After a weekend of drama, Microsoft late on November 19 pulled a surprise by announcing that former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and former OpenAI President Greg Brockman will head the new advanced AI research team at Microsoft.
I’m super excited to have you join as CEO of this new group, Sam, setting a new pace for innovation. We’ve learned a lot over the years about how to give founders and innovators space to build independent identities and cultures within Microsoft, including GitHub, Mojang Studios,…
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) November 20, 2023
Sam Altman was unceremoniously and unexpectedly fired by the OpenAI board on November 17. “Mr. Altman’s departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI,” the Board reasoned in its announcement.
As per the account of events shared by Greg Brockman, Altman found out about his firing only a few minutes before it took place. Microsoft, which is one of the largest investors in OpenAI (rumored to be worth around $10 billion), was also reportedly caught off-guard by the announcement. Brockman, who was sacked as chair of the board but allowed to continue as president, quit the company in solidarity with Altman.
However, in an unexpected twist the next day, The Verge reported that the OpenAI board was in talks with Sam Altman to return as CEO. Altman received a public show of support on X from many of the OpenAI employees as the discussions were ongoing, suggesting that many would leave with Altman if he doesn’t return to OpenAI. The discussions, mediated by Satya Nadella, extended another day till the evening of November 19, but as is clear now, Altman is not returning to OpenAI.
Meanwhile, OpenAI unexpectedly hired former Twitch CEO and co-founder Emmett Shear to serve as interim CEO (which makes it three CEOs in three days: Altman, Mira Murati, and now Shear). Shear has shared on X the details of his appointment, what he thinks of Altman’s firing, and what’s his immedaite plan for OpenAI.
Today I got a call inviting me to consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become the interim CEO of @OpenAI. After consulting with my family and reflecting on it for just a few hours, I accepted. I had recently resigned from my role as CEO of Twitch due to the birth of my…
— Emmett Shear (@eshear) November 20, 2023
Satya Nadella said that Microsoft is committed to its partnership with OpenAI under Shear’s leadership, but only time will tell if Microsoft really is.
It now remains to be seen who all from OpenAI will join Microsoft to continue working under Sam Altman. Brockman has already named three others will be joining him and Altman.
Remember: If OpenAI does not meet the terms of the contract, it can walk. Speaking of walking, that would be half the company tomorrow, which is an issue to follow Altman. MSFT is very interested in Altman and would dearly love him to decamp there with the troops, as would many.
— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) November 20, 2023
“It’s a face-saving move by Microsoft to protect the stock price, even as their OpenAI investment now looks like a disaster. Whether Sam Altman and his team will be involved in remotely running the for-profit arm of OpenAI remains to be seen, and Microsoft might use this situation to increase its leverage within OpenAI. OpenAI now becomes a research lab for Microsoft. It’s great leadership from Satya Nadella, though: even though he and Microsoft were apparently blind-sided by the sacking of Sam Altman, and the mass resignation within OpenAI would have destroyed the company, he has made the best of the situation by also ensuring that Altman doesn’t set up a company to compete with OpenAI and Microsoft. Nadella took ownership of the situation and brought it to a swift conclusion: weeks of negotiation and uncertainty would have really hurt Microsoft here.” — Nikhil Pahwa, Founder and Editor, MediaNama
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