OpenAI: Microsoft wants changes after Sam Altman debacle

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By Tom Gerken
Technology reporter

Microsoft boss Satya Nadella has called for changes to OpenAI’s board after its shock firing of Sam Altman.

He told CNBC “something has to change” at the firm, but did not specify what that was, or rule out the tech giant getting a seat on the board.

Microsoft is OpenAI’s biggest investor by far, and has now also recruited Mr Altman to lead a new artificial intelligence (AI) team.

But its strong links to OpenAI do not currently extend to its boardroom.

“At this point, I think it’s very, very clear that something has to change around the governance,” said Mr Nadella.

“We’ll have a good dialogue with their board on that.”

The Microsoft chief executive’s calm demeanour in a round of media interviews is in contrast to the tumult at OpenAI itself, where staff are in open revolt at Mr Altman’s departure.

They have demanded he returns and the board is fired – but exactly what is happening with the company’s former chief executive is still unclear.

In a dizzying series of events over the weekend, Mr Altman seemed to be about to return to OpenAI – before Microsoft swooped to hire him.

On Monday, Mr Nadella wrote on X that Mr Altman would be leading “a new advanced AI research team”.

Mr Altman responded positively at the time, saying “the mission continues”, but later became more cryptic when he said “we are all going to work together some way or other.”

Now there are questions about whether he will actually join Microsoft after all, as almost every staff member at his former employer is grouping together to demand he and co-founder Greg Brockman be reinstated.

Evan Morikawa, an engagement manager at OpenAI, has claimed that 743 out of 770 employees at OpenAI have signed a letter calling on the board to resign – with staff themselves threatening to leave if their demands are not met.

They claim that Microsoft has told them there are jobs for all OpenAI staff if they want to join the company.

And Mr Nadella seemed to admit to CNBC that Mr Altman might not be joining, saying he was “committed to OpenAI and Sam, irrespective of what configuration”.

“Obviously that depends on the people at OpenAI staying there or coming to Microsoft, so I’m open to both options,” he said.

Shear moment

In the middle of all of this is Emmett Shear, the former head of Twitch who has been named the new interim head of OpenAI after Mr Altman’s unceremonious exit.

The pair crossed paths years ago when they were involved with start-up investment programme Y Combinator – with a viral photo of them as part of a group spreading on social media.

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The photo includes several others who went on to great careers in tech, including Aaron Swartz, a celebrated internet freedom activist and early developer of the website Reddit, who died in 2013.

Mr Shear co-founded the hit gaming site Twitch, and led it to become the dominant live-streaming website in the world, before selling the business to Amazon for an estimated $970m (£774m) in 2014.

He remained as CEO under Amazon, but left in March 2023 following the birth of his son.

But some of the tweets he has sent since leaving the firm have caused him to come under scrutiny online, including his public criticism of Microsoft.

Neither Mr Shear nor OpenAI has responded to a request for comment.

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