After a flurry of weekend negotiations, Microsoft said it hired Sam Altman — two days after the board of OpenAI abruptly ousted him as CEO — while OpenAI recruited Emmett Shear, most recently chief executive of livestreaming platform Twitch, to step in as interim CEO.
Altman will lead a new artificial-intelligence research team at Microsoft, alongside former OpenAI president Greg Brockman (who had quit after Altman was fired on Nov. 17), Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced in a post late Sunday night. Microsoft previously announced plans to invest billions over several years in OpenAI, the research organization that created the buzzy AI chatbot ChatGPT. Per the New York Times, Microsoft has invested more than $13 billion in San Francisco-based OpenAI. Other investors in OpenAI, launched as a not-for-profit research lab in 2015, include Sequoia Capital and Thrive Capital.
Meanwhile, OpenAI on Sunday named Shear, who left Amazon-owned Twitch in March, its interim CEO. He will replace CTO Mira Murati, who was appointed interim chief after Altman’s firing.
In another twist, more than 500 of OpenAI’s approximately 700 employees — including chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, one of the four OpenAI board members who kicked out Altman — signed on to a letter released Monday in which they threatened to quit and join Microsoft unless the board members resign and reinstate Altman and Brockman, Wired reported.
Nadella wrote in the post on X, “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 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.”
Altman, quoting Nadella’s post, wrote on Sunday: “the mission continues.” Before Altman agreed to join Microsoft, he was in talks with the OpenAI board through Sunday about returning before the board rejected the idea. He also reportedly was already pitching investors on a new AI startup.
Shear, for his part, wrote on X that he had resigned as CEO of Twitch this spring “due to the birth of my now 9-month-old son.” He said he took the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to lead OpenAI “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. Ultimately I felt that I had a duty to help if I could.”
OpenAI said in a statement Friday that “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. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
The details surrounding Altman’s ouster have remained murky. A memo sent Saturday to OpenAI staffers by COO Brad Lightcap said “a breakdown in communication” led to Altman’s dismissal and not “malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices.”
Sutskever “was increasingly worried that OpenAI’s technology could be dangerous and that Mr. Altman was not paying enough attention to that risk,” according to a New York Times report. In a post on X Monday morning, Sutskever wrote, “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.”
Shear wrote in his post that “it’s clear that the process and communications around Sam’s removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust.”
According to Shear, within in the next 30 days, he plans to hire an independent investigator “to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report”; to “reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures into an effective force to drive results for our customers”; and to continue to speak to as many OpenAI employees, partners, investors and customers as possible.
Shear also wrote that “Before I took the job, I checked on the reasoning behind the change. The board did not remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that. I’m not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercializing our awesome models.”
Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives wrote in a note Monday, “The embarrassing circus show over the weekend at OpenAI was finally taken over by the adults in the room at Microsoft as Nadella & Co. now have added the linchpins of AI Sam Altman and Greg Brockman to join Microsoft to lead advanced AI research team. The OpenAI failed coup attempt by the 4 person Board did not want Altman back as their CEO…. so MSFT hired this key asset and now he will oversee OpenAI from Redmond along with Nadella which is the music to the ears of investors.”