Talks to bring back Sam Altman continue at OpenAI

Talks were ongoing Tuesday about the future of OpenAI and the potential return of Sam Altman, the ousted CEO of the artificial intelligence company, people familiar with the discussions said, a day after nearly all of its employees threatened to quit.

Investors and executives were scrambling to figure out a plan to bring back Altman, who as early as Monday announced that he would be leading Microsoft’s new AI lab.

Altman’s sudden move to join Microsoft is not finalized, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, signaled in an interview with CNBC on Monday. A person familiar with the matter said he would only return to OpenAI if the board members who ousted him stepped down. In the CNBC interview on Monday afternoon, Nadella sought to assure customers and investors that his company was on solid ground no matter the outcome. He left the door open for Altman to return to OpenAI or continue on as an AI leader at Microsoft, even though he announced late Sunday night that Altman was coming to Microsoft. “I’m open to both options,” Nadella said in the interview with CNBC.

Altman, too, has signaled he could still return. “We are all going to work together some way or other,” he said in a post Monday morning on X, formerly Twitter. He added that the “top priority remains to ensure OpenAI continues to thrive. We are committed to fully providing continuity of operations to our partners and customers.”

That leaves the fate of Altman and OpenAI unclear, more than three full days after the board fired him.

The latest developments come amid a dizzying several days for OpenAI that has put the future of the lab in doubt, a drastic change of fate for a company that, until just days ago, was considered one of the most promising start-ups in Silicon Valley with a valuation close to $90 billion.

On Friday, its board abruptly removed Altman from his role as chief executive, saying he was “not consistently candid” in his communications. That sparked a two-day period during which Altman visited company headquarters to negotiate his potential return to the lab, only to see those negotiations collapse Sunday night into early Monday, when Microsoft announced Altman was joining the company, along with Greg Brockman, the former OpenAI president who had quit in solidarity with Altman.

Late Sunday, OpenAI’s board said it would back its ouster of Altman and appointed Emmett Shear as interim CEO. Shear is the co-founder of Twitch, a popular video game streaming platform.

As of Monday, nearly all employees signed a letter threatening to quit unless the current board resigned and reappointed Altman. In a bizarre twist, the letter included among the signatories Ilya Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist and a key member of the company’s four-person board, who voted to oust Altman on Friday.

“Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI,” the employees wrote in the letter. “We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgment and care for our mission and employees.”

On Tuesday morning, Kevin Scott, the chief technology officer at Microsoft, indicated on X that the situation is still in flux, noting that if OpenAI employees end up departing the company, they would have a job at Microsoft that matches their compensation.

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