Sam Altman and Microsoft are the big winners in the fight for control of OpenAI

Sam Altman in 2019
Sam Altman in 2019

In less than a week, a showdown took place within the top management of OpenAI, an organization that began as a non-profit before creating a for-profit subsidiary. On Friday, November 17, the Board of Directors removed Sam Altman (Photo Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch) from his position as CEO and Greg Brockman from the Board. After frantic days of announcements, threats of mass resignations from the employees, further changes at the top, and the announcement of the move of Altman and Brockman to Microsoft, there was instead a restoration with the return of the two of them to their roles and the announcement of radical changes in the Board.

Now Sam Altman’s leadership has strengthened and with it Microsoft’s influence, the main financier of OpenAI. Reports suggest that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was unaware of plans to replace the organization’s top management. Despite this, he reacted quickly, contributing to the return of Altman and Brockman.

OpenAI was opened in 2015 with the project of developing artificial intelligence for the good of humanity. However, a for-profit subsidiary was opened in 2019 even though the stated intention was for it to be a “capped” for-profit company. At that time, Sam Altman, one of the founders of OpenAI, became its CEO.

The ChatGPT chatbot was presented at the end of 2022 and slowly proposed to the public. This led to discussions within OpenAI, both among employees and within the Board. The situation exploded on Friday 17 with the sacking of Sam Altman and the removal of Greg Brockman from the Board. Mira Murati was appointed interim CEO but pressure immediately began from various investors, starting with Microsoft.

It turns out that Satya Nadella was unaware of the plans for changes and, behind the factual statements about the continuation of the collaboration between Microsoft and OpenAI, he immediately started putting pressure on OpenAI’s Board. At the same time, he negotiated the return of Altman and Brockman.

The situation evolved frantically and on Sunday 19, it was announced that Emmett Shear was appointed CEO. On Monday 20, Satya Nadella announced that Altman and Brockman would come to work at Microsoft to lead a research group on advanced artificial intelligence.

It seemed that the situation could stabilize but on Wednesday 22, came the announcement of the restoration of Sam Altman and Greg Brockman in their roles. At the same time, new changes came to the Board.

More details will probably emerge regarding this whole business. For example, according to the Reuters agency, the battle for control of OpenAI began following an alleged breakthrough in the development of artificial intelligence. We await confirmations and/or denials. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone wrote a book about this story.

For now, it’s clear that the position of Sam Altman and Greg Brockman has strengthened and that Satya Nadella’s role was important in their restoration. Microsoft is certainly not a charity and its multi-billion dollar investment in OpenAI shows how important the development of artificial intelligence is considered. Microsoft’s influence was already considered considerable, we will see if its control over OpenAI becomes complete.

Chatbots such as ChatGPT and those produced by others still seem far from being real artificial intelligences. Despite this, recently, it seems that a race to have a chatbot has begun in big technology companies. Perhaps, now we can return to discussions about the real capabilities of these bots and the nature of artificial intelligence, assuming no further surprises arrive from OpenAI.

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