Sam Altman, co-founder of ChatGPT maker OpenAI has secured a new job with Microsoft after his sudden sacking by the board on Friday. In a drama worthy of a Netflix documentary, speculation over why the board took the unprecedented move is rife.
OpenAI was founded in December 2015 by a large group of industry experts including Sam Altman, Greg Brockman and Elon Musk. It gradually moved away from its initial not-for-profit focus but the mission to build a safe artificial general intelligence (AGI) remained.
It is thought that a disagreement between the profit and not-for-profit sides of the business led to Altman’s ousting on Friday, with the board uneasy about his drive to reach AGI as fast as possible. Brockman, who was chairman of OpenAI was kept on but later resigned in protest.
Microsoft’s role in OpenAI
Microsoft has invested billions in the AI startup, most of which was through computing power credits with its Azure cloud service. The tech giant has also integrated OpenAI technology, including the GPT-4 large language model, into its Copilot products.
Writing on LinkedIn, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadela revealed both Altman and Brockman would join the Windows maker. They will create a new division focused on advanced AI research and while he didn’t say this would directly compete with OpenAI, it is likely to work on similar ideas.
"We're extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team," Nadella wrote. He added: "We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success."
Why did Microsoft want Sam Altman?
There is speculation that this means Microsoft may be less open to providing OpenAI itself with the billions required to train the next generation of AI models after GPT-5 – training of which has already started. Altman has previously claimed GPT-5 may become a superintelligence.
After a brief attempt at reconciliation that saw Altman visit the OpenAI offices, the board voted to hire Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear as an interim CEO.
Like Altman, Shear was a graduate of Y Combinator, a tech startup accelerator that has given a start to some prominent brands including Stripe, Monzo Bank, AirBnB, Dropbox and more.
He co-founded Justin.tv in 2006 which later evolved into Twitch, selling it to Amazon in 2015 for just shy of $1 billion. He has previously expressed concern over the impact of AI and is seen as more cautious than Altman.
What will Sam Altman be doing?
Nadella says Microsoft is excited to keep working with OpenAI and with Shear. He wrote on LinkedIn that Microsoft is “committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and in continuing to support our customers and partners.”
However, his focus seems to be on the potential for Microsoft’s in-house AI tools and potential future models built by the new Altman-led division. Adding that: “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”
“We’ve learned a lot over the years about how to give founders and innovators space to build independent identities and cultures within Microsoft, including GitHub, Mojang Studios, and LinkedIn, and I’m looking forward to having you do the same,” he said of Altman’s new role.