UPDATE: Nov. 22 — Sam Altman has been reinstated as the chief executive of OpenAI after a whirlwind series of negotiations and the threat of an exodus of nearly all of the company’s employees.
“We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo,” the company wrote on X. “We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this.”
Altman shared his own note early Wednesday morning, saying he loved OpenAI and “everything i’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together.”
“When i decided to join msft on sun evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team,” he wrote, using an acronym for Microsoft. “With the new board and w satya’s support, i’m looking forward to returning to openai, and building on our strong partnership with msft.”
Microsoft on Monday announced it has hired ousted OpenAI CEO and co-founder Sam Altman to head a new advanced AI research team after OpenAI’s board decided against reinstating Altman following negotiations over the weekend.
The appointment caps off a chaotic weekend for the tech world, which kicked off Friday after OpenAI’s board of directors suddenly fired Altman, a high-profile figure and wunderkind of the artificial intelligence boom.
It appeared there was a chance Altman could return to OpenAI but the board instead decided to appoint its second interim CEO, seemingly ending Altman’s hopes of returning to the helm after his shocking ouster.
Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella said Monday the tech giant — who is a lead investor in OpenAI — is also bringing in OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman, who resigned as president of the company in protest over the firing of Altman.
“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,” Nadella wrote in a statement posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”
OpenAI has hired Emmett Shear, the co-founder and former CEO of Twitch, to be interim CEO.
“The board firmly stands by its decision as the only path to advance and defend the mission of OpenAI,” according to an internal memo obtained by The New York Times. It was signed by the four directors on the OpenAI board. “Put simply, Sam’s behavior and lack of transparency in his interactions with the board undermined the board’s ability to effectively supervise the company in the manner it was mandated to do.”
They described Shear as having a “unique mix of skills, expertise and relationships that will drive OpenAI forward.”
Nadella said Microsoft remains committed to the partnership and looks forward to working with Shear and the new leadership team.
Shear confirmed he accepted the position in a post on X, recognizing that “the process and communications around [Altman’s] removal has been handled very badly.”
He announced a three-point plan to be executed over the next 30 days, which he said would determine whether more drastic governance changes are required. The plan includes hiring an independent investigator to produce a report on what led to Altman’s firing, among other things.
At the end of his statement, Shear said that he inquired about the board’s reasoning in removing Altman before agreeing to take over as interim CEO.
“The board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that,” he wrote. “I’m not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercializing our awesome models.”
Meanwhile, about 500 OpenAI employees threatened to resign and join Altman and Brockman at Microsoft in a letter addressed to the board of OpenAI Monday.
“Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI,” the letter states. “We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgement and care for our mission and employees.”
The employees added that Microsoft has made it clear that all OpenAI staff would be welcome to join the new advanced AI research team led by their two former leaders.
“We will take this step imminently, unless all current board members resign, and the board appoints two new lead independent directors, such as Bret Taylor and Will Hurd, and reinstates Sam Altman and Greg Brockman,” the letter continues.
Notably, Ilya Sutskever, co-founder and Chief Scientist of OpenAI and a member of the board himself, also signed the letter. Wired reported Sutskever was considered responsible for orchestrating Altman’s removal.
In a post on X earlier Monday, Sutskever said: “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.”
The company said simply at the time Altman had “not consistently [been] candid in his communications with the board,” but added later there was no “malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices.”
“Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today,” Brockman wrote after Altman was removed. “We too are still trying to figure out exactly what happened.”
The board has four remaining members who govern OpenAI’s activities. The Times added that there was no guarantee either Altman or Brockman would be reinstated, but employees at the company had expressed their support for that eventuality.
On Sunday, Altman posted a photo of him wearing a guest badge at OpenAI headquarters on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“First and last time I ever wear one of these,” he wrote.
OpenAI’s chief technology officer, Mira Murati, was initially appointed interim CEO after the firing.
OpenAI has made waves throughout the tech industry since it released ChatGPT last year, earning a $13 billion dollar investment from Microsoft and stunning the world with its powerful platform.
The AI boom has thrilled and troubled the tech world. Altman has become a face of the rapidly expanding industry, but also prompted concerns that executives are not doing enough to rein in the potential dangers of artificial intelligence.
This story has been updated with Microsoft’s hiring of Altman.