OpenAI workers threaten to leave
Return ousted CEO Altman, they write in letter to board, or we’ll join him at Microsoft
By Nitasha Tiku, Pranshu Verma and Gerrit De Vynck
Santa Fe New Mexican
NATION & WORLD
The future of OpenAI was thrown into chaos Monday after nearly all employees at the artificial intelligence company threatened to quit and join ousted chief executive Sam Altman at Microsoft if he isn’t reinstated as CEO, extending the Silicon Valley boardroom saga. More than 700 of the company’s roughly 770 employees have signed a letter threatening to quit unless the current board resigns and reappoints Altman, according to a person familiar with the matter. In a bizarre twist, the letter included among the signatories Ilya Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist and a key member of the company’s four-person board, who voted to oust Altman on Friday. “Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI,” the employees wrote in the letter. “We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgment and care for our mission and employees.” The potential mass exodus at OpenAI puts the future of the lab in doubt, a drastic change of fate for a company that, until just days ago, was considered one of the most promising startups in Silicon Valley, with a valuation close to $90 billion. Its demise would leave a hole at the center of the AI industry and potentially force thousands of startups to find a new provider of AI technology or face the prospect of shutting down. That could allow Big Tech giants to amass more control over powerful new AI technology, which is rapidly making its way into everyday life. Microsoft especially appeared poised to emerge as a winner, potentially gaining significant AI talent. Still, the chaos at OpenAI, which was already giving its technology to Microsoft as part of a partnership, could also affect Microsoft’s future AI products, which have relied heavily on OpenAI tech. In a media blitz Monday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sought to assure customers and investors his company was on solid ground no matter the outcome. He left the door open to Altman returning to OpenAI or continuing as an AI leader at Microsoft, even though he announced late Sunday night Altman was coming to Microsoft. “I’m open to both options,” Nadella said in an interview on CNBC. Altman too, has signaled he could still return. “We are all going to work together some way or other,” he said Monday in a post on X, formerly Twitter. He added the “top priority remains to ensure OpenAI continues to thrive. We are committed to fully providing continuity of operations to our partners and customers.” That leaves the fate of Altman and OpenAI unclear, three days after the board fired him. Regardless of the messaging, OpenAI employees continued to express their frustration and anger. Jan Leike, a senior OpenAI executive and respected researcher in the broader AI community, said Monday on X “the OpenAI board should resign.” The latest development comes after a chaotic, rapidly changing weekend for OpenAI. On Friday, its board abruptly removed Altman from his role as chief executive, saying he was “not consistently candid” in his communications.