Friday, July 12, 2024

The board of directors of OpenAI, the high-flying artificial intelligence start-up, said in a note to employees on Sunday night that its former chief, Sam Altman, would not be returning to his job, while naming his second interim replacement in two days.

Hours later, in another head-spinning move, Microsoft said it was hiring Mr. Altman and Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president and a company co-founder who quit in solidarity with Mr. Altman. The two men will lead an advanced research lab at Microsoft.

At OpenAI, Emmett Shear, the former chief executive of Twitch, will replace Mira Murati as interim chief, the board said. Ms. Murati, a longtime OpenAI executive, had been appointed to that role after Mr. Altman’s ouster on Friday. The board said Mr. Shear has a “unique mix of skills, expertise and relationships that will drive OpenAI forward,” according to the memo viewed by The New York Times.

At Microsoft, Satya Nadella, the tech giant’s chief executive, said that Mr. Altman would be chief executive of the new research lab, “setting a new pace for innovation,” in an apparent contrast at the OpenAI board’s desire for caution in developing A.I. technology. Mr. Nadella noted in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter, that Mr. Altman’s new group will operate as an independent entity within Microsoft.

Mr. Nadella left room for other unnamed colleagues who may join the two co-founders at Microsoft. “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” he said.

Mr. Altman responded cryptically, writing on X, “the mission continues.” By Monday morning, more than 550 of OpenAI’s 700 employees had signed a letter saying they might quit to join Mr. Altman’s new project at Microsoft unless the start-up’s board resigned, three people who viewed the letter said.

A spokesman for Microsoft declined to comment further beyond Mr. Nadella’s posts to X. The letter was earlier reported by Wired.

Mr. Altman’s firing startled the tech industry and OpenAI’s investors, which include Microsoft, Sequoia Capital and Thrive Capital. Microsoft, which has invested more than $13 billion in OpenAI, only learned of Mr. Altman’s exit one minute before it was announced, while other investors discovered that he had been forced out via social media. They were given no further information or updates over the weekend.

The board firmly stands by its decision as the only path to advance and defend the mission of OpenAI,” said the memo on Sunday, referring to Mr. Altman’s removal from the company on Friday. It was signed by each of the four directors on the company’s board; Adam D’Angelo, Helen Toner, Ilya Sutskever, and Tasha McCauley.

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,” the memo said.

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