The fallout of Sam Altman’s surprising ouster from OpenAI continues to spread. OpenAI, which positioned itself as a major player in the AI sector under Altman’s leadership, continues to grapple with internal strife. This time, a whole lot of its employees are threatening to join the likes of Greg Brockman and join Microsoft’s newly formed AI division, if Altman isn’t brought back. According to media reports, the catalyst for this upheaval was the unexpected firing of CEO Sam Altman, prompting a letter endorsed by approximately 500 of OpenAI’s 770 employees, expressing their discontent with the board’s decisions.
The heart of the matter lies in the employees’ dissatisfaction with the board’s handling of the termination of CEO Sam Altman and the removal of co-founder Greg Brockman from the board. The letter accuses the current board of lacking competence, judgment, and care for OpenAI’s mission and employees. The termination process is characterized as jeopardizing the company’s work and undermining its mission, making it clear that the current leadership is incapable of overseeing OpenAI.
“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 read. “When we all unexpectedly learned of your decision, the leadership team of OpenAI acted swiftly to stabilize the company. They carefully listened to your concerns and tried to cooperate with you on all grounds. Despite many requests for specific facts for your allegations, you have never provided any written evidence. They also increasingly realized you were not capable of carrying out your duties, and were negotiating in bad faith,” the letter to the board of directors added.
In a nutshell, the letter serves as an ultimatum to the board, stating that unless there is a new board and the reinstatement of Altman and Brockman, employees may choose to join Microsoft. As a short reminder, the tech giant – and currently the largest investor in OpenAI – recently welcomed Altman and Brockman with open arms to lead a new in-house AI research team. The letter highlights that Microsoft has assured OpenAI employees of positions at this new subsidiary if they decide to make the transition.
The employees’ threat of mass resignations poses a significant challenge to OpenAI, raising the possibility of losing a substantial portion of its workforce. Furthermore, Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s Chief Scientist and a board member, expressed regret on social media for his role in the decision-making process. It can be argued that Sutskever was in charge of co-ordinating the coup against Altman in the first place. Before the letter was released, Sutskever’s post on X read, “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.”
If the employees follow through on their threat to resign en masse, OpenAI could face a talent drain, depriving the company of the very individuals instrumental in its success and innovation in the AI sector. Furthermore, the crisis raises questions about the credibility of OpenAI’s leadership and the effectiveness of its governance structure. Microsoft’s move to hire Altman and Brockman, along with the promise of positions for OpenAI employees, positions the tech giant for potential gains. If a significant number of OpenAI employees transition to Microsoft, it could bolster Microsoft’s capabilities in AI research and development, creating a competitive advantage.
“Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI. We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgement and care for our mission and employees. We, the undersigned, may choose to resign from OpenAI and join the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman. Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we 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 by the employees finished.