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OpenAI’s Sam Altman, Removed as CEO, Joins Microsoft

Altman will join an advanced AI research team at Microsoft. Former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear will join OpenAI in as interim CEO.

On Nov. 17, the board of directors of ChatGPT maker OpenAI, Inc. announced they removed cofounder and CEO Sam Altman as the company’s CEO and from the board of directors. Altman will be replaced by interim CEO Emmett Shear, formerly CEO of live video platform Twitch. A long-term successor has not yet been named.

On Nov. 20, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced Altman, OpenAI chairman of the board Greg Brockman and unnamed OpenAI “colleagues” will join Microsoft. The group will “lead a new advanced AI research team.”

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Altman ‘not consistently candid’ with board

The board of OpenAI — which consists of OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, independent directors Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology’s Helen Toner — was blunt with their words regarding why they removed Altman.

“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,” OpenAI representatives wrote in a statement. “The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”

Following the announcement, Altman posted on X (formerly Twitter): “i loved my time at openai. it was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. most of all i loved working with such talented people. will have more to say about what’s next later.”

“OpenAI was deliberately structured to advance our mission: to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all humanity,” the board of directors said in the statement. “The board remains fully committed to serving this mission. We are grateful for Sam’s many contributions to the founding and growth of OpenAI. At the same time, we believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward.”

Over the weekend, speculation emerged that Altman might rejoin OpenAI. Some of his supporters stated they would join Microsoft if Altman was not restored to his role at OpenAI.

ArsTechnica sources alleged Altman’s removal may have come from conflict between Altman and OpenAI Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever.

In internal documents from OpenAI acquired by Axios, chief operating officer Brad Lightcap said Altman’s firing “took us all by surprise.”

“We can say definitively that the board’s decision was not made in response to malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices,” Lightcap wrote. “This was a breakdown in communication between Sam and the board.”

Industry reactions to the change

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella posted on X: “As you saw at Microsoft Ignite this week, we’re continuing to rapidly innovate for this era of AI, with over 100 announcements across the full tech stack — from AI systems, models, and tools in Azure, to Copilot. Most importantly, we’re committed to delivering all of this to our customers while building for the future. We have a long-term agreement with OpenAI with full access to everything we need to deliver on our innovation agenda and an exciting product roadmap; and remain committed to our partnership, and to Mira and the team. Together, we will continue to deliver the meaningful benefits of this technology to the world.”

In a reply to Altman on X on Nov. 20, Nadella outlined his philosophy of how ex-OpenAI personnel might operate within Microsoft: “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, and LinkedIn, and I’m looking forward to having you do the same.”

“I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence,” Shear posted on X on Nov. 20. Shear also stated he plans to “hire an independent investigator to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report;” take feedback from employees, partners, investors and customers; and “reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures into an effective force to drive results for our customers.”

Arun Chandrasekaran, distinguished vice president and analyst for generative AI and cloud at Gartner, notes that the shakeup leads to questions such as “What would be the key goals for OpenAI considering this change?”

“The fact that Microsoft were able to convince Sam (Altman) and Greg (Brockman) to join them rather than start their own company may be an indication of the degree of autonomy and funding Microsoft may be willing to commit,” Chandrasekaran said.

If Altman brings a significant amount of OpenAI’s workforce and brain power to Microsoft, more questions will arise, Chandrasekaran said, namely how the combined team will balance trade-offs between speed, quality and safety and whether an OpenAI splinter group can work independently within Microsoft.

Altman’s high-profile role in the tech industry

As CEO of OpenAI, Altman has shaped much of the conversation about enterprise technology since the public release of ChatGPT in November 2022. The proliferation of generative AI has led to voluntary commitments and an executive order from the U.S. government, and regulatory changes across the world. Altman was part of a closed-door discussion in Washington D.C. in September.

Note: This article was updated with posts from Altman and Nadella and analysis from Gartner.

Source: TechRepublic