The world of AI was shaken this week as nearly 500 employees of OpenAI, a frontrunner in the industry, signed a letter threatening to quit. This dramatic turn of events follows the board’s decision to fire CEO Sam Altman and remove cofounder Greg Brockman from his position. The employees’ ultimatum is clear: reinstate the ousted leaders or face a mass exodus.
The controversy began on Friday when OpenAI’s board abruptly removed Altman, citing a lack of candor in his dealings with them. This move, however, has been met with significant pushback from within the company. Employees expressed their dissatisfaction in a strongly worded letter, accusing the board of jeopardizing the company’s mission and demonstrating incompetence.
In a surprising twist, Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist and a board member, who was initially blamed for orchestrating Altman’s removal, expressed regret over his role in the board’s actions. In a candid post, he pledged his commitment to reunite the company.
The crisis reached a new level when Microsoft, a key investor in OpenAI, stepped in. The tech giant, led by CEO Satya Nadella, announced that Altman and Brockman would head a new advanced AI research unit within Microsoft. This development offered an alternative path for the disgruntled OpenAI staff, as Microsoft assured positions for all OpenAI employees in this new subsidiary.
Amid this escalating situation, OpenAI’s board made another swift leadership change, replacing interim CEO Mira Murati with Emmett Shear, former CEO of Twitch. This rapid reshuffling has added to the uncertainty and discontent among the staff.
The employees’ letter highlights the critical role they have played in advancing AI technology, emphasizing their contributions to AI safety, governance, and the development of widely used products. It underscores the strength and value of OpenAI, which, until this point, had never been in such a precarious position.
The situation at OpenAI remains fluid, with the potential for significant shifts in the AI industry landscape. The employees’ threat to join Microsoft adds another layer of complexity to the unfolding drama, making the next steps of OpenAI’s board crucial in determining the company’s future.
The Letter from OpenAI Team:
To the Board of Directors at OpenAI,
OpenAI is the world’s leading AI company. We, the employees of OpenAI, have developed the best models and pushed the field to new frontiers. Our work on AI safety and governance shapes global norms. The products we built are used by millions of people around the world. Until now, the company we work for and cherish has never been in a stronger position.
The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and company. Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.
When we all unexpectedly learned of your decision, the leadership team of OpenAI acted swiftly to stabilize the company. They carefully listened to your concerns and tried to cooperate with you on all grounds. Despite many requests for specific facts for your allegations, you have never provided any written evidence. They also increasingly realized you were not capable of carrying out your duties, and were negotiating in bad faith.
The leadership team suggested that the most stabilizing path forward – the one that would best serve our mission, company, stakeholders, employees and the public – would be for you to resign and put in place a qualified board that could lead the company forward in stability.
Leadership worked with you around the clock to find a mutually agreeable outcome. Yet within two days of your initial decision, you again replaced interim CEO Mira Murati against the best interests of the company. You also informed the leadership team that allowing the company to be destroyed “would be consistent with the mission.”
Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI. 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. Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join. We will take this step imminently, 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.