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Sam Altman, Greg Brockman to join Microsoft; Former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear named interim OpenAI CEO

Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, former OpenAI CEO and President, respectively, have joined Microsoft. They will lead Microsoft's new AI research unit, as announced by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

In a stunning turn of events, former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and former President Greg Brockman, along with other colleagues from OpenAI, are joining Microsoft. This development comes just days after Altman was unexpectedly removed from his CEO role by the OpenAI board.

On March 17th, OpenAI on a Blog Post announced that Sam Altman, the company’s CEO, would be stepping down from his position and leaving the board of directors. Mira Murati, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, was appointed as the interim CEO.

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According to a statement released by the board of directors, Altman’s departure was due to a lack of candor in his communication with the board, hindering their ability to exercise their responsibilities. The board stated that they had lost confidence in Altman’s ability to continue leading OpenAI.

The decision followed a deliberative review process by the board, concluding that Altman was not consistently candid in his communications with them.

In response to the announcement, Altman posted on Twitter, expressing gratitude towards OpenAI and stating that he would talk more about “what’s next” later.

There were reports that negotiations were ongoing to potentially bring back Sam Altman as CEO. The company’s nonprofit board had named former Twitch CEO and co-founder Emmett Shear as interim CEO. Shear took over as CEO from Mira Murati, who was publicly aligned with Altman.

It’s worth noting that OpenAI’s board of directors consists of several prominent individuals, including OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, independent director Adam D’Angelo, technology entrepreneur Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner of the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

Microsoft Hires Altman and Brockman for New AI Research Division

On Monday morning, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced via a social media post that Altman and Brockman, along with key colleagues, will lead a new advanced artificial intelligence research team within Microsoft. Details remain sparse, but Nadella hinted that the new division will operate similarly to other Microsoft-owned entities like GitHub and LinkedIn.

Altman will serve as the CEO of the newly formed group. In response to Nadella’s announcement, he tweeted, “The mission continues,” indicating his commitment to advancing AI development.

Sudden Leadership Changes Cause Shockwaves at OpenAI

Altman’s departure from OpenAI occurred unexpectedly last Friday following a board review that cited issues with Altman’s leadership approach and candor in communications. Brockman, in response to Altman’s removal, announced he would also be leaving OpenAI.

Initially, the Board had announced that former CTO Mira Murati would serve as interim CEO, but Reports suggested that she planned to hire Sam and Greg back.

Reports emerged that negotiations were underway to potentially bring back Sam Altman as CEO. However, the board eventually moved swiftly to appoint former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear as interim OpenAI CEO instead. Despite last-ditch efforts over the weekend by key OpenAI investors to reinstate Altman, negotiations failed to reach an agreement.

Unclear Motivations Behind Microsoft’s Big OpenAI Hires

The news leaves many unanswered questions about Microsoft’s motivations and future relationship with OpenAI. Microsoft currently relies heavily on OpenAI’s technology to power key products like Bing chatbot features.

It’s uncertain whether Altman and Brockman have been brought in to build substitutes for OpenAI’s tech or to focus on entirely new research directions. Nadella expressed Microsoft’s interest in continuing to collaborate with OpenAI’s new leadership.

Major Recent AI Investments Position Microsoft for More Innovation

The hirings come amid Microsoft’s recent major investments in developing its own AI accelerators and chips to reduce reliance on partners like Nvidia.

Altman himself was already working with Microsoft on its new Maia chip to refine OpenAI’s language models. Microsoft also unveiled its own Arm-based Azure data center CPU for cloud workloads.

With a deep bench in hardware and its multibillion-dollar investment in OpenAI, Microsoft seems poised to become a key driver of next-generation AI capabilities alongside top-tier research talent.

Partnership Outlook Hazy But Critical to Both Companies

While the future relationship between the two AI powerhouses is unclear, Microsoft and OpenAI likely need each other to achieve their ambitious goals.

Satya Nadella wrote on X that “We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and in continuing to support our customers and partners. We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI’s new leadership team and working with them.”

OpenAI benefits enormously from Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure and support. And Microsoft requires OpenAI’s algorithms as a unique differentiator against competitors.

Both companies have asserted their commitment to a continued partnership. But the sudden leadership changes raise questions about alignment on priorities like transparency, ethics, and commercialization.

How the two organizations navigate their evolving relationship in AI research and product development will have major implications across the tech industry.

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