OpenAI is facing a mutiny amongst its own staff, with more than 500 threatening to walk out and join former CEO Sam Altman at Microsoft.
In an extraordinary open letter posted by Wired journalist Kara Swisher and signed by 505 members of staff, the group claim that Friday’s firing of CEO Sam Altman and co-founder Greg Brockman has “undermined our mission and company”. Altman and Brockman were both hired by Microsoft to lead a new AI research department earlier today.
The group are demanding the resignation of the board of directors and threatening to walk out of the company if that doesn’t occur.
“We, the undersigned, may choose to resign from OpenAI and join the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman,” the letter states.
“Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join,” the letter adds.
Signatories of the letter include Mira Murati, the chief technology officer who was briefly installed as the interim CEO over the weekend, before the position was handed to Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear.
Chief AI Scientist Ilya Sutskever, who was reportedly among those who led the push to remove Altman at the end of last week, is also a signatory. In a tweet issued today, Sutskever wrote: “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.”
Microsoft Meddling With OpenAI?
If the letter is accurate and Microsoft is offering more positions to disgruntled OpenAI employees, it will surely cause enormous friction between Microsoft and the company that provides the basis for all of its AI tools, such as Windows Copilot, Microsoft 365 Copilot and GitHub Copilot.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella this morning appeared to try and ease potential tensions with OpenAI after announcing the hiring of Altman anfd Brockman.
“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,” Nadella tweeted.
“We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI’s new leadership team and working with them. And we’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team. We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”
Microsoft declined to comment specifically on whether it had offered OpenAI staff jobs, referring to the Nadella statement above.
Even if Microsoft is willing and able to accommodate the 500 or so OpenAI staff who wish to jump ship, it certainly won’t be straightforward to simply pick up where they left off at OpenAI. Creating and training the large language models (LLMs) that power services such as ChatGPT and Microsoft’s own services takes many months, if not years. While Microsoft will likely have long-term licensing deals for OpenAI’s GPT-4 and beyond as part of its $10 billion partnership, it would likely be starting from scratch if it attempted to build rival models of its own.