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OpenAI staff threaten mass defection to Microsoft over Sam Altman sacking

Hundreds of employees have signed an open letter stating they have lost confidence in the AI lab's board.

By Matthew Gooding

More than 500 staff members at OpenAI have threatened to quit the company and follow departing CEO Sam Altman to Microsoft. In an open letter to the company’s board, 505 employees at the ChatGPT developer say they have lost confidence in its directors following Altman’s sacking on Friday.

Unhappy OpenAI staff could defect to Microsoft. (Photo by photosince/Shutterstock)

As reported by Tech Monitor, Altman and co-founder Greg Brockman have joined Microsoft, OpenAI’s key financial backer, following their departure from the company last week. An undisclosed number of colleagues will be joining them to form the tech giant’s new AI research team, CEO Satya Nadella said in a brief statement this morning.

Altman had been locked in talks to return to OpenAI over the weekend after Friday’s decision caused alarm among stockholders. But the parties failed to reach an agreement, and OpenAI has installed Emmett Shear, formerly CEO of Twitch, in the top job instead.

OpenAI staff threaten to walk out and join Microsoft

The open letter is signed by 505 of OpenAI’s 700 employees, including Mira Murati, the company’s CTO who was briefly promoted to interim CEO following Altman’s departure, and Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientific officer who was reportedly involved in removing Altman.

In it, the signatories say that, by removing Altman and Brockman, the board has made it clear it “does not have the competence” to oversee OpenAI and that its recent actions have “undermined our mission and company”. The letter’s authors added that they are “unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgement and care for our mission and employees.”

They go on to say that they may walk out and join Altman’s team at Microsoft, which has apparently assured OpenAI staff “that there are positions for all OpenAI employees with this new subsidiary should we choose to join”. The letter concludes by calling for the reinstatement of Altman and Brockman, as well as the appointment of two independent directors to the board.

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Tech Monitor has contacted OpenAI for comment.

Will Emmett Shear have a team to run at OpenAI?

OpenAI’s unusual governance is perhaps what has led to the schism opening up between its staff and directors. While Altman’s team has been busy building increasingly impressive products and forging commercial partnerships with some of the biggest names in tech, its four-person board sits in a non-profit organisation that cites its mission as the development of safe artificial general intelligence.

The publication of the letter is a fresh headache for Shear, who has apparently been appointed because his views on AI development and safety align with those of the board.

OpenAI has yet to comment publicly on his appointment, but Shear took to X to confirm he has joined the company.

Read more: Microsoft launches new chips for AI workloads

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