Sam Altman: Ousted OpenAI boss 'committed to ensuring firm still thrives' as majority of employees threaten to quit

20 November 2023, 14:18 | Updated: 21 November 2023, 06:53

Ousted boss of OpenAI, Sam Altman, has said his and Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella's top priority "remains to ensure OpenAI continues to thrive".

Microsoft has hired Mr Altman after he was abruptly fired as CEO of the artificial intelligence (AI) company that created ChatGPT, the game-changing generative chatbot used by millions of people.

The US tech giant has been a close partner of OpenAI and has already invested billions of dollars in it.

It comes as more than 500 employees of OpenAI have said they will leave if Mr Altman is not reinstated and the board does not resign.

Mr Altman was sacked by the not-for-profit company's board on Friday, declaring he "was not consistently candid in his communications with the board".

US media outlets reported that Altman was pushed out of the company because of disagreements over the safety of AI.

The company's interim chief executive Emmett Shear denied this writing on X, formerly twitter: "The board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that."

On Monday morning, Mr Altman and company president Greg Brockman were hired by Microsoft to work on a new advanced AI research project.

Mr Altman wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that he and Mr Nadella "are committed to fully providing continuity of operations to our partners and customers. The OpenAI/Microsoft partnership makes this very doable".

In an earlier post, Mr Altman wrote: "We have more unity and commitment and focus than ever before. We are all going to work together in some way or other, and I'm so excited. One team, one mission."

Mr Brockman, who quit after Mr Altman was fired from OpenAI, posted on Monday: "We are going to build something new and it will be incredible."

A company statement has said Mr Altman's behaviour was hindering the board's ability to exercise its responsibilities.

But in an open letter from 505 of the approximately 700 OpenAI employees, they threatened to quit and jump ship to Microsoft, having received assurances that there are jobs for them at the tech giant.

Key members of management are signatories of the letter, including the former interim CEO Mira Murati, who was replaced on Monday morning two days after she was appointed, and the chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who is a board member.

Mr Sutskever wrote on X: "I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we've built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company."

Read more:
Sudden departure of Sam Altman raises major questions that should concern us all

The letter from employees expressed dissatisfaction with the board's decision-making.

"Despite many requests for specific facts for your allegations, you have never provided any evidence," it read.

"The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardised 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."

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Criticism was also levelled at the board for how it handled the transition from Mr Altman's tenure and accused the board of "negotiating in bad faith".

"When we all unexpectedly learned of your decision, the leadership team of OpenAI acted swiftly to stabilise the company. They carefully listened to your concerns and tried to cooperate with you on all grounds.

"They also increasingly realised you were not capable of carrying out your duties."

Employees are also seeking the appointment of two independent board members in addition to the board resignations and reinstatement of Mr Altman and Mr Brockman.

Shares in Microsoft are at a record high following the news, up about 2% on Monday.

A spokesperson for OpenAI confirmed the board had received the letter. Microsoft declined to comment on the letter.