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OpenAI created a stir over the weekend. The creator of ChatGPT and DALL-E 3 replaced CEO Sam Altman on Friday, sparking a string of leadership changes and alleged undermining of OpenAI by Microsoft. Characterizing it as a behind-the-scenes acquisition.
An eventful few days unfolded at the tech industry’s most coveted asset, and depending on the outcome, it could have a significant impact on the future of products like ChatGPT. We’re here to detail how OpenAI arrived at this juncture, its current status, and its possible future directions.
Now that the former OpenAI CEO is at Microsoft – alongside numerous former OpenAI employees – we may witness products like ChatGPT fading from the spotlight. These models will persist, but with substantial changes over the weekend, they might take on a different manifestation.
It all began with the ousting of Sam Altman as detailed here. The decision to remove OpenAI’s CEO came from the board, consisting of six members until June 2023, two of whom were Altman and Greg Brockman, a former president and co-founder of OpenAI. Brockman departed after Altman’s removal.
Whether right or wrong, blame has been shifted onto Ilya Sutskever, who, in the absence of Altman and Brockman, is the lone remaining OpenAI employee on the board. Sutskever also relayed the news to employees about Altman’s non-return as CEO, reportedly leading to the departure of dozens of employees (or more) – more on this shortly.
As the Friday before the holiday approached, it seemed like OpenAI was facing a formidable challenge that would eventually be surmounted. The company announced that OpenAI’s Chief Technology Officer Mira Muratti would step in as interim CEO. Meanwhile, Microsoft, OpenAI’s primary supporter, affirmed its backing. CEO Satya Nadella expressed that “[we] Remain committed to our partnership and to Mira and the team.” Microsoft has invested $13 billion in OpenAI thus far.
However, this arrangement did not endure, as Muratti was relieved of the interim CEO position within a few hours. It remains unclear whether Muratti resigned or was dismissed. Nonetheless, Bloomberg reports that Muratti intended to reinstate Altman and Brockman.
On Friday morning, Sam Altman was the CEO of OpenAI. By Friday afternoon, it was Mira Muratti. Come Monday morning, former Twitch CEO Emmett Shearer announced assuming the role of interim CEO at OpenAI.
When it was revealed that Shearer would be taking on the role, he shed light on the transpired events at OpenAI. The executive disclosed his acceptance of the position on Monday, illustrating the rapid pace of developments at OpenAI. Shearer stated that Altman was not terminated because of “any specific disagreement over security.” He outlined a three-point plan for the company as CEO, encompassing engaging an independent investigator to explore the reasons behind Altman and Brockman’s dismissal, conversing with employees and partners, and enhancing the management and leadership teams.
Today I received a call inviting me to consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become interim CEO. @OpenAI, After consulting my family and thinking it over for a few hours, I accepted. I recently resigned from my role as CEO of Twitch due to my birth…
– Emmett Shear (@eshear) 20 November 2023
Shear expressed his intent to implement substantial changes based on the investigation’s outcome – “including pushing for significant governance changes if necessary.”
Based on a report by The Information, internal strife brewed within OpenAI during CEO discussions. Muratti purportedly deliberated reinstating Altman and Brockman, and by the time Shearer assumed the interim CEO role, “dozens” of employees had resigned from the company. These employees were reportedly highly sought after by Google and Microsoft for their AI endeavors.
These departures occurred over the weekend. On Monday morning, journalist Kara Swisher shared a letter from OpenAI employees to the board calling for their resignation. Swisher stated that 505 of OpenAI’s 700 employees signed the letter demanding resignation.
The letter also disclosed an intriguing development that unfolded on Monday. It stated: “We, the undersigned, may choose to resign from OpenAI and join the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman. “Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees in this new subsidiary if we choose to join.”
Indeed – Altman and Brockman are now part of Microsoft, OpenAI’s principal investor. The Microsoft-OpenAI partnership holds significance, despite Microsoft lacking a seat on OpenAI’s board. With employees contemplating departing OpenAI for opportunities at Microsoft, the parent company of ChatGPT finds itself in a challenging position.
Altman and Brockman are now Microsoft employees, and Microsoft confirms Altman’s CEO role within the company. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella publicized the duo joining Microsoft on Monday, indicating they will “collaborate with colleagues” to lead a new AI research team.
We are committed to our partnership with OpenAI and are confident in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and our ability to continue supporting our customers and partners. We look forward to getting to know Emmett…
– Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) 20 November 2023
Microsoft’s interest in OpenAI has been conspicuous for years. The company reportedly invested $13 billion in OpenAI thus far, with a substantial $10 billion portion in 2023. However, recent reports indicate that Microsoft did not actually pledge $10 billion to OpenAI. Rather, a significant chunk of the investment comprised cloud computing purchases, presumably for running OpenAI’s models on Microsoft’s extensive cloud.
In addition to Altman and Brockman, Brockman mentions that the preliminary leadership team for this new Microsoft AI subsidiary incorporates Alexander Madry, Jakub Pachocki, and Szymon Sidor – all former OpenAI employees. As mentioned in the aforementioned letter, most OpenAI employees have offers lined up at Microsoft.
This places Microsoft and OpenAI in an uncomfortable position. If employees depart for Microsoft and join Altman, Microsoft essentially acquired OpenAI without spending a penny.
We are amidst upheaval at OpenAI. The repercussions of Altman’s dismissal may take several months to become clear, but the leadership change is evidently casting a substantial shadow on products developed by OpenAI, such as ChatGPT.
OpenAI shut down sign-ups for ChatGPT Plus the previous week due to demand and has not reopened them since. Now that OpenAI’s leadership has departed, and much of the workforce is considering a shift to Microsoft, the future of OpenAI appears uncertain. Should OpenAI falter, ChatGPT and DALL-E 3, at least in their current incarnation, may also be affected.
These AI advancements will not vanish but might be integrated into different products. For instance, Microsoft’s Copilot is already using the GPT-4 model for text generation and DALL-E 3 for image generation. Again, these models are not disappearing, but if OpenAI indeed falters, they might assume a different identity in the future.