Sam Altman joins Microsoft as OpenAI selects Shear as interim CEO

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OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks during the OpenAI DevDay event on November 6 in San Francisco, California.

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Microsoft has hired Sam Altman to bolster its artificial intelligence research, days after the OpenAI co-founder was ousted as CEO in a chaotic boardroom coup.

Greg Brockman, another co-founder of the company behind ChatGPT, is also joining Microsoft ( MSFT ) — the startup’s biggest financial backer. Brockmann stepped down as OpenAI president after Altman was fired.

Meanwhile, Emmett Shear, the former CEO of Amazon’s streaming service Twitch, will join OpenAI as interim CEO.

“We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “And we’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, along with colleagues, are joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team.”

Microsoft is OpenAI’s largest investor. Altman will become CEO of the “new group,” Nadella said in his post, which brought a weekend of fevered speculation that the OpenAI board could perform a dramatic U-turn and rehire the high-flying Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor. .

In a post on X early Monday, Shear described the chance to join OpenAI as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.

“I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies in existence at the moment. When the board shared the situation and asked me to take the role, I did not take the decision lightly,” he added.

The details of Altman’s firing remain unclear. In its announcement on Friday, OpenAI claimed that Altman had not been sufficiently “candid” with the board, and it had hampered the board’s ability to carry out its responsibilities.

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The ambiguous language sent the rumor mill into overdrive. But Brockman provided vivid first-hand details in a post on X.

He said Altman found out he was fired minutes before the company announced the news. Brockman suggested that Altman had been fired because of a disagreement with the company’s research department, led by another co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever.

A key factor was tension between Altman, who advocated the development of artificial intelligence more aggressively and members of the OpenAI board who wanted to move more cautiously, according to CNN contributor Kara Swisher, who spoke to sources with knowledge of the crisis.

Altman had privately pushed the company to bring products to market faster and sell them at a profit. Publicly, however, Altman has long warned about the risks associated with artificial intelligence.

“Is [AI] will be like the printing press, which spread knowledge, power and learning far across the landscape, which empowered ordinary, everyday individuals, which led to greater flourishing, which above all led to greater freedom?” he said in a Senate subcommittee hearing in May, where he pushed for regulation. “Or will it be more like the atomic bomb…?”

At the same time, Altman got OpenAI to put its foot firmly on the gas pedal.

The startup’s managers and iPhone designer Jony Ive had reportedly held talks to raise $1 billion from Japan’s SoftBank for an AI device to replace the smartphone. And OpenAI had won a multi-billion dollar investment commitment from Microsoft as part of a partnership that included rapid deployment of ChatGPT-like technology across Microsofts search engine Bing and other products.

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Recently, Altman announced that OpenAI would make its tools widely available available so anyone can create their own version of ChatGPT.

Microsoft was not informed of Altman’s firing until “right before” the public announcement, Swisher said, and employees were given no advance warning.

Altman exit ‘poorly’ handled

In his post, Shear said Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI “remains strong.” He also said that OpenAI had not fired Altman because of “any specific disagreement about security.”

The board’s “reasoning was quite different from that,” he wrote, without providing further details. “I’m not crazy enough to take this job without board support to commercialize our amazing models.”

He acknowledged that the “process and communication” surrounding Altman’s exit had been “handled very poorly” and said he planned to hire an independent investigator to look into “the entire process that led to this point.”

Based on the results of this study and his discussions with other stakeholders, Shear said he would make “significant” changes to OpenAI in the coming month.

“OpenAI’s stability and success are too important to allow turmoil to disrupt them in this way,” he said.

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