Microsoft on Monday hired two leading executives from the company that created ChatGPT after one of them was abruptly fired by OpenAI, the startup whose chatbot kicked off the era of generative artificial intelligence.
The developments followed a weekend of drama that shocked the AI field and fueled speculation about how the changes would shake out at OpenAI, which named a new chief executive on Friday and then replaced her on Sunday. The newest CEO, Emmett Shear, vowed to investigate the firing of co-founder and CEO Sam Altman, one of the world’s most sought-after experts on AI.
Former OpenAI President Greg Brockman, also a co-founder, quit in protest after Altman was fired.
Microsoft, which has been a close partner of the company and invested billions of dollars in it, announced that Altman and Brockman would lead its new advanced AI research team.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he was “extremely excited” to bring on the pair and looked “forward to getting to know” the new management team at OpenAI.
OpenAI said Friday that Altman was pushed out after a review found he was “not consistently candid in his communications” with the board of directors, which had lost confidence in his ability to lead the company.
In an X post Monday, OpenAI’s new interim chief executive said he would hire an independent investigator to look into what led up to Altman’s ouster and write a report within 30 days.
“It’s clear that the process and communications around Sam’s removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust,” wrote Shear, who co-founded Twitch, an Amazon-owned livestreaming service popular with video gamers.
He said he also plans in the next month to “reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures into an effective force” and speak with employees, investors and customers.
After that, Shear said he would “drive changes in the organization,” including “significant governance changes if necessary.” He noted that the reason behind the board removing Altman was not a “specific disagreement on safety.”
OpenAI last week declined to answer questions on what Altman’s alleged lack of candor was about. Its statement said his behaviour was hindering the board’s ability to exercise its responsibilities.
A key driver of the shakeup, OpenAI’s co-founder, chief scientist and board member Ilya Sutskever, expressed regrets for his participation in the ouster.
“I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company,” he said Monday on X.
Hundreds of OpenAI employees signed a letter that began circulating early Monday calling for the board’s resignation and Altman’s return, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Associated Press.
The copy showed that the number of signatures amounted to a majority of the company’s 770 employees. The AP was not able to independently confirm that all of the signatures were from OpenAI employees.
A company spokesperson confirmed that the board received the letter.
A Microsoft representative said the company would not comment beyond its CEO’s statement.
After Altman was pushed out Friday, he stirred speculation that he might be coming back into the fold in a series of tweets. He posted a photo of himself with an OpenAI guest pass on Sunday, saying this is “first and last time i ever wear one of these.”
Hours earlier, he tweeted, “i love the openai team so much,” which drew heart replies from Brockman, who quit after Altman was fired, and Mira Murati, OpenAI’s chief technology officer who was initially named as interim CEO.
It’s not clear what transpired between the announcement of Murati’s interim role Friday and Shear’s hiring, though she was among several employees on Monday who tweeted, “OpenAI is nothing without its people.” Altman replied to many with heart emojis.
The board consists of Sutskever, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
Shear said he took the new job because he believes “that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence.”
On a podcast in June, Shear said he’s generally optimistic about AI but has serious concerns about building something “a lot smarter than us” and whether doing so could endanger humans.
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“If there is a world where we survive … where we build an AI that’s smarter than humans and survive it, it’s going to be because we built smaller AIs than that, and we actually had as many smart people as we can working on that, and taking the problem seriously,” Shear said in June.
That’s an issue that Altman consistently faced since he helped catapult ChatGPT to global fame. In the past year, he has become Silicon Valley’s most sought-after voice on the promise and potential dangers of artificial intelligence.
He went on a world tour to meet with government officials earlier this year, drawing big crowds at public events as he discussed both the risks of AI and attempts to regulate the emerging technology.
“If Microsoft lost Altman he could have gone to Amazon, Google, Apple, or a host of other tech companies craving to get the face of AI globally in their doors,” Daniel Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, said in a research note.
Microsoft is now in an even stronger position on AI, Ives said. Its shares rose nearly 2 per cent before the opening bell and were nearing an all-time high Monday.
The Associated Press and OpenAI have a licensing and technology agreement allowing OpenAI access to part of the AP’s text archives.