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OpenAI’s future remains uncertain after extraordinary efforts by employees and investors to oust the board failed to convince its directors to resign and reinstate co-founder Sam Altman.
By the end of Monday, 747 of OpenAI’s 770 employees had signed a letter threatening to resign and join Microsoft if the three directors refused to resign and reversed their decision to fire Altman on Friday, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. . .
Meanwhile, venture capitalists backing the generative artificial intelligence startup have rallied behind staff demands and are exploring legal measures to force the board to reverse course, according to several people with knowledge of their reflection. A person at a venture capital fund invested in OpenAI said that “legal action could happen as early as tomorrow,” without specifying what form it would take.
But the board remained determined and willing to test employees’ willingness to resign, according to a person with direct knowledge of negotiations between staff and board directors. In their letter, staff said the directors had “damaged our mission and our company” by firing Altman and stripping co-founder Greg Brockman of his board position. Brockman later left the company.
Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s latest board co-founder and chief scientist, signed the staff letter after apologizing on social media for his role in Altman’s firing, without saying that he would leave the board. He had come under increasing pressure from staff to change positions over the weekend, according to people familiar with the matter.
Altman’s dismissal plunged Silicon Valley’s most famous startup into a deep crisis with no obvious solution. OpenAI has been at the forefront of the artificial intelligence boom, considered by many to be the most significant technological advancement since the smartphone or the creation of the Internet.
It also presented a business opportunity to compete with AI companies surprised by OpenAI’s release of its wildly popular ChatGPT chatbot last year. On Monday, companies like Anthropic and Cohere faced renewed interest from OpenAI customers looking to hedge their bets if startup sclerosis persists, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. According to an investor in the start-up, competitors were “creeping all over” OpenAI staff in an attempt to attract talented researchers.
In a social media post on Monday, Marc Benioff, chief executive of software company Salesforce, asked OpenAI researchers to send him their CVs and offered to match their salaries. Mustafa Suleyman, founder of AI startup Inflection, said the events at OpenAI were “so sad” but his company was growing. “Come run with us!” ” he added.
In their letter, the employees threatened to leave the company “soon” if the board of directors did not reverse course. Microsoft committed Sunday to hiring Altman, Brockman and any other OpenAI staff who choose to join them in a new AI research subsidiary.
Besides Sutskever, OpenAI’s principals are Adam D’Angelo, chief executive of the question-and-answer service Quora, tech entrepreneur Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner of the Center for Security and Emerging Technologies at Georgetown University.
On Sunday evening, they snubbed Altman, who had reappeared at OpenAI headquarters, and named Emmett Shear, co-founder of video streaming service Twitch, as interim CEO. He replaced Mira Murati, the chief technology officer who was promoted to interim CEO on Friday. On Monday afternoon, Vinod Khosla, an early investor in OpenAI, called on Shear to resign.
While both camps are entrenched, Altman’s main supporter, Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella, said he would stand with the OpenAI co-founder. In interviews broadcast Monday, Nadella said he couldn’t say who the CEO would be Tuesday morning, but that he would continue to support Altman whether he returns to OpenAI or works in-house at Microsoft. The software giant has been OpenAI’s largest backer, providing hardware support and a series of investments.
Nadella said the 38-year-old entrepreneur could continue his side projects while working at Microsoft. Altman has a nuclear fission company and a cryptocurrency project and has sought to start a devices company and a chip company, according to people with knowledge of the matter. “We will work on the governance aspects,” Nadella said.
Ibrahim Ajami, head of projects at Mubadala Capital, part of Mubadala Investment Company, a $284 billion Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, said the chaos at OpenAI highlighted why “it is very difficult to guarantee these societies today.” Mubadala has a partnership with Microsoft but has not invested in OpenAI.
“As long-term investors, we value companies on their customers, deep partnerships, talent and long-term defensible moat,” he said. “Where is all this today with OpenAI?
Additional reporting by Camilla Hodgson in San Francisco
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