In a dramatic turn of events, Sam Altman, the ousted CEO of OpenAI, has been hired by Microsoft, just hours after OpenAI’s board rejected his attempt to regain his position. This move comes after a tumultuous weekend that saw Altman make a passionate plea to be reinstated as OpenAI’s leader.
On Friday, OpenAI’s board abruptly removed Altman as CEO, citing a loss of trust and a need to preserve the company’s mission. This decision sent shockwaves through the tech industry and sparked widespread support for Altman, with many OpenAI employees threatening to resign if he was not reinstated.
In the face of this turmoil, Microsoft stepped in, offering Altman and Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president who resigned in solidarity with Altman, leadership roles in a new advanced research lab. This move is seen as a significant coup for Microsoft, which is eager to bolster its AI capabilities and gain access to Altman’s expertise.
Meanwhile, OpenAI has appointed Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch, as its interim CEO. The board praised Shear’s unique blend of skills and experience, believing he is the right person to steer the company through this challenging period.
While OpenAI remains committed to its mission of promoting and developing safe artificial intelligence, the recent events have undoubtedly shaken the company’s foundations. It remains to be seen how OpenAI will navigate this new chapter without Altman at the helm, and how Microsoft’s involvement will impact the company’s future trajectory.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, hinted at the possibility of more OpenAI employees joining the company alongside Sam Altman and Greg Brockman. He affirmed Microsoft’s commitment to providing the new research lab with the necessary resources for success.
Nadella emphasized Altman’s role as the lab’s CEO, underscoring the company’s focus on innovation. This stands in contrast to OpenAI’s board’s cautious approach to AI development. Altman’s new team will operate independently within Microsoft.
Altman responded enigmatically, stating, “the mission continues.” Microsoft declined to elaborate further beyond Nadella’s comments.
Altman’s sudden dismissal surprised the tech industry and OpenAI’s investors, including Microsoft, Sequoia Capital, and Thrive Capital. Microsoft, with its $13 billion investment in OpenAI, learned of Altman’s exit just a minute before the announcement. Other investors discovered his forced removal through social media. No further information or updates were provided over the weekend.
Altman’s departure, at the age of 38, also highlighted a divide within the AI community. Some view AI as the most significant technological advancement since web browsers, while others fear the potential risks of rapid development. Mr. Sutskever, in particular, expressed concern that Altman was overly focused on OpenAI’s business growth while neglecting the potential dangers of AI.
The abrupt removal of Sam Altman as OpenAI’s CEO sent shockwaves through the industry, eliciting widespread support for him among employees and investors. By Friday evening, Altman had already begun pitching a new AI startup to potential backers, planning to launch the venture alongside Greg Brockman.
OpenAI’s release of the groundbreaking ChatGPT chatbot a year ago ignited public fascination with AI, fueling hopes for its application in crucial areas like drug discovery and education. However, AI’s potential risks, such as job automation and autonomous warfare spiraling out of human control, have sparked concerns among AI experts and policymakers.
OpenAI has been at the forefront of this debate, with its former CEO playing a pivotal role in bringing AI into the mainstream consciousness over the past year. While the board did not provide specific reasons for Altman’s ouster, it maintained that he had “lost the trust of the board of directors,” and that his removal was essential to preserve the board’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities and advance the organization’s mission.
“It is paramount that any C.E.O. be honest and transparent with his or her board,” the board stated in a memo.
Neither OpenAI nor Altman immediately responded to requests for comment.
OpenAI’s governance structure deviates from the norm. A nonprofit board holds control, making leadership decisions, while investors lack formal channels to influence these choices.
Employees threatened to resign from OpenAI or join Altman’s new venture if the board didn’t reverse its decision. Simultaneously, as Altman presented his new company vision, investors pressed for Altman and Brockman’s reinstatement.
Throughout the weekend, Altman and his supporters exerted pressure on OpenAI’s board, leveraging appeals from venture capitalists, fellow tech executives, and employees. Microsoft spearheaded these efforts, according to three sources, with smaller investors expressing their concerns through Microsoft.
Sam Altman’s supporters launched a campaign to demonstrate his popularity among OpenAI employees and within Silicon Valley. The lack of clarity surrounding the reasons behind his dismissal emboldened his supporters. Some argued that OpenAI’s non-profit board was no longer equipped to manage the company’s growth into a thriving enterprise with 700 employees, multiple clients, corporate partnerships, and a projected annual revenue of $1 billion.
In 2015, Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, and Ilya Sutskever, along with nine others, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, established OpenAI. The group founded the AI research lab as a non-profit organization, pledging that it would not be driven by commercial motives, unlike Google and other tech giants.
After Elon Musk’s departure from OpenAI in 2018, Sam Altman transformed the lab into a for-profit company, still under the control of the non-profit entity and its board. Over the following years, he secured the billions of dollars required to develop technologies like ChatGPT.
Prior to joining OpenAI, Emmett Shear steered Twitch through its evolution from a fledgling platform known as Justin.tv into a behemoth acquired by Amazon in 2014. He remained with the company after the acquisition and stepped down only earlier this year, citing the birth of his child.
Emmett Shear, a seasoned video gamer, was widely regarded as a capable leader at Twitch, but he also faced criticism. Some perceived him as overly focused on cost-cutting and transforming the money-losing platform into a more profitable venture.
“We acknowledge the abruptness of this process, which we felt was unavoidable given the circumstances,” the board stated in its memo. While recognizing the questions it has raised, we remain convinced that our actions were necessary.”