Some OpenAI staff stayed up all night debating a course of action following news that Altman would not return to OpenAI. Many staff were frustrated about a lack of communication over Altman’s firing. Dozens of employees appeared to signal their willingness to jump ship and join Altman last night by posting “OpenAI is nothing without its people.” on X.
OpenAI’s staff members threaten to join Altman and Microsoft in their letter. “Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join,” they write.
The precise reason for Altman’s removal remains unclear, even to many inside the company. “Despite many requests for specific facts for your allegations, you have never provided any written evidence,” The letter to the board says that the OpenAI staff will join Altman at Microsoft.
Besides calling for the current board, made up of Ilya Sutskever, Adam D’Angelo, Helen Toner, and Tasha McCauley, to resign, the letter requests that two new independent lead board members, Bret Taylor and Will Hurd, be appointed. Taylor is a tech industry veteran with close ties to Altman; Hurd is a politician who previously served on the OpenAI board.
The letter raises the very real prospect of OpenAI losing almost all of its staff, and Microsoft essentially acqu-ihiring the entire company. OpenAI has around 770 total staff, per the Wall Street Journal.
The wild saga also highlights OpenAI’s unusual governance structure, which gave a few non-profit board members extraordinary power of the hottest tech company in the world.
The episode also reveals how divisive the race to develop artificial intelligence has become among many involved with developing the technology.
Altman’s efforts to raise money for OpenAI, and to turn its offerings into commercial products, may have unsettled board members who saw their responsibility as ensuring that AI is developed safely.
OpenAI’s meteoric rise in the year since ChatGPT was released has been accompanied with growing talk about the risks that increasingly advanced AI may pose.
The letter reads:
To the Board of Directors at OpenAI,
OpenAI is the world’s leading AI company. We, the employees of OpenAI, have developed the best models and pushed the field to new frontiers. Our work on AI safety and governance shapes global norms. The products we built are used by millions of people around the world. Until now, the company we work for and cherish has never been in a stronger position.