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Updated Nov 20, 2023, 12:07pm EST
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Former OpenAI CEO Altman joins Microsoft

Reuters/Carlos Barria
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Former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is joining Microsoft to lead a ”new advanced AI research team" with former OpenAI president and co-founder Greg Brockman, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced in an X post Monday.

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

Altman was fired by OpenAI’s board of directors on Friday after it determined he had not been “consistently candid in his communications.” Brockman resigned the same day, along with several other prominent staff members at OpenAI, the artificial intelligence startup behind ChatGPT.

“The mission continues,” Altman said in an X post.

On Monday, a majority of all OpenAI’s 770 employees threatened to walk out over Altman’s ouster. In an open letter, 650 signatories, including Ilya Sutskever — who led the internal revolt against Altman — called on the board to resign, Wired reported.

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Microsoft shares dipped Friday following news of Altman’s ouster from OpenAI. Several staff remaining at OpenAI, meanwhile, reportedly resigned over the board’s shock decision, creating a huge pool of candidates for companies to hire from. By moving quickly to bring Altman and Brockman on board, Microsoft was “likely to gain the upper hand over rivals who are already attempting to tap talented AI researchers and engineers from OpenAI,” George Hammond and Madhumita Murgia wrote in the Financial Times.

The threat of an employee walkout prompted immediate discussions among the OpenAI board to reverse course and bring Altman back. That plan quickly unraveled, however, as board members refused a deadline Saturday to resign and reinstate both Brockman and Altman, according to The Verge. The move to bring both execs into Microsoft may come as a moment of serendipity for Microsoft as it expands its AI offerings: Altman was pitching a new venture, codenamed Tigris, that would build custom AI chips which he hoped could rival those built by Nvidia, and Microsoft announced last week that it had created its own custom chip.

Securing both Altman and Brockman is “a phenomenal outcome for Microsoft,” tech analyst Ben Thompson writes in his newsletter. Microsoft has a license to almost all of OpenAI’s intellectual property, and with a coming drain on talent facing the organization in the wake of the two execs’ removal, several staffers are likely headed for Microsoft. “You can make the case that Microsoft just acquired OpenAI for $0 and zero risk of an antitrust lawsuit,” Thompson notes.

Altman’s expulsion from OpenAI came as the CEO seemed to be at the top of his career — liked by consumers and investors, and heading a company that has be come near-ubiquitous in the tech world. Those distrustful of him, however, included OpenAI’s board, Bloomberg reports. Scientists sitting on the board became concerned that the company’s focus on growth risked creating a dangerous situation. Infighting about OpenAI’s direction fueled Altman’s rapid ouster, and a contingent of the board of directors focused on AI safety, including Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, seemingly lost trust in Altman. On Monday, Sutskever appeared to walk back his support for the leadership shakeup: On X, he wrote that he regretted “my participation in the board’s actions,” adding “I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.”

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