The future of OpenAI appeared in limbo Monday, with hundreds of company employees signing a letter calling on the board to step down after it was unable to reach an agreement to bring back ousted CEO Sam Altman.
Altman, whose departure from OpenAI was announced Friday, joined Microsoft early Monday after a weekend of boardroom drama that sent shock waves across Silicon Valley. Altman will lead a new artificial intelligence project at Microsoft, the tech giant said early Monday after rumors swirled that he could make a dramatic return to the company he helped build into one of the world’s hottest startups.
Hours later, a letter, which was first reported by Wired and journalist Kara Swisher and later shared with NBC News, said OpenAI employees would resign and possibly join Microsoft ‘unless all current board members resign, and the board appoints two new lead independent directors, such as Bret Taylor and Will Hurd, and reinstates Sam Altman and Greg Brockman.’
An OpenAI spokesperson said the letter had been shown to the board.
‘Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI,’ the letter reads. ‘We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgement and care for our mission and employees. We, the undersigned, may choose to resign from OpenAI and join the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman.’
As of late Monday morning, more than 700 names appeared on the letter, though NBC News has not confirmed all had chosen to sign it. Many of them had published identical posts on X reading, ‘OpenAI is nothing without its people.”
OpenAI has about 770 employees, the spokesperson said.
Ilya Sutskever, a board member and co-founder of OpenAI whose name also appeared on the letter, posted to X that he regretted his role in Altman’s exit.
He appeared to imply there were ongoing efforts to bring Altman back.
“I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company,” he wrote.
Altman quoted the post, adding three hearts.
Emmett Shear, a co-founder and former CEO of the video streaming platform Twitch, confirmed that he would be the new interim CEO of OpenAI.
OpenAI, founded in 2015 with money from several tech billionaires, has emerged in recent years as the leader of a new wave of AI technology best known by the chatbot app ChatGPT. That app rocketed to popularity almost exactly a year ago, demonstrating the huge strides AI has made and making OpenAI the hottest tech startup on the planet.
Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella announced the Altman hire on X just before 3 a.m. ET, more than 48 hours after OpenAI’s board of directors said it “no longer had confidence” in Altman — a leading figure in the tech industry’s efforts to grapple with the promise and potential dangers of AI.
Microsoft is a major financial backer of OpenAI, and it has invested billions since its first funding deal in 2019. Since then, OpenAI has become the most visible of a new generation of AI companies — its ChatGPT, a large language model chatbot, is widely used and has become a symbol of everyday AI innovation.
Nadella said Microsoft was still committed to supporting OpenAI, which now has a new leadership team, while confirming that Altman will lead a ‘new advanced AI research team,’ alongside Brockman, an OpenAI co-founder who was pushed off the company’s board and later quit as its president Friday.
‘We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,’ Nadella said.
Altman reshared the post, adding: ‘The mission continues.’
OpenAI said it cut ties with him after a review found he was ‘not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.’
Brockman said Friday in a post to X that he and Altman were ‘shocked and saddened’ by the board’s decision but added that there are ‘greater things coming soon.’
CNBC reported Sunday that some OpenAI investors were pushing for Altman to be brought back after Chief Technology Officer Mira Murati was named interim CEO.
But Shear confirmed on X early Monday that he would instead be leading OpenAI.
He laid out a plan for his first 30 days, including hiring an independent investigator ‘to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and generate a full report.’
Shear said that ‘OpenAI’s stability and success are too important to allow turmoil to disrupt them like this,’ adding that ‘I have nothing but respect for what Sam and the entire OpenAI team have built.’