Just when he thought he was in, they pulled him back out.
Emmett Shear had an eventful weekend, appointed interim CEO at ChatGPT maker OpenAI after the sudden and dramatic ousting of Sam Altman last Friday.
It was his first day job since leaving streaming site Twitch in March, a company he ran for over a decade.
A self-anointed AI “doomer” who thinks development of the technology should be slowed down, he didn’t seem an obvious choice. And his hiring drew attention to his prolific social media posts on controversial topics.
But now, after five days of open revolt among OpenAI staff, Mr Altman is set to return as CEO.
Here’s everything we know about his short-lived successor, soon-to-be predecessor, in the role.
Growing up in Seattle, it was at school that Mr Shear met Justin Kan.
They bonded over maths and trading card game Magic: The Gathering, and attended Yale University together. They also secured funding for their first tech project – a calendar app called Kiko.
That funding came from Y Combinator, a start-up accelerator company which lists the likes of Airbnb among the internet firms it’s helped establish. For a spell in the 2010s, Mr Altman was its president.
But it was Twitch’s predecessor, Justin.tv, that paved the way for Mr Shear’s success.
What started as a 24/7 live video feed of Mr Kan’s life became a public platform for anyone to stream video online, attracting more than 30 million users a month at its peak.
But few topics were as popular as gaming.
Launch Twitch, get rich
To take advantage, Justin.tv launched Twitch as a spin-off platform.
It would become the go-to platform for gamers to showcase their Fortnite kills and FIFA goals to a live audience.
Twitch became so popular, with millions of people streaming their gameplay and tens of millions more tuning in, Amazon bought it for just shy of $1bn in 2014.
It birthed a new class of celebrity, including stars like Ninja. In a sign of how lucrative game streaming has become, Microsoft was reportedly willing to pay up to $30m to convince him to join its own Twitch rival in 2019.
The price Amazon paid in 2014 now looks relatively modest, and Mr Shear’s 12-year stint as CEO reportedly took his net worth well into the hundreds of millions.
In his LinkedIn recommendation, Twitch co-founder Mr Kan describes his old friend as someone who “works hard, doesn’t complain, and the smartest guy I know”.
Mr Shear’s tenure wasn’t without controversy, however.
He faced criticism for his handling of sexual abuse claims made against some streamers, and in 2020 apologised to those who felt his response had been “dismissive”.
That same year, he also apologised to streamers hit by takedown orders – mainly from the music industry – which forced them offline for using copyrighted material during their broadcasts.
He resigned in March 2023, saying he wanted to spend more time with his newborn son. But since then he’s been a part-time partner at Y Combinator.
AI ‘doomer’ and controversial social media posts
Besides working with Y Combinator and spending time with his son, Mr Shear has been a prolific poster on X (formerly known as Twitter) since calling quits on his Twitch career.
He’s posted more than 10,000 times over the past year, engaging in conversations about tech and societal issues like AI, as well as making controversial comments.
In one post in August, Mr Shear wrote “between 40-60% of women seem to have rape/non-consent fantasies”.
In June, he joined a conversation about a hypothetical situation in which either “the worst people you know” rule the world or a 50/50 coin toss determines whether everyone dies.
“The Nazis were very evil, but I’d rather the actual literal Nazis take over the world forever than flip a coin on the end of all value,” he said.
He’s also posted about how men are “more willing to have casual sex”, and joked about using AI to write chat-up lines.
Sky News contacted Mr Shear for comment about his X posts, but has not received a response.
On AI, he said in September he’s “in favour of slowing down” 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,” he posted.
Two months prior, he said “there’s a chance” that general artificial intelligence – a super-powerful AI capable of outperforming humans at a variety of tasks – could be “catastrophically dangerous”.
Developing such an AI has been the stated goal of Mr Altman.
Mr Shear has insisted he is a “techno-optimist” and denied accusations of “primitivism”, but in August compared artificial general intelligence to “a pit trap with spikes we have to avoid”.
Following his appointment at OpenAI, he said the issue of safety was vital to his new role.
“I took this job because I believe OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence,” he added.
How the chaos at OpenAI unfolded
Why he was chosen – and why he’s already heading out
Mr Shear, 40, won’t have been preparing for the OpenAI gig, saying he joined “rapidly and unexpectedly”.
With staff and major investor Microsoft blindsided by Mr Altman’s departure, Mr Shear acknowledged “it’s clear the process and communications” around the sacking was “handled very badly”.
He’d pledged to hire an “independent investigator” to find out what happened and restore trust.
For the board members who hired the safety-conscious Mr Shear, the appeal appeared to be steering OpenAI back towards its original non-profit remit as a research-focused organisation.
Since the launch of ChatGPT last November, Mr Altman had not been shy of looking to maximise the company’s commercial potential – inviting third parties to leverage GPT tech in their own products, and reportedly holding discussions with ex-Apple designer Jony Ive to build the “iPhone of AI”.
With Mr Altman now heading back to OpenAI, we may never know the real reason behind his departure.
What’s clear is that it did not go down well – and his return coincides with the appointment of a new board, replacing those who fired him.
Mr Shear has said he is “deeply pleased” by the outcome after “72 very intense hours of work”.
He posted on X: “Coming into OpenAI, I wasn’t sure what the right path would be. This was the pathway that maximised safety alongside doing right by all stakeholders involved.
“I’m glad to have been a part of the solution.”