OpenAI staff threaten to leave if ousted CEO Altman is not reinstated

OpenAI is nothing without its people, say staffers who signed letter

The fast-moving OpenAI saga has taken a new turn with the news that more than 500 of the lab's employees have threatened to quit unless the board resigns and reinstates Sam Altman as its CEO.

OpenAI stunned the industry when Altman was ejected from the artificial intelligence biz on Friday. Now, at least 550 of OpenAI's 700 well-paid staff have signed a letter saying they may stand down and join the newly announced Microsoft AI subsidiary that Altman was tentatively put in charge of today.

The text of the letter was posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, by tech journalist Kara Swisher. In it, the employees say Microsoft had assured them there would be positions at the new subsidiary, should they choose to join.

"We will take this step imminently, unless all current board members resign, and the board appoints two new lead independent directors, such as Bret Taylor and Will Hurd, and reinstates Sam Altman and Greg Brockman," the letter states.

We asked OpenAI for its response to this development, and will update this article if we get an answer.

In a further twist, the list of signatories to the letter includes the name of OpenAI cofounder Ilya Sutskever, with a posting his X account saying he regrets taking part in the board's actions, adding: "I will do everything I can to reunite the company."

It was thought Sutskever, as a board member, was deeply involved in the drama that unfolded at the top of the lab, seemingly over concerns at the rate of which OpenAI's tech was being commercialized. OpenAI was founded primarily to foster the development and direction of artificial general intelligence, though rather lately has been on a tear generating revenue from its GPT family of content-generating models.

CTO Mira Murati, who was briefly the interim CEO herself during the chaotic aftermath of Altman's departure, along with Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap and Chief Strategy Officer Jason Kwon, posted on X that "OpenAI is nothing without its people."

OpenAI's employees noted in the open letter the products the company has developed, such as ChatGPT, are used by millions of people around the world, and the lab had "never been in a stronger position" up until now.

"The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and company. Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI," the letter goes on to say.

It isn't officially clear why Altman was removed. As reported on Friday, OpenAI referred to him not being "consistently candid in his communications," and the board stating that it believed new leadership was necessary as the biz moved forward.

Microsoft has invested billions into OpenAI and has infused the lab's machine-learning generative technology in all corners of its empire, from Bing and Azure to Windows and Microsoft 365.

Some have already speculated the solution for the enterprise software giant may be for it to acquire OpenAI, though if the employees follow through on their threat, Redmond may gain most of OpenAI's know-how without having to go down that route. ®

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