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Sam Altman, fired from OpenAI in shock move, is hired by Microsoft

OpenAI founder Sam Altman
Sam Altman, who was fired from OpenAI, the company he co-founded, days ago in a corporate shake-up, has been hired by Microsoft.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
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Microsoft snapped up Sam Altman and another architect of OpenAI for a new venture after their sudden departures shocked the artificial intelligence world, leaving the newly installed chief executive of the ChatGPT maker to paper over tensions by vowing to investigate Altman’s firing.

The developments come after a weekend of drama and speculation about how the power dynamics would shake out at OpenAI, whose chatbot kicked off the generative AI craze by producing human-like text, images, video and music.

It ended with former Twitch leader Emmett Shear taking over as OpenAI’s interim CEO and Microsoft announcing that it was hiring Altman and OpenAI co-founder and former President Greg Brockman to lead a new advanced AI research team.

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Despite the rift between the key players behind ChatGPT and the company they helped build, both Shear and Microsoft boss Satya Nadella tweeted that they are committed to their partnership.

Microsoft invested billions of dollars in the startup and helped provide the computing power to run its AI systems. Now, it’s bringing two of OpenAI’s co-founders directly into the fold. Nadella wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that he was “extremely excited” to bring Altman and Brockman and looked “forward to getting to know” Shear and the rest of the management team.

In reply on X, Altman said that “the mission continues.” Brockman posted: “We are going to build something new & it will be incredible.”

Microsoft plans to bring Bing search to ChatGPT. The software giant also plans to watermark the AI content it generates, so users know it’s not human-made.

May 23, 2023

OpenAI said Friday that Altman was pushed out after a review found he was “not consistently candid in his communications” with the board of directors, which had lost confidence in his ability to lead the company.

In a post Monday on X, Shear said he would hire an independent investigator to look into what led up to 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, which has seriously damaged our trust,” wrote Shear, who co-founded Twitch, an Amazon-owned livestreaming service popular with video gamers.

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He said he also plans in the next month to “reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures into an effective force” and to speak with employees, investors and customers.

Hundreds of business leaders and academic experts signed a brief statement from the Center for AI Safety, saying they sought to “voice concerns about some of advanced AI’s most severe risks.”

May 30, 2023

After that, Shear said he would “drive changes in the organization,” including “significant governance changes if necessary.” He noted that the reason behind the board removing Altman was not a “specific disagreement on safety,” a likely reference to the debates that have swirled around OpenAI’s mission to safely build AI that is “generally smarter than humans.”

OpenAI last week declined to answer questions on what Altman’s alleged lack of candor was about. Its statement said his behavior was hindering the board’s ability to exercise its responsibilities. But a key driver of Friday’s shake-up — OpenAI’s co-founder, chief scientist and board member Ilya Sutskever — posted regrets on the situation Monday on X: “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.”

An OpenAI spokeswoman didn’t immediately reply to an email Monday seeking comment. A Microsoft representative said the company would not be commenting beyond Nadella’s statement.

After Altman was pushed out Friday, he stirred speculation that he might be coming back into the fold in a series of tweets. He posted a photo of himself with an OpenAI guest pass Sunday, saying it was the “first and last time i ever wear one of these.”

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Oct. 20, 2023

Hours earlier, he tweeted, “i love the openai team so much,” which drew heart emojis from Brockman, who quit after Altman was fired, and Mira Murati, OpenAI’s chief technology officer, who was initially named interim CEO.

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It’s not clear what transpired between the announcement of Murati’s interim role Friday and Shear’s hiring, though she was among the employees on Monday who tweeted, “OpenAI is nothing without its people.” Altman replied with many with heart emojis.

One of OpenAI’s safety-focused researchers, Jan Leike, called on the OpenAI board to resign Monday, saying he had been working all weekend with the company’s leadership team “to help with this crisis.” The board consists of Sutskever, Quora boss Adam D’Angelo, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

Shear said he stepped down as Twitch CEO because of the birth of his now 9-month-old son but “took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence.”

His beliefs on the future of AI came up on a podcast in June. Shear said he’s generally an optimist about technology but has serious concerns about the path of artificial intelligence toward building something “a lot smarter than us” that sets itself on a goal that endangers humans.

“If there is a world where we survive ... where we build an AI that’s smarter than humans and survive it, it’s going to be because we built smaller AIs than that, and we actually had as many smart people as we can working on that and taking the problem seriously,” Shear said in June.

It’s an issue that Altman consistently faced since he helped catapult ChatGPT to global fame. In the last year, he has become Silicon Valley’s sought-after voice on the promise and potential dangers of artificial intelligence.

He went on a world tour to meet with government officials earlier this year, drawing big crowds at public events as he discussed both the risks of AI and attempts to regulate the emerging technology.

Altman posted Friday on X that “i loved my time at openai” and later called what happened a “weird experience.”

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April 26, 2023

“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 in their doors,” Daniel Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, said in a research note.

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Microsoft is now in an even stronger position on AI, Ives said.

The Associated Press and OpenAI have a licensing and technology agreement allowing OpenAI access to part of the AP’s text archives.

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