Sam Altman to lead advanced AI research at Microsoft after surprise firing from OpenAI | Courthouse News Service
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Sam Altman to lead advanced AI research at Microsoft after surprise firing from OpenAI

Microsoft looks to gain big from the talent leaving OpenAI by having them lead a brand-new team to manage custom AI chips instead of relying on Nvidia tech.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Microsoft has tapped OpenAI's freshly fired CEO to lead its brand-new advanced AI research team, in another surprise announcement for the tech and AI world Monday.

Sam Altman, the former public face and CEO of OpenAI — maker of popular AI chatbot ChatGPT — is now in at Microsoft after a weekend of negotiations. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced ahead of the Monday market open that both Altman and Greg Brockman, formerly OpenAI’s chairman of the board, were hired to lead a new advanced AI research team, with Altman as CEO of the team. 

OpenAI fired Altman Friday after the company’s board of directors determined that he had not been truthful in his communications to the board, shocking the tech world. He co-founded OpenAI and served as a co-chair of the company with Elon Musk. Musk departed the company in 2018 to avoid a conflict of interest with Tesla, but has since founded his own AI company, xAI.

OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, the founder of ChatGPT and creator of OpenAI gestures while speaking at University College London, as part of his world tour of speaking engagements in London, Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Altman said in a post on X: "I loved my time at OpenAI. It was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. Most of all I loved working with such talented people.”

The firing was sudden, as Altman had spoken at Thursday’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO summit in San Francisco. OpenAI declined to comment on the firing beyond the blog post, leaving what specifically Altman had failed to be candid about with the board of directors a mystery. 

Altman had reportedly been pitching a new, separate startup to build Nvidia-rivaling AI tensor processing unit chips, according to The New York Times. Brockman announced in an X post that the new team at Microsoft will include other former OpenAI talent — Jakub Pachocki, formerly director of research, in an unnamed leadership position on the advanced AI research team, alongside former research scientist Szymon Sidor and former head of preparedness Aleksander Madry.

In response, OpenAI employees have begun posting on X “OpenAI is nothing without its people." More than 500 OpenAI employees have threatened to leave and join Altman if the entire board of directors does not resign, according to a letter to the board released Monday morning to the Wall Street Journal.

OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. The company has named former Twitch CEO and co-founder Emmett Shear as interim CEO, as The Information first reported Sunday night. 

“Today I got a call inviting me to consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to become the interim CEO of OpenAI,” Shear said in a post on X. “After consulting with my family and reflecting on it for just a few hours, I accepted.”

Shear resigned as Twitch CEO earlier this year after co-founding the platform which later became Twitch. 

Microsoft, which has invested billions of dollars into OpenAI, also said in a statement Friday that its partnership with the company will continue. It is the exclusive cloud partner for OpenAI, as its cloud services power all OpenAI workloads.

"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," Microsoft's Nadella said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI's new leadership team and working with them.”

The news of Microsoft’s new advanced AI research team comes a week after the company announced its own custom AI chip that can be used to train large language models, and possibly avoid longterm reliance on Nvidia. Microsoft already has an Arm-based CPU for cloud workloads. Altman and OpenAI had been working with Microsoft to refine and test the Maia AI chip.

OpenAI, headquartered in San Francisco, was founded as a nonprofit in 2015. In 2019, the company restructured and shed its nonprofit status, and became the face of AI technology with the release of ChatGPT in November 2022. The controversial tool uses artificial intelligence to generate human-like responses to questions and prompts.

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