Artificial intelligence firm OpenAI faces “intense discussions” to steady its ship, after employees threatened to quit if it failed to reinstate ousted CEO Sam Altman.
According to Bloomberg, an internal memo from OpenAI’s vice president of global affairs Anna Makanju described the firm as being in “intense discussions” to unify the company, with management in discussions with the board, Altman and newly appointed interim CEO Emmett Shear. “They are not prepared to give us a final response this evening,” Makanju wrote.
The memo comes following days of turmoil at OpenAI, which saw Altman ousted in a boardroom coup before he was tapped to set up an “advanced AI research team” with co-founder Greg Brockman at the firm’s biggest investor, Microsoft.
With over 90% of the firm’s 770 staff threatening to quit and follow Altman to his new venture, Reuters reported Monday that some of the firm’s investors were exploring legal options. Meanwhile, investors including Thrive Capital, Kholsa Ventures and Tiger Global Management are reportedly trying to orchestrate Altman’s return to OpenAI, with Microsoft signaling that it wouldn’t oppose the move.
OpenAI’s governance under scrutiny
According to unnamed sources cited by Bloomberg, Microsoft has attached conditions to a prospective return for Altman and Brockman, including the resignation of OpenAI’s current board and a restructuring of its governance to prevent a repeat of the week’s turmoil.
OpenAI employs an unusual non-profit governance structure that give the board sweeping powers in order to resist pressure from investors—a safety measure originally intended to ensure that the board acts in the interests of “humanity” rather than permitting runaway development of AGI.
That structure has come under scrutiny following last week’s events, with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella telling CNBC that, “At this point, I think it’s very clear that something has to change around the governance.”
Microsoft shares hit an all-time high Monday following the news of Altman’s move to the company, while Nadella stressed that, “We really want to partner with OpenAI and we really want to partner with Sam,” in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “Irrespective of where Sam is, he’s working with Microsoft,” Nadella added.