In what has been one of the strangest and most dramatic weekends in big tech, Sam Altman has been offered a role with Microsoft. The news comes after Altman was fired by OpenAI, the company he co-founded, on Friday. As we reported at the time, the news left the tech industry stunned as Altman was one of the faces of the mainstreaming of AI during this year.
While the weekend is usually a quiet time in tech, this past weekend has been like a soap opera, with the future of artificial intelligence seemingly at the center. Following support from a range of luminaries in the industry, it was widely reported at several points that OpenAI would 180 its decision and bring Altman back just days after ousting him. That is now seemingly not going to happen, with Altman and his allies instead joining a new advanced AI division within Microsoft.
Removing Altman and Sending Shockwaves Through the Industry
The board of directors of OpenAI ousted Altman from his role as CEO in a move that will surely become an iconic moment in the growth of AI. The board said in a statement that they conducted a “thorough and careful review” of Altman's performance and found that he had not been “honest and transparent” with them on several occasions, compromising their ability to oversee the organization. Therefore, the board decided to terminate Altman's leadership and look for a new CEO.
Several employees, including CTO Mira Murati, have expressed their discontent, highlighting the critical role of people in the organization's success. This concern comes amidst OpenAI's appointment of Emmett Shear, former Twitch CEO, as its interim chief executive, a decision that has added to the intrigue surrounding OpenAI's future.
OpenAI was fairly vague but pointed enough to cast doubt on Altman's overall performance and to suggest he was maybe not honest with the company. The reasons are unclear, could it be Altman was putting the brakes or accelerating something? Either way, Altman took to X in a gracious post that left a postscript that he would provide more – presumably inflammatory – information later.
i loved my time at openai. it was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. most of all i loved working with such talented people.
will have more to say about what's next later.
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 17, 2023
If you're wondering how it is possible for the board to remove the founder and CEO of the company, it is because Altman does not have equity in OpenAI. In other words, he can be removed and he doesn't get a cent from the company.
Shortly after the board of directors fired Sam Altman as the CEO of OpenAI, the co-founder and former chairman of the artificial intelligence research company, Greg Brockman, announced his departure from the organization. In a post on X, Brockman explained his reasons for leaving OpenAI and his plans for the future. According to The Information, three senior researchers at OpenAI resigned on Friday night as well.
Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today.
Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.
We too are still trying to figure out exactly…
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
A Swift Return Following Industry Support?
Within a day, rumors were circulating that Altman was back at OpenAI and was in discussions to return to the company. As reported by the BBC, Altman was seeking concessions if he was to return to lead the company. Chief among them was the removal of the remaining four board members. However, it became clear later that Altman would not go back to OpenAI, the company he co-founded with Elon Musk in 2015.
The technology sector was worried about the impact of Sam Altman's dismissal on OpenAI, as he was a key figure and had a wide network in Silicon Valley. He played a vital role in forging strategic alliances, especially with Microsoft, which has poured more than $10 billion into OpenAI.
The Microsoft Connection and the Future for Altman
The leadership change was reportedly a surprise to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who had praised the partnership recently and was only notified a minute before the public announcement. The abrupt shift may cause stakeholders, such as developers using OpenAI's platforms and business partners like Microsoft, to rethink their relationship and future plans with OpenAI.
While Nadella made a commitment to OpenAI in the wake of Altman's departure, insiders said he was furious with being blindsided by the announcement. At the same time, Nadella was also said to be eager to invest in any new venture Altman started. However, it has also emerged that Microsoft has now taken Altman, Brockman, and researchers who left OpenAI with them.
the mission continues https://t.co/d1pHiFxcSe
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 20, 2023
The announcement, made by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, signifies a major shift in the AI landscape, with the tech giant acquiring significant expertise and leadership in the field. Nadella highlighted Microsoft's track record of allowing founders to build independent identities within the larger corporate structure, drawing parallels with successful integrations of GitHub, Mojang Studios, and LinkedIn. This approach is expected to be replicated with the new AI team, which will also include other former OpenAI talents such as Szymon Sidor, Jakub Pachocki, and Aleksander Madry.