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Microsoft hires Sam Altman 3 days after OpenAI fired him as CEO

OpenAI employees demand return of ousted CEO
OpenAI employees demand return of ousted CEO 02:27

Microsoft announced Monday that it has hired Sam Altman, the co-founder of ChatGPT maker OpenAI, after he was unexpectedly pushed out of the company days earlier in a corporate shakeup that shocked the artificial intelligence world.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Microsoft was "extremely excited" that Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman, along with other managers from the AI company, would join Microsoft to lead a "new advanced AI research team."

Nadella also said the software maker, the largest investor in OpenAI, looked "forward to getting to know" OpenAI's new chief executive, former Twitch leader Emmett Shear, who was named to replace Altman. 

Altman said "the mission continues," in reply to Nadella on X.

Sam Altman behind a mic in blue suit
Open AI's CEO Sam Altman testifies at an oversight hearing by the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law on May 16, 2023 Nathan Posner /Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Shear also took to X to confirm his appointment as OpenAI's new CEO, writing Monday that, "Today I got a call inviting me to consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become the interim CEO of @OpenAI. After consulting with my family and reflecting on it for just a few hours, I accepted."

At the end of a long post, he added a denial that OpenAI fired Altman due to concerns about AI's dangers.

"Before I took the job," Shear wrote, "I checked on the reasoning behind the change. 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 commercializing our awesome models."

Why Altman was ousted

OpenAI said Friday that Altman was pushed out after a review found he was "not consistently candid in his communications" with the board of directors, which had lost confidence in his ability to lead OpenAI.

However, one Wall Street research firm said it believes that tensions arose over Altman's push to develop more advanced products. 

"These tensions likely resulted in frustrating communications and Sam making some operational decisions without keeping the board fully aware," said New Street Research in a Monday research note. "The coup, and the sibylline associated blog post, about Sam not being 'consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities' resulted from this situation."

One board member tweeted that they regretted their participation in the decision to oust Altman. 

"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," wrote board member Ilya Sutskever on X, the platform previously known as Twitter, on Monday morning.

Altman catapulted ChatGPT to global fame while serving as company CEO and in the past year has become Silicon Valley's sought-after voice on the promise and potential dangers of artificial intelligence.

OpenAI last week had announced co-founder Brockman would step down as board chairman but remain on as president. Brockman followed with a post on X reprinting a message he sent to OpenAI employees in which he wrote, "based on today's news, I quit."

In another X post Friday night, Brockman said Altman was asked to join a video meeting with the company's board members in which co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever informed Altman he was being fired.

Brockman added that he was informed of his removal from the board in a separate call with Sutskever a short time later.

"Sam and I are shocked and saddened by what the board did today," Brockman wrote on X.

OpenAI's ChatGPT can now see, hear and speak with users 04:02

Based in San Francisco, the technology startup founded in 2015 released online chatbot ChatGPT about a year ago, setting off an AI boom that made Altman famous and landed him meetings with President Joe Biden and other leaders. 

OpenAI's ChatGPT and image generator Dall-E brought generative AI into the mainstream, while also stirring debate about the technology's potential for replacing workers in a range of jobs and further blurring the line between content produced by machines and by people. OpenAI has also found itself the target of multiple lawsuits by authors, artists and others creators alleging that the company's technology copied their work. 

As CEO, Altman led a transformation of a little-known startup into a company engaged in talks to sell employee shares to investors at a valuation in excess of $80 billion, according to media outlets including Bloomberg News and The New York Times.

Outspoken and known for stirring controversy, Altman has also attracted attention for sounding the alarm about AI's potential threat to humanity.   

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