The OpenAI turmoil reached a critical point on Monday morning when the majority of the company’s employees threatened to resign unless the board of directors resigned and reinstated former CEO Sam Altman and ex-president Greg Brockman. Initially, around 500 employees, including several executives, had signed the letter of protest, but by Monday afternoon, the number of signatories had ballooned to over 700, which represents nearly all of the company’s approximately 770 employees.
This mass exodus of staff was triggered by the dramatic events that unfolded on Friday afternoon when Altman was abruptly fired by the company’s board. The board cited Altman’s lack of consistent candor in his communications, which they claimed hindered their ability to fulfill their responsibilities, as the reason for his dismissal. Shortly after the news of Altman’s firing broke, Brockman, who was the chairman of the company, announced his resignation based on the day’s developments.
Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap later revealed in a leaked internal memo that Altman’s termination was not due to any malfeasance but rather a breakdown in communication. Despite these explanations, the staff of OpenAI were taken aback by the sudden removal of their leadership and promptly took a stand against the current board.
In response to their dismissal, Altman and Brockman engaged in high-stakes negotiations with the board over the weekend in a bid to reclaim their positions. However, their efforts were in vain, as the board chose to appoint former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear as OpenAI’s interim chief executive, further exacerbating the internal turmoil at the company.
To add to the chaos, Microsoft made a last-minute move to hire Altman, Brockman, and several others from OpenAI to lead a new advanced AI research team within their organization. This unexpected development caught many by surprise, including Microsoft itself, with rumors swirling that the company had effectively acquihired OpenAI at no cost. Despite this, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella confirmed that Microsoft remained committed to its partnership with OpenAI, despite the uncertainty surrounding Altman’s, Brockman’s, and their colleagues’ roles at the technology giant.
In the midst of this upheaval, Ilya Sutskever, an OpenAI board member and the company’s chief scientist, was identified as the orchestrator of the coup against Altman. However, Sutskever later expressed remorse for his involvement in the board’s actions and vowed to do everything in his power to bring the company back together.
With the vast majority of its employees threatening to resign and potentially join Altman and Brockman at Microsoft, the current OpenAI board is facing a critical ultimatum. The employees’ letter of protest accused the board of acting against the best interests of the company and demanded the resignations of all current board members. In their plea, the employees also sought the appointment of new lead independent directors and the reinstatement of Altman and Brockman. Should these conditions not be met, it appears that a mass exodus of staff from OpenAI is imminent.
As the situation continues to unfold, it remains to be seen whether the board will heed the employees’ demands or if Altman, Brockman, and their former colleagues will indeed make the move to Microsoft. The future of OpenAI hangs in the balance as the company grapples with internal strife and potential leadership changes.