The story of Sam Altman and OpenAI took a twist this morning that even the most hallucinatory of chatbots would struggle to conjure: he and other OpenAI chums - including co-founder Greg Brockman - are off to Microsoft.
Altman was abruptly ousted from OpenAI on Friday and was followed through the doors by several OpenAI members, including Brockman. After a frenzied weekend of speculation, it appears that Microsoft has scooped up the team and tipped them into an AI research unit for which Altman will serve as CEO.
Nadella opened this morning by insisting that Microsoft remains committed to OpenAI - after all, it has poured billions into the company. However, it isn't easy to see how Microsoft will keep both plates spinning after opening its doors to Altman and other former OpenAI staffers.
OpenAI's reasons for ejecting Altman remain unclear. Under his leadership, the company has seen its value skyrocket and, according to reports, was in talks to sell existing employees' shares at a $86 billion valuation. It's hard to regard that deal as looking anything other than uncertain following the sudden departure of several top executives.
Beginning with the abrupt removal of Altman, the weekend continued with the departure of fellow OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman and then rumors that perhaps Altman might be asked back, or maybe not. Then former CTO Mira Murati briefly became interim CEO before former Twitch CEO Emmet Shear took up the chalice this morning.
At this rate, we all get to be interim CEO of OpenAI before long.
It is not clear if Murati will be joining Altman at Microsoft. We will update as things develop.
As for where this leaves Microsoft, the answer is between a rock and a hard place. The Windows vendor has bet big on the application of AI, invested billions into OpenAI, and owns a substantial chunk of the company. It will be interesting to watch how Nadella intends to manage Microsoft's relationship with OpenAI while opening its arms to the company's former CEO - who was dismissed under mysterious circumstances.
As for Shear, he posted that he has a three-point plan for the next 30 days: setting up an independent investigation to report on what led us to where we are now, talking to customers and employees, and finally reforming the management team.
Shear said: "Depending on the results [of] everything we learn from these, I will drive changes in the organization - up to and including pushing strongly for significant governance changes if necessary. I will be rolling these out as they become clear over the 30 day period.
"OpenAI's stability and success are too important to allow turmoil to disrupt them like this. I will endeavor to address the key concerns as well, although in many cases I believe it may take longer than a month to achieve true progress."
Seeing how things have gone over the last few days, 30 days seems an ambitious tenure for an OpenAI executive. ®
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