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Wait, now Sam Altman wants to go back to OpenAI...?!

Microsoft had announced that OpenAI's ex-CEO Sam Altman had joined Microsoft, but there's still corporate drama to uncover.

Published onNovember 21, 2023

OpenAI on website on smartphone stock photo (3)
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
  • After Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that OpenAI ex-CEO Sam Altman would be joining Microsoft, news emerged that Altman wants to return to OpenAI.
  • Over 70% of OpenAI employees have petitioned its Board of Directors to resign, threatening to join Microsoft if they do not.
  • Petitioner employees include a Director who reportedly fired Altman in the first place.

Just when you thought the drama around OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT, has come to a close, a new twist appears in the tale. Yesterday, OpenAI’s ex-CEO Sam Altman joined Microsoft. But it now seems he still has his heart with OpenAI and has hinted at a return to the company. What’s more, OpenAI employees have petitioned the Board of Directors to resign, and curiously, one of the signatories to the petition is the very Director that seemingly triggered Altman’s departure!

Satya Nadella reaffirms OpenAI partnership and stands behind Altman

In an interview with Bloomberg a few hours ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella reaffirmed his commitment to both OpenAI and to Sam Altman, OpenAI ex-President Greg Brockman, and the rest of the team, “irrespective of where they are.” In response to a question about Altman wanting to return to OpenAI and investors also wanting the same, Nadella responded that Microsoft wants to partner with OpenAI and Altman, and “irrespective of where Sam [Altman] is, he’s working with Microsoft.”

When asked about his conversations with the current leadership at OpenAI, namely the new interim CEO Emmett Shear (ex-Twitch), Nadella reaffirmed his commitment to OpenAI, its mission, and its roadmap. Further, Microsoft is also committed to “Sam [Altman], Greg [Brockman], and team that want to join us.” OpenAI employees who want to go somewhere else, Nadella wants them to come to Microsoft and continue to work in partnership with OpenAI. He also mentions that Altman and Brockman are in the process of joining Microsoft.

Nadella further mentions that Microsoft would want some governance changes at OpenAI, as “surprises are bad.” Microsoft learned about Altman getting fired minutes before the news broke publicly, and the company was reportedly blindsided. When asked who will be the CEO of OpenAI tomorrow, he says that he will “leave it to OpenAI and its board.”

But Altman is reportedly still trying to return to OpenAI

However, Altman has been cryptic about his intentions, and it is not immediately clear where he is heading.

A report from The Verge citing multiple sources suggests that Altman is still trying to return as OpenAI CEO, given the remaining board members who fired him will step down.

This follows on the heels of an imminent mass exodus of OpenAI employees. Over 70% of OpenAI employees petitioned the OpenAI Board of Directors to resign with a strongly worded letter, threatening to join Microsoft under Altman and Brockman if they did not.

Curiously, number 12 on the petition is Ilya Sutskever, who is widely believed to have been the person who led the coup to remove Altman as CEO, as per a report from Bloomberg from last week. OpenAI’s Board of Directors spoke to Altman over a Google Meet video call, where Sutskever delivered the news to Altman of him getting fired.

OpenAI’s Board of Directors included Altman, Brockman (both of whom are no longer part of the Board), Sutskever, along with Helen Toner, Tasha McCauley, and Adam D’Angelo. Curiously, the Board has not submitted written documentation on their reason for firing Altman to the new interim CEO or the company’s investors.

Now, even Nadella is not sure where Altman is heading

After The Verge‘s report on Altman trying to return to OpenAI, Satya Nadella left the proposition open in a CNBC interview. Nadella mentioned that Microsoft is “committed to OpenAI and Sam [Altman], irrespective of what configuration.”

It remains to be seen just how this drama around OpenAI pans out. The only thing that remains certain is Microsoft and Nadella’s commitment to OpenAI; everything else is in the air.

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