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Following the departure of CEO Sam Altman and chairman of the board Greg Brockman, there appears to be a staff revolt at OpenAI.
Reports across the web suggest that as many as 95% of staff have threatened to quit the company unless co-founder Altman is brought back in. At the same time, tech executives appear to be lining up for a hiring frenzy, capitalising on the discord at OpenAI.
On Monday, Microsoft announced it had hired Altman and Brockman. In a tweet posted yesterday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote: “We’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, 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.”
Responding to the unfolding crisis, OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever tweeted: “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.”
Speaking to the BBC earlier today, Dan Kemp, global chief investment officer at Morning Star Investment Management, described the crisis at OpenAI as an “open revolt”.
Along with the pressure from the workforce, he said investors were also pressuring the board for changes: “Microsoft has scored a coup securing not just the services of the leaders, but also there is an open invitation to the other members of staff. This could be very good news for Microsoft.”
Kemp said people are very important in the development of generative AI tools like ChatGPT from OpenAI. “People are so important in this sector because people are not indispensable. You cannot replace humans. What we’re seeing here is the importance of the people involved in creating the machines and the algorithms that drive AI.”
According to Kemp, Salesforce chief Marc Benioff has also extended an open invitation for anybody at OpenAI to join Salesforce. “There’s such competition for people who can code and build these algorithms,” he told the BBC.
OpenAI was founded in 2015 as a non-profit organisation, but transitioned to what it describes as a “capped profit” company in 2019, with a non-profit board, all governed by a charter to advance AI, which takes precedence over any obligation to generate profit.
The current company structure shows Microsoft as a minority owner in the capped for-profit company following its $10bn investment in OpenAI. While Microsoft has no board seat and no control, the funding involved commercial and IP licensing agreements, which have fuelled Microsoft’s generative AI capabilities. The investment effectively propelled the software company into a leading position in terms of AI capabilities.
The compute capabilities required to operate OpenAI are immense and it all runs on Microsoft cloud. Earlier in November, Microsoft unveiled an AI chip, Maia, optimised for its Azure cloud infrastructure.
At the time, Altman said: “We were excited when Microsoft first shared their designs for the Maia chip, and we’ve worked together to refine and test it with our models. Azure’s end-to-end AI architecture, now optimised down to the silicon with Maia, paves the way for training more capable models and making those models cheaper for our customers.”