The Lamen

Microsoft joins the OpenAI board as Altman returns as CEO

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Sam Altman’s return as the CEO of OpenAI has been made official, along with returning company superstars and a new board member.

Photo: Creative Commons

Published on Nov 30, 2023

OpenAI made Sam Altman’s return as CEO official on Wednesday — along with the announcement that Microsoft will be given a non-voting seat on the non-profit board that oversees company operations.

Altman’s view: The move follows up on the “real misunderstandings” between Altman and the previous OpenAI board. Altman’s memo thanked board members for seeking resolution, and the staff for sticking together. It also mentions interim CEO Emmett Shear And Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella for their contributions during the recent events.

  • “I have never been more excited about the future,” said Altman. “I am extremely grateful for everyone’s hard work in an unclear and unprecedented situation, … I feel so, so good about our probability of success for achieving our mission,” he added.

Others returning to OpenAI include Greg Brockman as President, Mira Murati as CTO, and the three senior researchers who resigned from the company after Altman’s firing.

  • The memo notes that Ilya Sutskever — OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist, and one of the primary voices behind Altman’s ousting — will no longer serve on the board, but is under discussion on “how he can continue his work at OpenAI.”
  • Three of the four board members who moved towards firing Altman are gone — with Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo the only member who carries over from the previous board.
  • Joining D’Angelo on the new “initial” board will be former Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

The memo notes Altman’s three priorities following his return: Advancing with research and safety efforts, continuing to deploy more products, and building out the board.

  • The initial board is tasked with expanding to a board of “diverse perspectives,” improving the non-profit’s governance structure and overseeing an independent review.
  • As part of the deal for Altman’s return to OpenAI, the company has agreed to an internal investigation — which could result in another leadership change, even if Altman has gained more allies.

Microsoft’s addition to the board as a “non-voting observer” means that while the company will not have an official vote on big decisions, it will have more visibility of the company’s inner proceedings — seemingly a measure to prevent being blindsided in the future.

  • Previous reports suggested that Microsoft may not be given a seat on the OpenAI board after all, but this move makes sense since Microsoft has a 49 percent stake in OpenAI’s for-profit arm.
  • “We clearly made the right choice to partner with Microsoft and I’m excited that our new board will include them as a non-voting observer,” said Altman.

Between the lines: Altman’s abrupt firing raised a lot of questions for the company, and the CEO’s position seems more vulnerable than even after being reinstated.

  • The board’s decision to fire Altman was never backed by a proper explanation — which has left some speculating that it wasn’t over AI safety.
  • “We are happy that Sam is back but we are still in the dark about a lot of things,” a senior OpenAI staffer told Semafor. “We’ve been told repeatedly that the heart of the board’s dispute with Sam was not over AI safety, but we haven’t been told what that is. So things still feel shaky.”

OpenAI was always ahead of the competition when it came to deploying AI products, which had the investors scoot over its unusual governance structure — something that won’t be overlooked after the recent events.