December 8, 2023

When the OpenAI board ousted co-founder Sam Altman on Friday (Nov. 17)—less than 11 days after the company’s first developer conference—Microsoft chief Satya Nadella was apparently “livid” and “blindsided.” Still, the software giant that has poured billions of dollars into OpenAI was unwilling and unable to cut ties abruptly amid the leadership upset.

Microsoft is “committed to its partnership with OpenAI,” the parent company’s CEO Satya Nadella posted on X and LinkedIn late last night (Nov. 19).

Succeeding the token vote of confidence, though, was the real big news in Nadella’s post: “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.”

In response, Altman wrote, “the mission continues.”

Meanwhile, more than 500 OpenAI employees are calling for the board to resign as a result of Altman’s ousting, saying that if action is not taken immediately, they may walk off the job.

Meanwhile at OpenAI…

The OpenAI board ousted co-founder Sam Altman on Friday (Nov. 17). Soon after, Greg Brockman, a co-founder alongside Altman who was removed as chair of the board but allowed to retain his position as president, quit. Since then, the firm has already shuffled through two interim CEOs.

Dashing the hopes of people rallying to bring Altman back, Ilya Sutskever—the company’s chief researcher who first broke the news to Altman—penned a note to employees saying the dismissal was not being reversed. Chief technology officer Mira Murati was appointed to hold down the fort, but she didn’t last even the weekend before former Twitch boss Emmet Shear stepped into her shoes, as first reported by The Information. (OpenAI is yet to confirm Shear’s appointment.)

The OpenAI board is comprised of AI skeptics who locked horns with Altman over the rapid commercialization of the tech. Sutskever, who started a new “superalignment” team at OpenAI in June with 20% of the company’s resources, was among them. In removing Altman, the board claimed it lost confidence because he was not “candid in his communications.”

Emmet Shear’s views are much more up the board’s alley.

Quotable: Emmet Shear is cautious about AI

My AI safety discourse is 100% “you are building an alien god that will literally destroy the world when it reaches the critical threshold but be apparently harmless before that”

Emmet Shear on X in September, echoing the talk of the OpenAI board

One more thing: Which of Altman’s former colleagues will follow him to Microsoft?

There’s no official list of hires beyond Altman and Brockman that’s been made public yet, but there’s one telltale sign of who might be moving to Microsoft: people who quote-replied to Altman’s post on X with a heart emoji.

At first, the posts appeared to be a show of solidarity. But then, the Verge reported that it signaled the intent to resign and follow Altman to wherever he went next, citing unnamed sources. Scores of rank and file technical staffers and leadership team members fall in that bracket. Here are a few prominent ones:

  • Board pick Murati, an exec who’d been at the company for five years, was the first to respond to Altman’s post-departure post with a light blue heart emojireportedly a signal from employees who planned to leave if he did. Whether she left the post voluntarily or was fired is unclear.
  • Brad Lightcap, OpenAI’s chief operating officer, reposted Altman’s post with a white heart emoji. His bio on X says he’s still COO, though.
  • Jason Kwon, OpenAI’s chief strategy officer, posted a red heart
  • So did developer head Romain Huet
  • And Aditya Ramesh, who runs DALL-E, too
  • Johnathan Lachman, who heads special projects at OpenAI, retweeted Murati’s heart reply to Altman adding “our team spirit is just incredible.”

Time to keep an eye on everyone’s LinkedIn updates.

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