Sam Altman will not return as OpenAI CEO and has instead joined Microsoft to lead the company’s new in-house AI team, Microsoft Corp announced on Monday. It comes after Microsoft tried in vain to have Altman reinstated as CEO after his shock ouster last week.
Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s co-founder and former president who resigned in protest following Altman’s chaotic sacking, is also joining the Redmond, Washington-based company. In a post on X, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Altman will serve as CEO of the new group.
Nadella said Microsoft will now “move quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.” Apart from Altman and Brockman, other OpenAI “colleagues” will also be joining Microsoft’s new artificial intelligence team, Nadella added, but did say who exactly.
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
Ex-Twitch CEO takes the reigns at OpenAI
Meanwhile, former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear will now take over as interim CEO of OpenAI, replacing another interim chief executive Mira Murati. The decision caps a weekend of high drama for the startup after Altman was suddenly fired by the OpenAI board on Friday.
Writing on X, Shear described joining OpenAI as “a once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. But he also added that the way Altman was dismissed “has been handled very badly” and “seriously damaged our trust.”
“I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence. When the board shared the situation and asked me to take the role, I did not make the decision lightly,” Shear said.
Nadella said his company “looks forward to getting to know Emmett Shear.” Microsoft is the biggest investor in OpenAI. It pumped up to $13 billion into the firm and has been integrating OpenAI’s technology into most of its operations and products, including Bing.
“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,” Nadella said on LinkedIn.
The details surrounding Sam Altman’s dismissal on Nov. 17 remain unclear. The OpenAI board accused the former CEO of not being “candid” in his communications with it. The board said it lost confidence in Altman’s ability to lead the company.
In a post on Twitter, Brockman said Altman, who cofounded OpenAI in 2015, found out he was being fired just minutes before the firm made the news public. The 38-year old has become one of the most visible figures in AI, travelling the world to lobby governments.
The success of the company’s viral AI chatbot ChatGPT has given him the spotlight. Altman testified before the U.S. Congress about what AI legislation could look like. So, it came as a shock when OpenAI decided to fire a man who had gained the trust of world leaders.
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…
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) November 20, 2023
Micrsoft’s back up plan
The unexpected decision rippled through the entire AI world, causing panic, and more so for the startup’s major investors like Microsoft. Several Silicon Valley bigwigs offered support, with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt calling Altman “a hero of mine.”
Amid the chaos, Microsoft started making frantic efforts to get the OpenAI board to reinstall Altman as CEO. The software developer also floated the idea of having a non-voting director on the board as part of revamping OpenAI, The Information reported.
OpenAI was optimistic all the senior figures that the left the company after Altman’s sacking, including Altman himself, Brockman, and three researchers would be reinstated, according to a memo sent to staff by chief strategy officer Jason Kwon late Saturday night.
But the negotiations reportedly fell through after the remaining four people (Altman and Brockman were the other two directors) on OpenAI’s board refused to resign to allow for Altman’s return, per The Information.
first and last time i ever wear one of these pic.twitter.com/u3iKwyWj0a
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 19, 2023
The report said executives told staff on Sunday that removing Altman was the “only path” to achieving the company’s mission of “broadly beneficial” artificial general intelligence.
Dozens of employees quit OpenAI after cofounder and board director Ilya Sutskever told them Altman would not return as CEO. Later that Sunday night, Satya Nadella said that Altman would be joining Microsoft to lead the firm’s new “advanced AI team.”
The move appears to be a back up plan after Microsoft unsuccessfully tried to have Sam Altman reinstated as CEO.