In interviews with CNBC and Bloomberg TV tonight, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made it clear that it is possible that Sam Altman, who was ousted from his position as CEO of OpenAI by the AI startup’s board of directors on Friday, will return to OpenAI in some capacity.
That’s despite the fact that Altman announced this morning that he intends to join a newly formed AI research team at Microsoft with ex-OpenAI president Greg Brockman and some former OpenAI researchers.
“Obviously, we want Sam and Greg to have a nice home if they’re not at OpenAI,” Nadella said in an interview with CNBC. Asked if Altman would return to OpenAI, Nadella added: “For that, you know, (the) OpenAI board and management and the employees to choose … OpenAI that stays there or comes to Microsoft, so I am open to both options.
Nadella’s answers seem to confirm report earlier today from The Verge, which suggests that Altman’s move to Microsoft is not a done deal and that – in a recent change of heart from OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, the was reportedly the mastermind behind Altman’s departure – only two of OpenAI’s three remaining board members had to be flipped to bring Altman back. (Brockman was ousted as board chairman on Friday, and Altman previously held the sixth seat.)
Nadella also said Microsoft would like to see “something change in the governance environment” of OpenAI going forward, including around investor relations. (Microsoft, along with other OpenAI supporters and most of OpenAI’s employees, is said to have been informed of Altman’s dismissal “minutes” before it was made public.) OpenAI is governed by a nonprofit whose board it, and investors — including Microsoft , which has poured more than $10 billion into OpenAI so far — have no seats on said board.
“This is clearly something that needs to change around the management – we have a good dialogue with their board on that, and to walk through as it evolves,” Nadella said in CNBC.
It’s been a rollercoaster at OpenAI since Altman’s firing, to say the least.
Over the weekend, OpenAI’s management team and supporters – including CTO Mira Murat, who has been appointed as interim CEO for a short time – began examining candidates to replace the board for Altman’s possible return. Meanwhile, the board conducted its own CEO search, which ultimately settled on Emmett Shear, the co-founder of Twitch, after GitHub CEO Nat Friedman and Scale AI CEO Alex Wang REFUSES offers.
Shear, with a colorful history, has been a controversial choice internally. Employees IS reported declined to attend an emergency all-hands scheduled Sunday with Shear, responding to OpenAI’s Slack notification with a “fuck you” emoji.
OpenAI’s rank-and-file, speaking out, is in widespread revolt — more than 700 of the company’s roughly 770 employees, including Sutskever, have signed a letter calling on the board to resign and bring back Altman. Among others, Salesforce tried to use the DISPUTE as a recruiting opportunity, offering matching compensation to any researcher who leaves OpenAI to join the Salesforce AI research team.
Not helping matters was the board’s reluctance to provide detailed reasoning for firing Altman. CUT said in a memo to employees Sunday that his first order of business was to “hire an independent investigator to dig into the entire process leading up to this point and do a full report.”