Microsoft hires former OpenAI chief Altman

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Microsoft hires former OpenAI chief Altman

20 November 2023 Technology & Digitalization 0

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Microsoft has hired Sam Altman and Greg Brockman to lead a team conducting artificial intelligence research, days after the pair were pushed out of OpenAI, the company they co-founded.

Writing on X on Monday, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said that Altman and Brockman, “together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team”.

“We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” he added.

Altman retweeted Nadella’s post on Monday, adding: “The mission continues.”

Microsoft’s share price was up 1.7 per cent in pre-market trading on Monday, bouncing back from a similar fall on Friday after the announcement of Altman’s firing.

The move follows a dramatic weekend in which Altman was abruptly sacked from OpenAI by the company’s board on Friday. He and Brockman, who quit soon after, were subsequently in talks to rejoin OpenAI, but these fell through late on Sunday.

According to people familiar with the matter, Altman was ousted because of 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.”

Employees at OpenAI had rallied behind Altman over the weekend, while leading investors in the company, including Microsoft and top venture firms such as Thrive Capital and Khosla Ventures, had explored the possibility of reinstating him to his former role.

However, some employees focused on AI safety were pleased with the decision to replace Altman, according to one source close to the company.

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

Shear, who has publicly advocated for a slower rollout of AI, wrote on X on Monday: “I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence.

“Before I took the job, I checked on the reasoning behind the change,” he added. “The board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that. I’m not crazy enough to take this job without board support for commercialising our awesome models.”

Within hours of Shear’s appointment, Nadella announced Microsoft had swooped to recruit Altman and Brockman.

Microsoft, OpenAI’s key backer, would “remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product road map, our ability to continue to innovate”, wrote Nadella.

He added that he looked forward to “getting to know Emmett Shear and OpenAI’s new leadership team and working with them”.

The Microsoft chief has taken on an increasingly important role in the development and commercial rollout of AI tools, in what has been a breakthrough year for the technology.

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

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

By hiring two OpenAI co-founders who have a broad and dedicated following among staff, Microsoft is likely to gain the upper hand over rivals who are attempting to tap talented AI researchers and engineers from OpenAI.

A number of OpenAI employees expressed dismay at the course their company had taken over the weekend, with some announcing immediate plans to leave as a result.