OpenAI Wants Sam Altman Back, but Microsoft Has Altman’s Back

Nearly 500 employees have issued an ultimatum to resign unless the board steps down reinstating Altman and cofounder Greg Brockman.
Sam Altman, Greg Brockman join Microsoft

Design by Nikhil Kumar

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After the continuous sequence of unprecedented moves which followed Sam Altman’s firing by OpenAI’s board, the company has been thrust into further turmoil as nearly 500 employees have issued an ultimatum: resignations en masse unless the board steps down and reinstates ousted CEO Sam Altman and cofounder Greg Brockman.

The unrest caused by Altman’s controversial dismissal has set ablaze a rebellion that could reshape the company’s future. The rebellion was visible as the company’s CTO Mira Murati and COO Brad Lightcap started a string of Tweets from OpenAI employees when they posted, “OpenAI is nothing without its people,” which was in turn reshared by Altman.

In a scathing letter addressed to the board, the disgruntled employees rebuked the dismissal as detrimental to the company’s mission and integrity. Notably, even Ilya Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist and board member, previously implicated in the upheaval was one of the signees of the letter. Sustekver has also put out a tweet breaking his silence and expressing great regret at his “participation in the board’s action,” and pledged reconciliation.

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The unprecedented upheaval unfolded in a whirlwind weekend following Altman’s abrupt removal. Despite initial hints of reconciliation, hopes shattered as the board firmly shut the door on Altman’s return.

This prompted the tech luminary to pivot to Microsoft. Hours later, Microsoft’s CEO announced Altman and Brockman’s joining in pivotal roles “to lead a new advanced AI research team.”

In a frantic reshuffling of leadership, Mira Murati’s interim CEO position was short-lived, replaced by Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch. The rapid changes left OpenAI in disarray, with a faction of staff frustrated by the lack of transparency surrounding Altman’s dismissal.

The staff’s ultimatum wasn’t veiled: defect to Microsoft alongside Altman or face a potential exodus. Microsoft’s response remains pending, leaving the fate of OpenAI precariously hanging in the balance.

Nadella’s 4D Chess

However, Microsoft seems to have come out on top in this situation. The tech giant, now not only has one of the most influential CEOs of the biggest AI startup but also safeguarded its $10 billion investment in OpenAI.

As per sources aware of their arrangement, only a small part of Microsoft’s $10 billion investment in OpenAI has been directly transferred to the startup. A substantial portion of the funding, allocated in instalments, comes through cloud computing purchases instead of cash. This setup grants Microsoft substantial influence as it navigates the aftermath of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s removal. The board cited a loss of confidence in Altman’s leadership without specifying further details.

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, reportedly views the handling of Altman’s dismissal by OpenAI’s directors as mismanagement, leading to the destabilisation of a crucial partnership. The sudden ousting of Altman raises questions about OpenAI’s adherence to its contract with Microsoft, especially amid substantial spending on hiring and technological advancements.

Additionally, Microsoft holds intellectual property rights that allow running OpenAI’s existing models on its servers, offering a fallback in case the relationship deteriorates.

Shyam Nandan Upadhyay
Shyam is a tech journalist with expertise in policy and politics, and exhibits a fervent interest in scrutinising the convergence of AI and analytics in society. In his leisure time, he indulges in anime binges and mountain hikes.

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