In a surprising turn of events, Sam Altman, the outgoing chief of OpenAI, has joined Microsoft, leaving the future of the AI powerhouse in question. The abrupt change in leadership saw ex-Twitch boss Emmett Shear stepping in as interim CEO for OpenAI, while Altman found a new role at Microsoft.
Altman’s removal as CEO triggered a strong response from OpenAI employees, with over 700 threatening to quit unless the board reinstated Altman and former President Greg Brockman. The turmoil led to a letter demanding the board’s resignation, signed by prominent figures like OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who expressed regret for his involvement in the board’s actions.
Altman, in an effort to reassure stability, stated on social media platform X that his top priority is to ensure OpenAI’s continued success. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, in a CNBC interview, expressed openness to OpenAI staff joining Microsoft and emphasized the need for governance changes at the AI company.
Microsoft moved quickly to attract key talent from OpenAI, including co-founder Brockman, while assuring employees of positions within the new subsidiary. Shear, the newly appointed interim CEO, dismissed speculation about Altman’s removal being related to AI safety concerns and pledged to investigate the firing.
The internal memo revealed that Altman’s dismissal was due to a breakdown in communications. OpenAI’s board approached Anthropic’s CEO for Altman’s replacement and discussed a potential merger, but the CEO declined.
OpenAI, as a nonprofit organization, faced internal divides among employees regarding the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI). Some prioritized safe AGI development, while others, especially those who joined post-ChatGPT success, aimed for rapid product launches in the Silicon Valley tradition.
Altman, now CEO of a new Microsoft research group, will be joined by other departing OpenAI colleagues. Microsoft’s significant investment in OpenAI, including the use of its technology for AI copilots, underscores the tech giant’s commitment to AI development.
SemiAnalysis, a research and consulting firm, noted that attempts by OpenAI’s nonprofit board to slow down AI development had backfired, placing corporations without clear oversight in control. The rapid developments over the weekend have left the AI community and industry on edge, with many closely watching how the situation unfolds.