The future of OpenAI is hanging in the balance as internal strife escalates, with employees and investors striving to force the board’s resignation and reinstate co-founder Sam Altman.
A staggering 747 out of 770 employees signed a letter threatening to defect to Microsoft unless the board resigned and reversed Altman’s termination. Venture capitalists supporting the AI startup were exploring legal avenues to compel a board reversal.
The board, undeterred by the mounting pressure, remained steadfast, testing employees’ resolve. In the letter, staff accused the directors of undermining the company’s mission, criticizing the handling of Altman’s dismissal and the subsequent removal of co-founder Greg Brockman from the board.
Ilya Sutskever, the sole co-founder remaining on the board, signed the staff letter after public apologies for his role in Altman’s firing. Pressure mounted on Sutskever to change his stance over the weekend, with staff urging a reversal.
The removal of Altman has thrust OpenAI, a pioneer in AI, into a historic crisis, opening opportunities for rival companies. Competitors like Anthropic and Cohere reported increased interest from former OpenAI customers, and a talent war ensued, with rivals attempting to lure researchers away.
In response, industry leaders such as Marc Benioff of Salesforce publicly sought to attract OpenAI researchers. Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest supporter, pledged to hire Altman, Brockman, and other staff for a new AI research subsidiary.
The board’s decision to appoint Emmett Shear as interim CEO further fueled dissent, prompting early investor Vinod Khosla to call for Shear’s resignation. Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, expressed uncertainty about OpenAI’s leadership but affirmed continued support for Altman, even if he worked in-house at Microsoft. The chaos at OpenAI prompted reflections on the challenges of underwriting such companies.
In the words of Ibrahim Ajami from Mubadala Capital, the upheaval at OpenAI underscores the difficulty in assessing these companies today, emphasizing the importance of long-term factors like customer relationships, partnerships, talent, and defensible market positions.
The unfolding drama at OpenAI marks a critical juncture in the AI industry, with far-reaching consequences for the company and its competitors.
OpenAI’s internal conflict is reaching a critical point, and the repercussions extend beyond the company, impacting competitors and triggering a talent war. As legal actions loom and industry leaders offer alternatives, the future of OpenAI hangs in the balance, raising questions about the broader landscape of AI startups and their long-term viability.