Friday March 01, 2024

Sam Altman to return as OpenAI chief

Silicon Valley star Sam Altman was suddenly ousted from top spot at OpenAI last week

By Web Desk
November 22, 2023
Sam Altman. — AFP
Sam Altman. — AFP

OpenAI Wednesday announced that Sam Altman will be returning as CEO, days after he was fired by the board.

The company said it has reached an agreement to bring Altman back with a new initial board of Bret Taylor, Larry Summers, and Adam D'Angelo.

"We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D´Angelo," it said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Silicon Valley star Sam Altman was suddenly ousted from the top spot at OpenAI as it led the race to artificial intelligence, only for the ambitious tech guru to be scooped up by Microsoft.

Taking to X, Altman himself said he is looking forward to returning to OpenAI.

"i love openai, and everything i’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together. when i decided to join msft on sun evening, it was clear that was the best path for me and the team," he wrote in his post.

Altman added that with the new board and with Microsft chief Satya Nadella's support, he's looking forward to returning to OpenAI, and building on a strong partnership with Microsoft.

Microsoft's interest in OpenAI

Microsoft has been an OpenAI partner for seven years, pouring billions of dollars into the startup and weaving its innovations into Microsoft products.

Computing power hosted in the cloud at Microsoft data centers has been essential to training large-scale language models, making possible OpenAI´s ChatGPT released a year ago for public use.

In exchange, Microsoft has infused ChatGPT technology into software like Word and Outlook sold to customers, and into its Bing search engine that has long struggled to compete with Google.

Microsoft's investments have bought it a stake in OpenAI, which remains controlled by the original nonprofit foundation.

Despite that, Microsoft was not informed about the OpenAI board's decision to fire Altman on Friday and oust co-founder Greg Brockman from the board.

The reason for the shocking move remained unclear on Tuesday, but some believe it involved a fear OpenAI was moving too quickly and straying from its mission of making sure artificial intelligence benefits humanity.

The Nadella-Altman partnership

Microsoft quickly moved to hire Altman, announcing a deal to have him join the Redmond, Washington-based computing colossus to lead a new artificial intelligence team.

The corporation put out word its doors are open to other OpenAI employees who want to join Altman, and many threatened in a letter to do just that if Altman didn´t return.

When asked in a streamed interview about the possibility of Altman going back to OpenAI, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said he would work with Altman wherever he ended up.

Reports since surfaced that the OpenAI board was trying to win Altman back, and that he was open to discussing the possibility.

Nadella has been adamant that "governance changes" are needed at OpenAI to avoid such disruptive surprises.

OpenAI employees, meanwhile, called for board members to resign.

OpenAI employees threatened to quit

Nearly 700 of OpenAI's 770 employees threatened to quit if Altman didn't return. The chances of the company surviving without the employees would have been unimaginable if that had happened.

And while Nadella has stated Microsoft remains committed to its partnership with OpenAI, the relationship has been damaged — along with the value of Microsoft's investment.

The company seen as leading the AI race has had its momentum stalled as competitors try to close the gap. Several start-ups have been created by OpenAI founders or engineers, such as Anthropic, Elon Musk's xAI and InflectionAI.

Tech giants Google and Meta are investing heavily in their own AI models, Bard and Llama 2, which they integrate into their products.

And private tech firms face competition from the open-source community, which essentially makes models freely available for developers to adapt and improve.

— Additional input by AFP