In another twist on the OpenAI saga that raged over the weekend, Microsoft has swooped in and hired Sam Altman and Greg Brockman just after OpenAI confirmed Altman won’t be returning, CEO Satya Nadella announced in a post on X.
The pair, along with colleagues are joining Microsoft “to lead a new advanced AI research team.” Nadella added that Microsoft “remain[s] committed to our partnership with OpenAI,” but the move looks a giant hedge on that bet. It also means the much of OpenAI’s talent may be moving to Microsoft, which may stall progress on the widely-used ChatGPT product.
We remain 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. We look forward to getting to know Emmett…
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) November 20, 2023
Altman has largely remained quiet since news of his firing dropped Friday, other than thanking OpenAI colleagues for their support. However, he confirmed his hiring by Microsoft, saying on X that “the mission continues.” In a reply to that post, Nadella said he was “super excited” to have Altman as CEO of the new group. “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,” he added.
The appointment was announced just after it was suggested that Altman may return to OpenAI, following his sudden firing on Friday. That was preceded by an outpouring of support for Altman from OpenAI employees, many of whom shared hearts on social media.
Talks between the parties broke down and OpenAI subsequently said that Altman (and co-founder Greg Brockman) would not return, according to reports. Instead, Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear was reportedly appointed as OpenAI’s new CEO.
The story is likely far from over, as the confirmation of Altman’s firing and subsequent hiring by Microsoft raise multiple questions. Microsoft has invested $13 billion and owns a 49 percent stake in the for-profit segment of OpenAI and recently unveiled its Copilot AI assistant that’s powered by OpenAI’s technology.
However, OpenAI has an odd “capped-profit” corporate structure with both a for-profit and non-profit body that has an impact on Microsoft’s investment. And despite Nadella’s words, the partnership with OpenAI will no doubt be affected by Microsoft having its own AI research team — particularly since it will be led by OpenAI’s former CEO. With all that, expect further developments.