Hundreds of OpenAI workers threaten to quit unless Sam Altman is reinstated as CEO

Hundreds of OpenAI workers threaten to quit unless Sam Altman is reinstated as CEO

OpenAI is a company in open rebellion, with a majority of its workers threatening to quit unless ousted CEO Sam Altman and fellow OpenAI cofounder Greg Brockman are reinstated.

More than 500 of OpenAI’s roughly 770 employees are also demanding that the four-person board behind Altman’s firing resign, saying in a letter first posted online by veteran technology journalist Kara Swisher: “We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgement (sic) and care for our mission and employees.”

The workers also threatened to quit the ChatGPT maker and to join the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Altman and Brockman, saying they’d received assurances from Microsoft that it has positions for all OpenAI employees.

The document signers included Mira Murati, OpenAI’s chief technology officer, who was briefly tapped as interim CEO, and Ilya Sutskever, a board member viewed as having a hand in Altman’s abrupt firing on Friday.

“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,” Sutskever posted Monday on X.

Sam Altman fired by OpenAI and hired by company’s largest investor, Microsoft


Altman’s ouster on Friday took his colleagues, as well as Microsoft — the company’s largest shareholder and technology partner — by surprise, according to the letter from OpenAI employees. The statement came amid a flurry of posts on X by OpenAI staffers, including Murati, who said “Open AI is nothing without its people.” 

After an attempt to get Altman reinstated unraveled, OpenAI’s four-person board on Sunday night appointed Emmett Shear, the co-founder and former CEO of Twitch, a game-streaming website, as interim CEO, replacing Murati.

“Tainted move”

The sudden exit of Altman, Brockman and other top OpenAI researchers raises questions about the future of a company whose meteoric rise has turned into one of the most valuable tech startups in the world.

“If the architects and vision and brains behind these products have now left, the company will be a shell of what it once was,” said Sarah Kreps, director of Cornell University’s Tech Policy Institute. “All of that brain trust going to Microsoft will then mean that these impressive tools will be coming out of Microsoft. It will be hard to see OpenAI continue to thrive as a company.”

Microsoft shares rose more than 2% on Monday to $378.82, a record high, as investors cheered the news that the company was hiring Altman and Brockman. 

Meanwhile, Shear’s hiring “will forever be viewed as a tainted move by OpenAI that caused chaos internally and externally,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote Monday in a note to clients.

“If Microsoft lost Altman he could have gone to Amazon, Google, Apple or a host of other tech companies craving to get the face of AI globally to their doors,” said Ives. “Instead he is safely in Microsoft’s HQ now leading the company’s key AI efforts which we expect many key scientists and developers to leave OpenAI and head directly to Microsoft.” 

Still, despite the rift between those behind AI-powered chatbot ChatGPT and the company they helped create, both Shear and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said they are committed to their partnership. Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in the startup

Industry leaders warn of AI risks


Why Altman was ousted

OpenAI on Friday said Altman was “not consistently candid in his communications” with the board, which lost confidence in his leadership abilities as a result. 

Shear said in an X post on Monday that he would hire an independent investigator to probe Altman’s ouster and write a report within 30 days. “It’s clear that the process and communications around Sam’s removal has been handled very badly,” he wrote.

Shear said he would “drive changes in the organization,” including “significant governance changes if necessary.” He also noted that the reason behind the board removing Altman was not a “specific disagreement on safety.” 

It was likely a reference to the debates that have swirled around OpenAI’s mission to safely build AI that is “generally smarter than humans.” That debate and the pace at which Altman was pushing the deployment of more advanced products, frustrating those who wanted to preserve resources for research, is likely behind the company coup, according to analysts at New Street Research.

Regardless how the drama at the company plays out, OpenAI, as the company existed on Thursday, is over, the New Street analysts stated. “Our expectation is that either the quartet will be forced to resign, or OpenAI staff will run away, and the quartet will be left by themselves,” they told investors in a report.

OpenAI last week declined to answer questions about what its reference to Altman’s alleged lack of candor was about. In its statement, the board said Altman’s behavior was hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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