OpenAI employees threaten to quit after Sam Altman's firing 0:32
(CNN) -- The AI industry was rocked by tectonic shifts over the weekend.
Sam Altman, leader of one of the world's most influential artificial intelligence companies, OpenAI, and perhaps the most visible figure in the industry, was fired Friday night by the company's board of directors in a surprise move. In about 48 hours, he was hired to lead a new division at Microsoft where he would be even more powerful, having the resources of one of the world's largest technology companies and the direct backing of its CEO.
And as for OpenAI, the future looks deeply uncertain, as the board has apparently lost the trust of staff and the company's employees are threatening to leave in droves.
The debacle unfolded just over a week after OpenAI held its first developer conference, at which it unveiled new commercialized versions of its technology, including the option to customize its AI chatbot ChatGPT.
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If you're just catching up, here's what you missed from a weekend that could fundamentally change the race for AI development:
Around 3 p.m. Miami time, Altman joined a Google Meet call with most of OpenAI's board of directors, which had been convened by the company's co-founder and chief scientist, Ilya Sutskever. During that meeting, Altman was fired and informed that the news would soon be made public.
In the next half-hour, the board also informed Greg Brockman, another co-founder and chairman of OpenAI, that he would be removed from the board.
Around 3:30 p.m. ET, OpenAI publicly announced that it had fired Altman over concerns that he wasn't always truthful with the board. The board said Mira Murati, the company's chief technology officer, would become interim CEO.
OpenAI's strategic partners, including investor Microsoft, were also informed of Altman's removal minutes before the board's announcement.
Hours after the company announced Altman's firing, he posted on X that he "loved working with such talented people" and that he "will have more to say about what's next."
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Brockman quickly resigned. "Please don't waste your time worrying. We'll be fine," Brockman said in a Friday post on X. "Better things are coming soon."
A key factor in the CEO's firing was tension between Altman, who favored developing AI more aggressively, and OpenAI's board members, who wanted to proceed more cautiously, according to CNN contributor Kara Swisher, who spoke to sources with knowledge of the unfolding events.
Less than 24 hours after his firing, reports surfaced that Altman and other former OpenAI loyalists were contemplating plans to move forward with their company, and that OpenAI's board of directors was reconsidering asking the ousted CEO to return.
The AI industry underwent a massive leadership restructuring after OpenAI's co-founder and CEO was fired on Friday. On Monday, Altman had already been hired by Microsoft. Credit: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images.
On Sunday afternoon, Altman was back at the OpenAI building, this time wearing a guest badge, to negotiate with the board about his possible return. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella mediated the discussion. Reportedly, a deadline of 5 p.m. Pacific Time was set for the board to agree to Altman's demands, including adding a board seat for Microsoft and reinstating him as CEO.
But apparently those talks failed.
Late Sunday into Monday, Nadella tweeted that Altman, along with Brockman, would join Microsoft to lead a new AI research group. In OpenAI, the group found a new interim CEO: Emmett Shear, former CEO of Amazon's streaming service, Twitch. Murati would return to her position as OpenAI's chief technology officer.
In a post he made on X early Monday morning, Shear, who had left his position at Twitch in March, described the opportunity to join OpenAI as a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity. He added that the company would hire an independent investigator to report back on what happened before Altman's firing.
But OpenAI's employees weren't convinced. Hundreds of employees signed an open letter Monday morning calling on the company's board of directors to resign and reinstate Altman and Brockman. They also threatened to follow the co-founders to Microsoft if their demands were not met.
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Altman wrote Monday in X where he said, "We have more unity, commitment and focus than ever before. We're all going to work together in one way or another and I'm really excited. One team, one mission."
But the drama may not be over yet. The Verge reported Monday afternoon that Altman and Brockman could still return to OpenAI if the board members who fired him resign.
Either way, Altman appeared to try to reassure OpenAI's customers that he would remain involved with the company. In another post he made on X on Monday, he said his top priority, along with Nadella, "remains to ensure OpenAI continues to thrive."
"We are committed to providing full continuity of operations to our partners and customers," said Altman.
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