Access Alert: Microsoft swoops in to hire former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman

Access Alert: Microsoft swoops in to hire former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman

On 17 November, Sam Altman was dismissed from his role as CEO of OpenAI, with the company stating it “no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI”. Following this announcement, rumours swirled about a potential U-turn, with apparent negotiations to bring Altman back. A dramatic weekend of speculation ultimately culminated in Microsoft hiring OpenAI co-founder and former CEO Sam Altman, along with co-founder Greg Brockman, on 20 November.

Chairman and CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, announced the hire on X in the early hours of Monday, stating “we’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team”. As part of Nadella’s message, he noted that the hires would enable Microsoft to deliver on announcements made during the Microsoft Ignite conference this month, which include their AI-powered chatbot Microsoft Copilot (formerly named Bing Chat), customised AI chips, and immersive Microsoft Teams experiences, among other unveilings.

In an exchange with Altman on X, Nadella underlined the importance of allowing innovators and founders the space to create their own cultures and identities within Microsoft, a particularly poignant point as Altman embarks on his journey to lead the company’s advanced AI research team.

What does this mean for OpenAI?

On the OpenAI side of things, while in their initial press release chief technology officer Mira Murati was named interim CEO, Emmett Shear, co-founder and former CEO of the video streaming platform Twitch, confirmed he would be leading OpenAI moving forward. In a statement on X, Shear laid out a three-point plan for his first 30 days, which includes:

  1. Hiring an independent investigator to dig into the process leading up to this point and generating a full report from this;
  2. Continued communication with employees, partners, investors, and customers; and
  3. Reshaping management and leadership teams.

Nadella’s previously discussed statement notably reaffirmed Microsoft’s commitment to OpenAI and acknowledged the hire of Shear. While this doesn’t come as a surprise, given Microsoft’s substantial shareholding in OpenAI, the evolving dynamic between the two companies moving forward will be closely monitored by many. In the immediate aftermath of these recent developments, hundreds of OpenAI staff have threatened to leave the company and join Microsoft, should the board not resign. With OpenAI currently at such a critical juncture, the following days will prove vital to both its short and long term aspirations.

Access Partnership continues to monitor AI-related developments globally, with a dedicated AI Policy Lab that cultivates conversations surrounding artificial intelligence. If you would like to keep updated with AI developments and AI thought leadership, please subscribe to our channels and our AI Policy Lab Newsletter.

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