With OpenAI in chaos, Sam Altman joins Microsoft

Sam Altman, ousted on Nov. 17, won’t return to OpenAI as its CEO. That’s because he has joined Microsoft, announced Satya Nadella, Microsoft chairman and CEO.

New AI team. Altman, OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman and more “colleagues” are joining Microsoft, Nadella posted on X:

“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.”

Microsoft remains committed to OpenAI. Microsoft has invested more than $10 billion in OpenAI, which powers Microsoft Copilot (formerly Bing Chat) and numerous other Microsoft products. Despite hiring Altman, Brockman and others, OpenAI and Microsoft’s partnership will continue on, Nadella wrote:

“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.”

Why we care. ChatGPT has become the go-to generative AI tool for search marketers since it launched Nov. 30. It will remain worth watching to see whether ChatGPT will continue to be a worthy tool with new leadership and staff in open revolt. Microsoft’s fate is also very much tied to OpenAI technology.

Another new interim CEO. Mira Murati, OpenAI’s chief technology officer, was named the interim CEO on Nov. 17. Two days later, Emmett Shear was named OpenAI CEO.

Shear was announced following failed negotiations to bring Altman back as CEO. Altman reportedly refused to agree to whatever proposed terms would result in his reinstatement.

Future Microsoft employees? Murati, among many other current and former employees, took to X with a unified message:

“OpenAI is nothing without its people.”

Existing/former OpenAI employees: pic.twitter.com/gJmSFOUBZ4

— Manish Singh (@refsrc) November 20, 2023

Also, nearly 505 (update: now 550, per New York Times) OpenAI employees signed a letter threatening to quit and join Microsoft if the board doesn’t resign. From the letter:

“The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and company. Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.”

“Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join.”

Board stands by its decision. In a Nov. 19 memo signed by the four board directors (Adam D’Angelo, Helen Toner, Ilya Sutskever, Tasha McCauley), the board wrote:

“The board firmly stands by its decision as the only path to advance and defend the mission of OpenAI.”

“Put simply, Sam’s behavior and lack of transparency in his interactions with the board undermined the board’s ability to effectively supervise the company in the manner it was mandated to do.”

Go deeper into the chaos. The Atlantic’s Inside the Chaos at OpenAI is a good read explaining what led to this tumultuous weekend, including ideological rifts that developed following the commercial success of ChatGPT.

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