The board of OpenAI, the high-flying artificial intelligence start-up, said in a memo to employees Sunday night that its former chief, Sam Altman, would not return to his job, while naming his second interim replacement in two days.
Hours later, in another head-spinning move, Microsoft said it was hiring Mr. Altman and Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president and a company co-founder, who quit in solidarity with Mr. Altman. The two men will lead an advanced research laboratory at Microsoft.
Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Twitch, will replace Mira Murati as interim CEO of OpenAI, the board said. Mrs. Murati, a longtime OpenAI director, had been appointed to that role following Mr Altman’s ouster on Friday. The board said that Mr. Shear has a “unique mix of skills, expertise and relationships that will drive OpenAI forward,” according to the memo seen by The New York Times.
“The board stands by its decision as the only path to advance and defend OpenAI’s mission,” the memo said, referring to Mr. Altman’s removal from the company on Friday. It was signed by each of the four directors on the company’s board; Adam D’Angelo, Helen Toner, Ilya Sutskever and Tasha McCauley.
“Simply put, Sam’s conduct and lack of transparency in his interactions with the board undermined the board’s ability to effectively oversee the company in the manner it was authorized to do,” the memo said.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella left room for other unnamed colleagues who may join the two co-founders at Microsoft.
“We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources necessary for their success,” Mr. Nadella said in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter.
Mr. Nadella elaborated that Mr. Altman would be executive director of the new research lab, “setting a new pace for innovation,” in apparent contrast to the OpenAI board’s desire for caution in the development of AI technology. He noted that Mr. Altman’s new group will operate as an independent entity within Microsoft.
Sir. Altman replied cryptically and writes, “mission continues.”
A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment further beyond Mr Nadella’s submission to X.
Mr. Altman’s firing alarmed the tech industry and OpenAI’s investors, which include Microsoft, Sequoia Capital and Thrive Capital. Microsoft, which has invested more than $13 billion in OpenAI, only learned of Mr Altman’s exit a minute before it was announced, while other investors discovered he had been forced out via social media. They received no further information or updates over the weekend.
The departure of Mr. Altman, 38, also drew attention to a divide in the AI community between people who believe AI is the most important new technology, as web browsers and others who worry that moving too fast could be dangerous to develop it. In particular, Mr. Sutskever was concerned that Mr. Altman was too focused on building OpenAI’s business while not paying enough attention to the dangers of AI
The board’s decision to remove Mr. Altman came as a shock to industry allies and rank-and-file employees who supported the charismatic founder. Silicon Valley investors and tech executives voiced their support for Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman. Friday night presented Mr. Altman a new AI start-up for investors and planned to launch the company with Mr. Brockman.
Since OpenAI released its hit ChatGPT chatbot almost a year ago, artificial intelligence has captured the public imagination with hopes that it could be used for important work like drug research or to help teach children. But some AI researchers and policy leaders worry about its risks, such as jobs being automated out of existence or autonomous warfare growing beyond human control.
OpenAI has been at the center of this discussion, along with its former CEO, who has done more than anyone else over the last year to make artificial intelligence a mainstream topic.
The board did not cite specific incidents involving Mr. Altman as the reason for removing him. Rather, it argued that Mr. Altman had “lost the confidence of the board” and that his removal was “necessary to preserve the board’s ability to carry out its responsibilities and advance the mission of this organization.”
“It is critical that any CEO be honest and transparent with his board,” the memo said.
OpenAI and Mr. Altman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The AI company has an unusual management structure. It is controlled by the board of a nonprofit organization that can determine the company’s management, and its investors have no formal way to influence decisions.
Some OpenAI employees vowed to leave OpenAI or join Mr. Altman’s new potential venture if the board did not give in. But even as Mr. Altman made his bid for a new company, investors pushed for the return of Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman.
Throughout the weekend, Mr. Altman and his supporters pressed OpenAI’s board with appeals from venture capitalists, other tech executives and employees. Microsoft led the charge, three people said, and smaller investors channeled their concerns through Microsoft.
The effort, the people said, was intended to show the company’s board how popular Mr. Altman was among OpenAI’s employees and across Silicon Valley.
The lack of details about the reasons behind Mr. Altman’s ouster encouraged his supporters. Some argued that OpenAI’s nonprofit board could no longer support the business that OpenAI had become — one with 700 employees, numerous customers and corporate partnerships on track to generate $1 billion in annual revenue.
Altman, Mr. Brockman and Mr. Sutskever created OpenAI in 2015 with nine others, including Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO. The group founded the AI lab as a nonprofit and said that, unlike Google and other tech giants, it would not be driven by commercial incentives.
In 2018, after Mr. Musk parted ways with OpenAI, Mr. Altman turned the lab into a for-profit company controlled by the nonprofit and its board of directors. Over the next several years, he raised the billions of dollars the company needed to build technologies like ChatGPT.
Before joining OpenAI, Mr. Shear Twitch through its transformation from an upstart platform called Justin.tv to a behemoth that was acquired by Amazon in 2014. He stayed on after the tech giant took over, leaving only earlier this year to say he had a child.
Mr. Shear, a longtime video gamer, was considered a competent leader at Twitch, but had his critics. He was seen as being too focused on cutting costs and turning the money-losing site into a more profitable business.
“We apologize for the sudden process that we felt was required by the situation,” the board said in its memo. “Even as we understand the questions it has raised, we continue to believe our actions were necessary.”
Kellen Browning, Karen Weise, Erin Griffith and Tripp Mickle contributed with reporting.