Altman Spurns OpenAI, Joins Microsoft Instead
Update: OpenAI has rehired Altman. Full story here.
After a weekend of hasty negotiations and unprecedented public blowback, OpenAI has lost its bid to rehire ousted CEO Sam Altman, who instead has joined Microsoft.
Also joining Redmond is former OpenAI board chairman Greg Brockman, who had left OpenAI in support of Altman.
Currently helming OpenAI in Altman's absence is interim CEO Emmett Shear, the co-founder and former CEO of streaming giant Twitch.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced the hirings late on Sunday evening, saying Altman and Brockman will spearhead a "new advanced AI research team" at Microsoft. Nadella's statement reads as follows:
We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and in continuing to support our customers and partners. We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI’s new leadership team and working with them. And we're extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team. We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.
With a 49 percent interest, Microsoft is currently OpenAI's biggest backer, having poured billions into the company and heavily integrating OpenAI technology into its own product stack under the "Copilot" brand. It is unclear what form that support will take now that Altman has left OpenAI.
Since OpenAI's board fired Altman unceremoniously on Friday, the company has been scrambling to appease angry employees and concerned investors. Reports suggest that OpenAI's board -- in particular, chief scientist Ilya Sutskever -- had been growing increasingly leery of Altman's full-bore approach to generative AI development and his perceived insufficient regard for its dangers.
Publicly, the board gave no reason for Altman's firing, other than finding "he was not consistently candid in his communications." In a show of solidarity, Brockman quit OpenAI after Altman's ouster, along with three high-ranking AI scientists.
OpenAI's investors, who were blindsided by the firing, spent the weekend pressuring the company to rehire Altman and reconfigure the board. Altman and Brockman were reported to be onsite at the OpenAI headquarters (with guest passes) to, presumably, participate in the negotiations for their return.
On late Sunday, however, those negotiations broke down. Former Twitch executive Shear was named interim CEO of OpenAI. A few hours later, Altman and Brockman's appointment to Microsoft was announced.
UPDATE: In a post Monday on X detailing his immediate plans for OpenAI (which include "Hire an independent investigator to dig into the entire process leading up to this point" and "Reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures"), interim CEO Shear emphasized that Altman was not fired over AI safety concerns.
"The board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that," he wrote. "I'm not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercializing our awesome models."
The original story resumes below.
The reaction within OpenAI to the failed negotiations appears to have been overwhelmingly negative. According to Wired's Kara Swisher, over 500 of OpenAI's roughly 700 employees have signed a letter threatening to quit their jobs and join Altman's new venture at Microsoft unless the board resigned.;
Sutskever, the board member who is widely seen to be the architect of Altman's firing, issued a statement Monday morning, saying, "I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions."
In the wake of the news that they would be joining Microsoft, Altman and Brockman appear sanguine. Brockman reposted Nadella's announcement, adding that his first Microsoft teammates, besides Altman, will also include the three AI scientists that quit OpenAI.
Altman, meanwhile, said simply, "The mission continues."
Stay tuned to PureAI.com for more coverage of this developing story.