The board of directors of OpenAI, the high-flying artificial intelligence start-up, said in a note to employees Sunday night that its former chief Sam Altman will not return to his job, while naming his second interim replacement in two. Day.
Hours later, in another surprise move, Microsoft said it was firing Mr. Altman and OpenAI president and company co-founder Greg Brockman, who resigned in solidarity with Mr. Altman. Both men will lead an advanced research lab at Microsoft.
At OpenAI, former Twitch chief executive Emmett Shear will replace Mira Muratti as interim head, the board said. Ms. Murati, a longtime OpenAI executive, was appointed to that role Mr. Altman’s removal on Friday. The board said Mr Shearer had “a unique blend of skills, expertise and relationships that will advance OpenAI,” according to the memo seen by The New York Times.
At Microsoft, the tech giant’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, said Mr Altman would be chief executive of the new research laboratory, which would “set a new pace for innovation”, in apparent contrast to the OpenAI board’s desire to exercise caution in AI development. Is. technology. Mr Nadella said in a post At X, formerly known as Twitter, Mr Altman’s new group will operate as an independent unit within Microsoft.
Mr. Nadella left room for other unnamed partners who could join the two co-founders at Microsoft. “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources they need to succeed,” he said.
Mr. Altman replied mysteriously, write on x, “The mission continues.” By Monday morning, more than 550 of OpenAI’s 700 employees had signed a letter saying they could quit to join Mr. Altman’s new project at Microsoft, three people who saw the letter said. That is, until the start-up’s board resigned.
A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment beyond Mr. Nadella’s post to X. The letter was first reported by Wired.
Mr. Altman’s dismissal stunned the tech industry and OpenAI’s investors, including Microsoft, Sequoia Capital and Thrive Capital. Microsoft, which has invested more than $13 billion in OpenAI, learned of Mr. Altman’s exit just a minute before the announcement, while other investors learned he had been ousted through social media. No further information or updates were given over the weekend.
“The board firmly stands by its decision as the only path forward to advance and defend OpenAI’s mission,” the memo on Sunday said, referring to Mr. Altman’s removal from the company on Friday. It was signed by each of the four directors of the company’s board; Adam D’Angelo, Helen Toner, Ilya Sutskever, and Tasha McCauley.
“Simply put, Sam’s behavior and lack of transparency in his interactions with the board have weakened the board’s ability to effectively oversee the company,” the memo said.
The departure of Mr. Altman, 38, also drew attention to the rift in the AI community between those who believe AI is the most important new technology since the web browser and others who worry that it is too fast to develop. It may be dangerous to proceed further. Mr. Sutskever, in particular, was concerned that Mr. Altman was focusing too much on building OpenAI’s business while not paying enough attention to the dangers of AI.
The board’s decision to remove Mr. Altman was a blow to industry colleagues and rank-and-file employees who had supported the charismatic founder. Silicon Valley investors and tech executives expressed their support for Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman. By Friday evening, Mr. Altman was pitching a new AI start-up to investors and planned to launch the company with Mr. Brockman.
Since OpenAI released its hit ChatGPIT chatbot about a year ago, artificial intelligence has captured the public’s imagination, with hopes that it can be used for important tasks like drug research or to help teach children. Could. But some AI scientists and political leaders are concerned about its risks, such as jobs going out of existence or autonomous warfare that grows beyond human control.
OpenAI has been the center of gravity of that discussion, with its former chief executive having done more than anyone in the past year to make artificial intelligence a mainstream topic.
The board did not cite specific incidents involving Mr. Altman as the reason for his removal. Rather, it claimed that Mr. Altman had “lost the confidence of the Board of Directors” and that his removal was “necessary to preserve the ability of the Board to execute its responsibilities and advance the mission of this organization.”
“It is paramount that any CEO be honest and transparent with his or her board,” the memo said.
OpenAI and Mr. Altman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The AI company has an unusual governance structure. It is controlled by a board of a non-profit that can decide the leadership of the company and its investors have no formal way to influence decisions.
If the board did not agree, some OpenAI employees pledged to leave OpenAI or join Mr. Altman’s new potential venture. But even as Mr. Altman pitched for a new company, investors were still pushing for the return of Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman.
Throughout the weekend, Mr. Altman and his supporters pressured OpenAI’s board with appeals to venture capitalists, other tech executives and employees. Microsoft led the charge and small investors voiced their concerns through Microsoft, the three people said.
The effort was meant to show the company’s board how popular Mr. Altman was with OpenAI employees and in Silicon Valley, the people said.
The lack of details about the reasons behind Mr. Altman’s ouster left his supporters agitated. Some argued that OpenAI’s non-profit board could no longer support the business that OpenAI has become – with 700 employees, numerous customers and corporate partnerships that is on track to post $1 billion in annual revenue. .
Mr Altman, Mr Brockman and Mr Sutskever created OpenAI in 2015 with nine others, including Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk. The group established the AI Lab as a nonprofit, saying that unlike Google and other tech giants, it would not be driven by commercial incentives.
In 2018, after Mr. Musk parted ways with OpenAI, Mr. Altman turned the lab into a for-profit company, controlled by the nonprofit and its board. Over the next several years, he raised the billions of dollars the company needed to build technologies like ChatGPT.
Before joining OpenAI, Mr. Shear led Twitch through its transformation from an upstart platform called Justin.TV to the giant acquired by Amazon in 2014. He stayed on after the tech giant took over, and only left earlier this year, saying he was having a baby.
Mr. Shear, a longtime video gamer, was seen as a capable leader at Twitch, but he also had his critics. It was believed that he was too focused on cutting costs and turning the money-losing site into a more profitable business.
“We apologize for the sudden interruption in the process that we felt was necessary given the situation,” the board said in its memorandum. “While understanding the questions it raises, we believe our actions were necessary.”
On Monday, when OpenAI employees signed letters saying they could move to Microsoft to join Mr. Altman’s new project, one name stood out: Mr. Sustkever. He posted a message to X saying he deeply regretted his role in the board’s decision.
“It was never my intention to harm OpenAI,” he said. “I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to bring the company back together.”
kellen browning, Karen Weiss, Erin Griffith And Trip Mickle Contributed to the reporting.