Who are the Independents Behind OpenAI’s Transition?

OpenAI, the renowned artificial intelligence firm, has recently undergone a major upheaval. The dismissal of CEO Sam Altman has sparked a rebellion among employees and investors, leading to significant changes in the company’s leadership.

As a result, OpenAI is now under the control of three independent individuals: Adam D’Angelo, Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner.

Adam D’Angelo: A Visionary Leader

Adam D’Angelo, a brilliant computer programmer, is perhaps the most well-known of the three independent board members. Having served as Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Engineering, D’Angelo co-founded the question-and-answer platform Quora in 2009.

While Quora has faced challenges in terms of profitability and valuation, D’Angelo remains committed to OpenAI’s nonprofit structure. Despite the potential conflict of interest between OpenAI and his own endeavors, he has chosen to stay on as a board member since April 2018.

Tasha McCauley: An Engineer with a Philanthropic Focus

Tasha McCauley is not only known for her engineering expertise but also for being the wife of American actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. With a background in electrical engineering and robotics, McCauley is a co-founder of Fellow Robots and has led GeoSim Systems, a company specializing in robotics software. She also joined Rand Corporation, a policy-focused analysis and consulting firm, in 2021.

As a member of the advisory board for the University of Oxford’s Center for the Governance of AI, McCauley is deeply involved in the ethical and philanthropic aspects of artificial intelligence. Her commitment to effective altruism aligns with OpenAI’s mission of ensuring the benefits of AI for all of humanity.

Helen Toner: A Strategic Thinker

Helen Toner, the third independent board member, brings a wealth of experience in AI strategy and research. As the Director of Strategy and Foundational Research Grants at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Toner has extensively studied the Chinese AI ecosystem and advised policymakers and donors on AI policy and strategy.

With a master’s degree in Security Studies and a background in chemical engineering, Toner’s expertise is critical in shaping OpenAI’s long-term vision and mitigating the potential risks associated with AI development.

The Power of the Independents

While the independent board members do not have a financial stake in OpenAI, their primary goal is to ensure that AI benefits humanity as a whole. Their commitment to safety and cautious implementation of AI reflects their dedication to mitigating potential risks.

This dedication has led to a clash of cultures with former CEO Sam Altman, who was known for his ambitious project acceleration and fundraising efforts, including the development of AI-specific microprocessors. The lack of transparency and trust in Altman’s communication ultimately led to his dismissal.

With Elon Musk’s departure from the board in 2018 and subsequent resignations of other members, the power has shifted to the three independent board members. Despite facing pressure from employees and investors to reinstate Altman and former President Greg Brockman, the independents have stood firm in their decision.

This has caused chaos within OpenAI, with more than 700 employees threatening to leave if Altman and Brockman are not reinstated. The appointment of Emmett Shear, an advocate for slowing down AI development, as the new CEO further underscores the board’s commitment to responsible AI implementation.

Microsoft’s Role in OpenAI’s Transition

Microsoft’s involvement in OpenAI adds another layer of complexity to the situation. With a $13 billion commitment to OpenAI, Microsoft has expressed its willingness to incorporate the entire OpenAI team if necessary. This move could provide Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, with a significant advantage, as it would allow him to bypass the complexities of OpenAI’s structure and directly integrate the talent into Microsoft’s AI initiatives.


Transition of power within OpenAI has put the company’s future at stake. The three independent board members, with their diverse backgrounds and commitment to AI ethics, have taken the reins of the organization.

Their primary focus on ensuring the safe and beneficial implementation of AI reflects their dedication to the betterment of humanity. As OpenAI navigates this period of uncertainty, the consequences of these changes will undoubtedly shape the future of AI development and its impact on society.