OpenAI employees say they’ll leave unless board resigns

Hundreds of employees at ChatGPT maker OpenAI say they may quit the company and join former CEO Sam Altman at Microsoft unless the board of the company resigns.

The threat by about 500 employees is contained in a letter, seen by Reuters and several other media outlets.

Several mebers of OpenAI’s top management signed the letter, including chief technology officer Mira Murati and chief operating officer Brad Lightcap.

“Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI,” the employees said in their letter. “We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgement and care for our mission and employees.”

Scooped up

Earlier Monday, Microsoft announced it has hired Altman and another architect from OpenAI after they unexpectedly departed the company days earlier in a corporate shakeup that shocked the artificial intelligence world.

Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella tweeted that the U.S. tech giant is committed to its partnership with OpenAI, whose chatbot kicked off the generative AI craze by producing human-like text, images, video and music.

Nadella wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he looked “forward to getting to know” OpenAI’s new chief executive, former Twitch leader Emmett Shear, and the rest of the management team.

Microsoft invested billions of dollars in the startup and helped provide the computing power to run its AI systems. Now, it’s bringing two of OpenAI’s co-founders directly into the fold.

“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 said.

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In reply on X, Altman said “the mission continues,” while OpenAI co-founder and former president Brockman posted, “We are going to build something new & it will be incredible.”

Sam Altman, the then-CEO at OpenAI, speaks before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law hearing on artificial intelligence, in May 2023, in Washington, D.C. Altman has joined Microsoft just days after being forced out at OpenAI. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

The moves come after a weekend of drama and speculation about how the leadership would shake out at OpenAI. Altman was active on X, posting a photo of himself with an OpenAI guest pass on Sunday and 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 Murati, who was initially named as interim CEO.

It’s not clear what transpired between the announcement of Murati’s interim role Friday and the hiring of Shear, who co-founded Twitch, an Amazon-owned livestreaming service popular with video gamers.

An OpenAI spokeswoman didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

Pushed out

The company 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.

Altman helped catapult ChatGPT to global fame and in the past year has become Silicon Valley’s 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.

Altman posted Friday on X that “i loved my time at openai” and later called what happened a “weird experience.”

Investigation promised

In an X post Monday, Shear 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.

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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,” a likely reference to the debates that have swirled around OpenAI’s mission to safely build AI that is “generally smarter than humans.”

OpenAI declined to answer questions on what Altman’s alleged lack of candour was about. The company’s statement said his behavior was hindering the board’s ability to exercise its responsibilities. 

But a key driver of Friday’s shakeup, OpenAI’s co-founder, chief scientist and board member Ilya Sutskever, posted regrets on the situation to X on Monday: “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 Associated Press and OpenAI have a licensing and technology agreement allowing OpenAI access to part of the AP’s text archives.

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