Microsoft hires OpenAI co-founders Sam Altman and Greg Brockman to lead advanced AI research team

OpenAi Dev Day, Nov 7
(Image credit: OpenAI)

Just two days after OpenAI's board of directors fired the company's co-founder and chief executive Sam Altman and the resignation of another co-founder Greg Brockman, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has announced hiring Sam Altman and  Greg Brockman to lead its advanced AI research team. The transfer of major OpenAI people to Microsoft marks a crucial moment in the AI industry as OpenAI changes leadership, whereas the software giant gains experienced AI researchers and executives.

"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," wrote Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, in an X post. "We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OpenAI's new leadership team and working with them. And we are 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."

Altman's and Brockman's roles at Microsoft involve spearheading a newly formed advanced AI research division. At present, Microsoft uses OpenAI technologies to power its own artificial intelligence tools and services. Meanwhile, Microsoft's cloud services power all of OpenAI's projects. With Altman and Brockman at Microsoft, the latter will eventually develop its own AI technologies, which will at least reduce its reliance on OpenAI. Despite the organizational turmoil, Microsoft's partnership with OpenAI remains robust, highlighted by its substantial investment in the company, rumored to be around $10 billion.

Late last week the OpenAI board of directors ousted Sam Altman from the company, citing a lack of confidence as the reason for his firing. This lead to a weekend of intense negotiations about his potential return. However, these discussions fell through, and Microsoft apparently decided to hire two people well known in the AI industry. This move is not solely about the two high-profile hires. It also includes the migration of other key OpenAI talents such as Jakub Pachocki, Szymon Sidor, and Aleksander Madry, signaling a substantial shift of people from OpenAI to Microsoft, reports The Verge. Meanwhile, OpenAI employees are posting similar tweets noting that OpenAI is nothing without its people.

Microsoft's initiative in forming the advanced AI research team is part of a broader strategy to establish greater autonomy in AI technology. The company recently presented its own custom AI processors and an Arm-based CPU for cloud workloads. These innovations are designed to power Azure datacenters and represent a strategic move to reduce reliance on external providers like Nvidia, showcasing Microsoft's commitment to expanding its technological capabilities. 

The interim CEO position at OpenAI was handed to Emmett Shear, the former chief of Twitch. This leadership change at OpenAI coincides with Altman's exploration of new ventures, including a start-up focused on AI Tensor Processing Unit chips, codenamed Tigris, which was set to rival Nvidia. 

Anton Shilov
Contributing Writer

Anton Shilov is a contributing writer at Tom’s Hardware. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • RedBear87
    As an update, Ilya Sutskever deeply regrets his partecipation in the board's actions:
    1726590052392956028View: https://twitter.com/ilyasut/status/1726590052392956028
    Sam Altman replied posting three hearts:
    1726594398098780570View: https://twitter.com/sama/status/1726594398098780570
    Previously Sam was reposting OpenAI staffers who say "OpenAI is nothing without its people" with a single heart.

    I need to grab more popcorn.
    Reply
  • peachpuff
    Is it me or have the titles of topics doubled in length recently?
    Reply
  • ezst036
    This is a big reason why Microsoft continues to be a market leader. They poach or hire quality talent to lead their divisions.

    It's just too bad that their job now will be to find new and unique ways to embed factory adware into Windows OS with Copilot.
    Reply
  • baboma
    NYTimes has a good piece on the winners & losers of the ongoing OpenAI fiasco (disable Javascript if necessary to view):

    https://nytimes.com/2023/11/20/technology/openai-sam-altman-winners-losers.html
    It's a dramatic development from the tension between the "fast AI progress" and "safe AI" camps. It draws attention to OpenAI's unique governing structure that ultimately fails under stress, with the two sides coming to an irrevocable split.

    I praise MS CEO Nadella for his quick thinking in turning a fiasco into an opportunity. If the event unfolds as expected, and MS hires the bulk of defecting OpenAI employees under its newly-formed Advanced AI subsidiary, MS will be an AI powerhouse to contend with.

    For Windows users, which many here are, the impact will not be immediately felt, but IMO, MS will likely leverage its new-found talent to deploy AI tech even more aggressively on the one major platform that it controls. I can imagine both positive and negative implications from this.

    As an investor, I do feel for those who have invested in OpenAI, as they are the biggest loser in this. If the bulk of OpenAI employees defect, the company will be a shell of its self, and the investors will effectively lose most of their money. And the upshot is, there is nobody to blame. It's a freak event that no one would have anticipated.

    Edit: Stratechery has a good impromptu analysis of the development. One comment stuck out for me: "...you can make the case that Microsoft just acquired OpenAI for $0 and zero risk of an antitrust lawsuit." MS is undoubtely the biggest winner in this.

    https://stratechery.com/2023/openais-misalignment-and-microsofts-gain/
    Reply
  • jasonf2
    This mess is going to grossly redefine the board of directors roll going forward in these startup IPOs. Depending on how this plays out OpenAI's board just gave the company to Microsoft for free.
    Reply
  • baboma
    >This mess is going to grossly redefine the board of directors roll going forward in these startup IPOs.

    OpenAI's governance isn't representative of other companies. It is a capped-profit company built atop a non-profit (501c3) organization. The tensions between the for-profit and non-profit "tribes" are what led to the breakup.

    >Depending on how this plays out OpenAI's board just gave the company to Microsoft for free.

    There'll be lawsuits from stakeholders, certainly, but as per the Stratchery piece, the board was doing its job, to advance the company's mission statement of " "build general-purpose artificial intelligence that benefits humanity," which reportedly Altman was not doing, in pursuit of fast AI development.

    Edit: This piece below explains the motivations of OpenAI's board in firing Altman.

    https://newcomer.co/p/give-openais-board-some-time-the
    Sure, most people would jump on the "they just destroyed a multi-billion-dollar company" bandwagon. But it's worthwhile to see the event from both sides. The board is a non-profit board. While I agree that it should communicate better with stakeholders as to the firing, I commend them for standing by their principles in the face of undoubtedly extreme pressure to reverse their decision. Whether I agree with the firing is a separate matter.
    Reply
  • toffty
    baboma said:
    ...
    Edit: Stratechery has a good impromptu analysis of the development. One comment stuck out for me: "...you can make the case that Microsoft just acquired OpenAI for $0 and zero risk of an antitrust lawsuit." MS is undoubtely the biggest winner in this.
    Quoting you to requote your quote. The amount of code needed to create the AI is, relatively speaking, tiny. It's how the data is learned and organized. Sam Altman gets to start from scratch with everything he's learned. He'll bring along his best developers who are already angry and voicing their complaints internally. Sure, MS already invested $10B into OAI. Now they can invest another billion and get everything OAI was and more.

    This is probably the easiest "print money" win MS has ever had.
    Reply
  • RedBear87
    baboma said:
    Edit: This piece below explains the motivations of OpenAI's board in firing Altman.

    https://newcomer.co/p/give-openais-board-some-time-the
    Sure, most people would jump on the "they just destroyed a multi-billion-dollar company" bandwagon. But it's worthwhile to see the event from both sides. The board is a non-profit board. While I agree that it should communicate better with stakeholders as to the firing, I commend them for standing by their principles in the face of undoubtedly extreme pressure to reverse their decision. Whether I agree with the firing is a separate matter.
    Well, most people would jump on that bandwagon because that's exactly how things look like; normally you don't get to piss off both your investors and most of your employees and still expect them to act as if nothing at at all has happened. If they had legitimate reasons to fire Altman they should have engaged with both investors and employees, instead the board seemingly acted as if they were a vengeful, almighty and all-knowing, God that should not be judged by mere mortals. They're getting what they deserve.

    EDIT: For the record, I'm not sure how Elon Musk criticising Sam Altman and his leadership can count as a plus for the board, Elon is widely considered a villain by most of the mainstream media and thinkers...
    Reply
  • bit_user
    baboma said:
    It's a dramatic development from the tension between the "fast AI progress" and "safe AI" camps. It draws attention to OpenAI's unique governing structure that ultimately fails under stress, with the two sides coming to an irrevocable split.
    Thanks for the links & summary, but please just tell me which side Altman is on.

    Edit: okay, so your later post says:
    the board was doing its job, to advance the company's mission statement of "building general-purpose artificial intelligence that benefits humanity," which reportedly Altman was not doing, in pursuit of fast AI development.

    So, if you're alarmed by AI, then it's probably not good that Altman is now out from under their oversight.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    RedBear87 said:
    If they had legitimate reasons to fire Altman they should have engaged with both investors and employees, instead the board seemingly acted as if they were a vengeful, almighty and all-knowing, God that should not be judged by mere mortals.
    I'm not sure you know how corporate governance works. Boards are elected by shareholders to do precisely these sorts of things (among others).

    When making such personnel decisions, there's normally a lot more to lose by having a drawn-out, more public process. I wonder if you can point to another example that ever happened the way you think this should've.
    Reply