OpenAI CEO Sam Altman Joins Microsoft as CEO of New Group, Twitch Co-Founder Emmett Shear Now OpenAI CEO
The news on Friday that OpenAI CEO and co-founder Sam Altman had been removed by the board of directors was only the beginning of what turned out to be a wild rollercoaster of a weekend for OpenAI and Microsoft. Here’s a brief synopsis of where things stand. As of Monday morning, Sam Altman will be joining Microsoft with former OpenAI president and chairman of the board, Greg Brockman. Altman will be CEO of some new subsidiary under Microsoft. OpenAI’s interim CEO will be Emmett Shear, who co-founded video streaming site Twitch, now owned by Microsoft.
“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 wrote in an update to a blog post about the moves at OpenAI. “We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI’s new leadership team and working with them. And we’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team. We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”
How did this happen so soon after what seemed like a non-stop success story for Altman and OpenAI? Here’s what we know of the timeline. On Thursday, OpenAI CTO Mira Murati was informed of the upcoming firing of Altman by the board and that she will be interim CEO, while OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever set up a Friday call with Altman. Midday Friday, Altman is told of the dismissal. OpenAI announced he is leaving but that Greg Brockman would stay as president, though he would no longer be chairman. Brockman decides to quit anyway.
— Greg Brockman (@gdb) November 18, 2023
Apparently unaware until it happened, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was incredibly upset, according to multiple reports. Other reports say the staff of OpenAI was upset and accused Sutskever of trying to oust Altman in a coup, while three senior AI research scientists followed Brockman and resigned from the company. The questions to Sutskever centered on safety and commercialization issues. Reports suggested Altman wanted to set up a possible competitor for Nvidia’s AI chips. Meanwhile, personal friction between Sutskever and the other co-founders filtered out to the board, many of whom took Sutskever’s side. There was immediate and immense pressure from investors to bring Altman back, leading to reports on Saturday.t the board was suddenly trying to negotiate with Altman and get him back. There was plenty of posted support for Altman’s X post, saying he loves the OpenAI team. With heart emojis from several suggesting they would join him in a move elsewhere, even from interim CEO Murati.
— Mira Murati (@miramurati) November 19, 2023
Altman went to OpenAI to negotiate on Sunday. Nadella even led the discussion. Nonetheless, Altman ended up choosing not to return to OpenAI, leading to the situation described above. The reason for the sudden and rapid shifts are hard to parse right now. As Voicebot founder Bret Kinsella pointed out in our Synthedia newsletter, there are questions about whether new technical breakthroughs led to a rising argument over questions of safety and testing.
“Every company using OpenAI or planning to will also need to reconsider their options. They can still get access to OpenAI’s API and a stable instance of the solutions through Azure OpenAI Service, but there will surely be concern that OpenAI may not be as aggressive around new feature introductions in the future because of “safety” concerns. The challenge with that term is everyone has their own definition, and Sutskever may be biased toward more constraint than Altman or the desires of key customers. Customers who fear falling behind their competitors using other generative AI solutions may choose an alternative,” Kinsella wrote. “Two weeks ago, it looked like OpenAI was about to crush its competitors by making it harder for them to get any breathing space. OpenAI still has many advantages, but the market is now open for some aggressive moves. The wild ride of generative AI is about to get wilder.”
The personal side of things seems flexible, too, judging from Sutskever’s post and Altman’s response of hearts seen below.
— Sam Altman (@sama) November 20, 2023