Majority of OpenAI staff threaten to quit unless Sam Altman is reinstated

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Majority of OpenAI staff threaten to quit unless Sam Altman is reinstated

20 November 2023 Technology & Digitalization 0

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The majority of OpenAI’s staff has signed an open letter threatening to resign unless ousted chief Sam Altman is reinstated in a dramatic revolt against the board of the ChatGPT-maker.

The letter, signed by more than 500 of OpenAI’s 770 employees, reads: “We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgment and care for our mission and employees.”

The signatories added that, unless the board resigned, they would “imminently” defect to work for Altman at a newly formed AI subsidiary of Microsoft.

Among the signatories is co-founder Ilya Sutskever, the board member who informed Altman he was being fired last week. Fellow co-founder Greg Brockman was also removed as the board’s chair.

The letter said that the removal of Altman and Brockman had “jeopardised all” of the employees’ work at OpenAI “and undermined our mission and company”. Addressing the board, it added: “Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.”

The OpenAI board includes Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist, along with independent directors Adam D’Angelo, the chief executive of Quora; technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley; and Helen Toner from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

The staff letter added that “Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join”.

Microsoft had previously announced it had hired Altman and Brockman to lead a team conducting artificial intelligence research following the breakdown of crisis talks over the co-founders’ possible return to OpenAI.

Writing on X on Monday, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said: “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”

Microsoft’s share price was up 1.3 per cent on Monday, bouncing back from a similar fall on Friday after the announcement of Altman’s firing.

The exact reason for his ousting remains unclear. According to people familiar with the matter, it stemmed from concerns about his commitment to OpenAI’s mission of ensuring safe and beneficial AI.

A person with direct knowledge of the board’s decision said it had become “impossible to oversee” the co-founder.

“There was no one big problem,” the person added. “The board reached the point where they couldn’t believe what Sam told them.”

On Monday, Sutskever, who has previously written about the potential dangers of AI, 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.”

Others to sign the letter include chief technology officer Mira Murati, who was temporarily appointed interim chief executive immediately after Altman was fired; chief operating officer Brad Lightcap; and chief strategy officer Jason Kwon.

Over the weekend, leading investors in the company, including Microsoft and top venture capital firms such as Thrive Capital and Khosla Ventures, had explored the possibility of reinstating Altman to his former role.

On Sunday, the OpenAI board instead announced Emmett Shear, co-founder of video-streaming service Twitch, as interim chief executive.

Shear, who has publicly called for a slower rollout of AI, wrote on X on Monday that. “The board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety . . . I’m not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercialising our awesome models.”

Nadella said that Microsoft, OpenAI’s key backer, would “remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI” and was looking forward to “getting to know Emmett Shear and OpenAI’s new leadership team and working with them”.

Microsoft has committed more than $10bn in capital and infrastructure credits to OpenAI — though not all of that capital has been drawn down — and has embedded OpenAI’s powerful generative AI tools into its own software.

Altman told the Financial Times this month he planned to raise further investment from the Seattle giant beyond the previous tranche of money, saying he had a “great partner” in Microsoft.