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Why was Sam Altman fired from OpenAI and what role will he play at Microsoft?

It was one of the less predictable moves as OpenAI’s co-founder was kicked out, but opportunities immediately opened.

Update:
It was one of the less predictable moves as OpenAI’s co-founder was kicked out, but opportunities immediately opened.
CARLOS BARRIAREUTERS

ChatGPT has taken the world by storm. Its predictive nature, with a little creative guesswork thrown in, has produced impressive results across a number of industries, completing normally time-consuming tasks in a matter of seconds. As co-founder of OpenAI, the company that brought us this new ‘intelligent’ tool, everyone must have been extremely grateful for his continued input into related projects, right? Well, as you have likely heard, not everyone.

On Friday 17 November, Altman was removed from his leadership role at the company. Immediately chatter across the usual platforms began, people coming to their own conclusions about potential reasons behind the decision, but it wasn’t long before Microsoft, already closely tied to the company, were on the phone.

Why was Altman fired, anyway?

The decision to remove Altman as CEO stemmed from concerns raised by the board of OpenAI. Reports suggest that there were worries about Altman downplaying the risks associated with the company’s technology and steering the company away from its intended goals. The board’s decision led to high-level departures from the company and an effort by significant investors to reinstate Altman. The board cited Altman’s behavior and lack of transparency as undermining its ability to effectively oversee the company, according to a memo sent to employees which said that they had reviewed the CEO’s performance and “concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”

Altman’s new role at Microsoft

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, announced on the social network X that Altman, along with Greg Brockman and other colleagues, will lead a new team focused on advanced AI research at Microsoft. Despite pressure from Microsoft and other major investors to retain Altman, OpenAI appointed Emmett Shear, former CEO of Amazon Twitch, as the new CEO. Altman’s dismissal led to changes in the high-level leadership at OpenAI, with key figures leaving the company.

“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. “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”

Greg Brockman, speaking on X, mentioned that Microsoft’s AI team initially included three former colleagues from OpenAI who resigned after Altman’s termination.

“Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today,” he began. “Let us first say thank you to all the incredible people who we have worked with at OpenAI, our customers, our investors, and all of those who have been reaching out.

“We too are still trying to figure out exactly what happened,” before detailing a timeline of events and communications which you can see in his post. He finished upbeat.

“The outpouring of support has been really nice; thank you, but please don’t spend any time being concerned. We will be fine. Greater things coming soon.”

He later followed with more optimism about the future: “We’re going to build something new and it will be incredible. The mission continues,” while naming former OpenAI figures Jakub Pachocki, Aleksander Madry, and Szymon Sidor in the new team.

Microsoft, Altman and AI

Microsoft, having invested over $10 billion in OpenAI, expressed confidence in their partnership and product roadmap. Microsoft has already integrated OpenAI’s technology into its own products, emphasising their ongoing commitment to advancing AI capabilities.

It’s a competitive industry that is only expanding and companies like Microsoft, Google, Meta, Anthropic, and Stability AI are all staking their claims. Ensuring you have the right talent at your disposal can often be key.

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