Microsoft has hired OpenAI co-founders Sam Altman and Greg Brockman to head up a “new advanced AI research team,” the software conglomerate’s chief Satya Nadella said Monday, capping three days of intense discussions following the unexpected decision by OpenAI’s board to dismiss Altman.
Many OpenAI members, including the co-founder Brockman, left the firm in protest last week. Altman will serve as the chief executive of the new AI group at Microsoft, Nadella said.
“We’ve learned a lot over the years about how to give founders and innovators space to build independent identities and cultures within Microsoft, including GitHub, Mojang Studios, and LinkedIn, and I’m looking forward to having you do the same.”
Nadella said Altman and Brockman will be joined by “colleagues.” Former OpenAI top talent Szymon Sidor, Jakub Pachocki, Aleksander Madry are joining Microsoft with “more” to follow suit, Brockman said in a post on X.
“We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” said Nadella, in what many tech entrepreneurs labelled as an example of “incredible execution.”
Brockman added in a post that the new team will build “something new & it will be incredible.”
Nadella, whose firm has invested over $10 billion in OpenAI and acquired almost 50% ownership, said the Windows-maker remains committed to the startup.
Microsoft was purportedly taken by surprise by the sudden action of OpenAI’s board. It is remarkable that Nadella managed to convince and find a familiar new home for the ex-leaders of OpenAI ahead of the market’s opening on Monday.
Altman has been the public face of OpenAI, the most valuable U.S. startup. It’s not only widely estimated to be leading the current AI race but has in less than a year also assumed the position of kingmaker for thousands of other startups that are building atop of its software offerings.
Investment in OpenAI has also supercharged Microsoft’s AI efforts, helping it court many businesses.
Numerous prominent business leaders and investors have expressed surprise at OpenAI’s decision, warning that without Altman’s leadership, the startup may struggle to maintain its current pace of progress.
Microsoft’s strategic move to secure Altman and Brockman reinforces its competitive edge, preventing other major technology companies from poaching their expertise and bolster Wall Street’s positive outlook on Microsoft’s future.
Microsoft’s move comes after a tumultuous weekend that saw an unsuccessful attempt by the OpenAI board, its investors, team members and Altman to make the entrepreneur return to the startup.
OpenAI board instead appointed former Twitch chief executive and co-founder Emmett Shear as its interim chief executive in a move that reportedly shocked Altman.
Earlier over the weekend, Altman also began to pitch a new AI venture to investors, according to the New York Times.
“We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and in continuing to support our customers and partners. We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI’s new leadership team and working with them,” Nadella added.
The OpenAI board said it had removed Altman because he had not been “consistently candid” in his conversations with them. It didn’t elaborate the reasoning, which angered many OpenAI employees.
“The board had a chance to explain their drastic actions and they did not take it,” wrote Andrej Karpathy, a research scientist at OpenAI, on X.
A number of OpenAI top talent, including CTO Mira Murati, on Monday protested OpenAI board’s decision, which has prompted many talent to leave the firm. “OpenAI is nothing without its people,” the tweets said.
In a post on X Monday, Shear admitted that OpenAI’s process and communication around the removal of Altman “has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust.”
Shear said over the next 30 days he plans to hire an independent investigator for a full review of the process that led to Altman’s removal, engage in extensive discussions with stakeholders for insights, and restructure the management and leadership team to better serve OpenAI customers.
“Depending on the results 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,” he wrote.
“I have nothing but respect for what Sam and the entire OpenAI team have built. It’s not just an incredible research project and software product, but an incredible company. I’m here because I know that, and I want to do everything in my power to protect it and grow it further.”