked if AI could “kill us all” in a podcast interview in September, Shear responded: “Maybe.”
“It is because I am so optimistic about technology that I am afraid,” Shear said on an episode of My First Million. “There is a chance it will continue to improve very, very rapidly, and if it does, that optimism is what makes me worried.”
“I think it’s gonna be OK,” Shear said of AI. “But it’s—the downside is so bad, it’s probably worse than nuclear war.”
In September, Shear wrote on Twitter that he is “in favor of slowing down” AI’s development.
“If we’re at a speed of 10 right now, a pause is reducing to 0. I think we should aim for a 1-2 instead,” Shear said.
Considering his history as Twitch’s longtime CEO and new role at an AI company, Shear ironically tweeted this month that most CEO jobs “are very automatable,” but admitted that some “key decisions” would require human involvement.
Shear is most known for his role in co-founding the gaming livestreaming platform Twitch, which Amazon purchased in 2014 for $970 million. Shear served as Twitch’s longtime CEO from 2011 until early 2023.
But the Twitch community has criticized him for years for being an absentee CEO whose actions came too little, too late.
Back in 2020, Shear published a memo he initially sent to Twitch employees stating that the company would look into “all the incidents” of alleged sexual harassment and assault perpetrated by individuals connected to Twitch.
But Twitch employees alleged that abuse was also occurring within the company itself. Under Shear’s leadership, the company “swept accounts of harassment and abuse under the rug,” including alleged “sexual, verbal, physical abuse, and racism,” according to employee complaints documented in a GamesIndustry.biz report.
Over the years, many in the esports industry have accused Shear of perpetual inaction. A tweet from esports broadcaster and journalist Rod “Slasher” Breslau calling Shear “completely out of touch” garnered nearly 9,000 upvotes on Reddit in 2019.
In 2022, Devin Nash, CMO at Novo Studios—a talent agency which manages top streamers like Amouranth and Trainwrecks—told Input that Shear was a “backroom CEO” and “an engineer.”
Under Shear, Twitch’s approach to communicating updates was “really old-fashioned” and updates were written so opaquely that it made them difficult to decipher, Nash argued. Previous Twitch employees also said that Twitch under Shear had “no direction” and “zero communication.”
A 2022 Bloomberg report echoed these statements, finding that over 300 employees left the company in 2021 and over 60 left within the first three months of 2022 in part because Twitch, under Shear’s leadership, had lost touch with its community. One former employee told Bloomberg that Shear prioritized engineering over all else and found it difficult to get Shear to understand “qualitative” values because Shear found it easier to understand the “quantitative.”
Earlier this year, The Washington Post argued that Twitch had “lost its way” in part because of layoffs, cost-cutting measures, and Shear’s decision not to compete for top streamers with lucrative multimillion-dollar contracts.
New CEO of OpenAI ladies and gents.
Absolute weapons-grade Decel.
RIP OpenAI. It's completely over. Long Sama NewCo. pic.twitter.com/jNUdmUHuWp
— Beff Jezos — e/acc ⏩ (@BasedBeffJezos) November 20, 2023
While it’s currently unclear whether or how Shear’s leadership style might change with his new role at OpenAI, he’s expressed a desire for an AI development “slowdown.”
“We can't learn how to build a safe AI without experimenting, and we can't experiment without progress,” Shear wrote in September, “but we probably shouldn't be barreling ahead at max speed either.”
Edited by Andrew Hayward