More than 700 OpenAI staffers have reportedly threatened to quit on Monday unless the company’s embattled board of directors resigns over its surprise move on Friday to oust Sam Altman from the company.
The furious employees said they “may choose to resign” and join Altman – who took a new gig as head of an AI research unit at Microsoft on Sunday – unless all current OpenAI board members step down and both Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman are restored to their posts.
“Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI,” the OpenAI employees said, according to a memo obtained by Wired. “We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgement and care for our mission and employees.”
In addition, the workers demanded that OpenAI appoint two new lead independent directors. They floated former Twitter board chairman Bret Taylor and former US Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) – who departed OpenAI’s board earlier this year – as acceptable options.
In the scathing memo, the OpenAI workers declared that the board had “jeopardized” their place at the forefront of AI governance and “undermined our mission and company.”
“Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join,” the workers added.
Noam Brown, a prominent researcher at OpenAI, said the company’s staffers were “united” in their objective.
“This is not a civil war. Unless Sam and Greg are brought back, there will be no OpenAI left to govern,” Brown wrote on X.
As of Sunday, “dozens’ of OpenAI staffers had already quit the firm in protest of Altman’s dismissal, The Information reported. The firm as more than 700 staffers.
OpenAI’s interim CEO Emmett Shear, who stepped in to replace Altman following days of intense negotiations between the board, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and other stakeholders, is already scrambling to salvage the situation.
Shear, co-founder of the Amazon-owned video game streaming giant Twitch, pledged to order an independent investigation into the events that led to Altman’s firing, as well as lead an overhaul of OpenAI’s management and leadership team and improve communication with remaining staffers.
“It’s clear that the process and communications around Sam’s removal has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust,” Shear wrote on X.
Shear has expressed concern about the risks associated with the rapid development of advanced AI – warning at an event earlier this year that the possibility of AI becoming impossible to control “should cause you to s–t your pants.”
Meanwhile, OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, the board director who is said to have played a key role in Altman’s shock dismissal, admitted that he wished the situation had been handled differently.
“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,” Sutskever said.
Sutskever and three of the other members of OpenAI’s board shocked Silicon Valley on Friday with a vague announcement that Altman had been dismissed because he was “not consistently candid in his communications” with them. Brockman, the fifth board director, was removed from the board and later resigned entirely in objection of its actions.
OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap provided slightly more detail in a memo to employees on Sunday morning, noting that Altman’s ouster was not related to “malfeasance or anything related to [the company’s] financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices,” The Information reported.
Shear confirmed that explanation in his lengthy statement on X, writing that the “board did *not* remove Sam over any specific disagreement on safety, their reasoning was completely different from that.”
Elsewhere, a source with knowledge of the board’s thinking told the Financial Times that Altman had simply become “impossible to oversee.”
“There was no one big problem,” the source said. “The board reached the point where they couldn’t believe what Sam told them.”
The sudden move caught the entire AI sector off guard – including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who purportedly found out about what had happened just minutes before the board announced Altman was out. That’s despite the fact that Microsoft owns a 49% stake in OpenAI and had committed more than $13 billion toward its long-term development.
Among those who expressed dismay over the series of events was Third Point chief Dan Loeb, a key Microsoft shareholder who called out “stunningly poor governance” at OpenAI and said he was “surprised $MSFT didn’t insist on stronger representation.”
The firing prompted a flurry of frantic negotiations that culminated in the wee hours of Monday morning, when Nadella announced that Altman and Brockman “will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team.”
“We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” Nadella said. He added that Microsoft remained “committed to our partnership with OpenAI and [has] confidence in our product roadmap.”
Microsoft shares rallied more than 1% in early trading.
The stunning shakeup has raised doubts about whether OpenAI will be able to maintain its lead in the development of AI tools such as ChatGPT, which has garnered more than 100 million active weekly users since its debut late last year.
Prior to Altman’s removal, OpenAI had planned a tender offer that would boost its valuation to well north of $80 billion. Those plans are now in question.