Sam Altman – the head of one of the world’s most influential AI companies that developed ChatGPT, OpenAI – was surprisingly fired by the startup’s board on Friday evening.
Within about 48 hours, he was hired to lead a new department at Microsoft, where he will likely be even more powerful with the resources of one of the world’s largest technology companies.
But more than 700 OpenAI employees, including other top executives, have threatened to join Altman at Microsoft in an open letter to OpenAI’s four-member board.
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In the letter distributed on Monday, they called for the board to resign.
They also called for the reinstatement of Altman as well as former OpenAI president and co-founder Greg Brockman, who resigned in protest after Altman was fired.
“If the architects, vision and minds behind these products are gone now, the company will be a shell of what it once was,” said Sarah Kreps, director of Cornell University’s Tech Policy Institute.
“All the brain trust that goes to Microsoft then means that these amazing tools are coming from Microsoft.”
“It will be difficult to see OpenAI continue to be successful as a company.”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote on Xformerly known as Twitter, said he was “extremely excited” to sign the pair and was “looking forward to meeting OpenAI’s new management team.”
Altman later resigned
Who is Sam Altman?
Altman helped catapult ChatGPT to global fame based on the technology’s ability to respond to questions and produce human-like text passages in a seemingly natural way.
Over the past year, he has become Silicon Valley’s most sought-after speaker on the promises and potential dangers of artificial intelligence.
Earlier this year, he undertook a world tour to meet government officials and drew large crowds at public events while discussing the risks of AI and attempts to regulate the emerging technology.
But as money poured into OpenAI this year, it also led to more conflict over whether this rapid pace of commercialization aligned with the startup’s founding vision.
Why was Sam Altman fired?
OpenAI said Friday that Altman was ousted after a review found he was “not consistently open in his communications with the board,” which in turn caused a loss of confidence in his ability to lead the company.
In an X post on MondayOpenAI’s new interim chief Emmett Shear said he would hire an independent investigator to investigate Altman’s fall and write a report within 30 days.
“It is clear that the process and communication surrounding Sam’s removal” was handled “very poorly,” wrote Shear, co-founder of Twitch, an Amazon-owned livestreaming service popular with video gamers.
Shear said he plans to “reform the management and leadership team” next month in light of recent departures by driving changes in the organization, including “significant changes in governance, if necessary.”
OpenAI was originally founded as a non-profit organization and is still operated as such. OpenAI’s stated mission is to safely develop AI that is “generally smarter than humans.”
Analysts believe that a key factor leading up to the fall was tensions between Altman, who favored more aggressive development of AI, and members of the OpenAI board, who wanted to proceed more cautiously.
But Shear said the board’s reason for removing Altman was not a “specific disagreement over safety,” nor was the board opposed to the commercialization of AI models.
The company said in a statement that Altman’s behavior prevented the board from fulfilling its responsibilities.
The open letter from employees claimed that following Altman’s firing, the company’s remaining leadership team recommended that the board resign and be replaced by a “qualified board” who could stabilize the company.
But the board resisted, saying destroying OpenAI was consistent with its mission, the letter said.
“Everyone agrees on @OpenAI,” one of the signatories, research scientist Noam Brown, said on X.
“This is not a civil war. If Sam and Greg are not brought back, there will be no OpenAI left to govern.”
An OpenAI spokesperson confirmed that the company’s board had received the open letter.
Microsoft declined to comment on the letter.