By Mayank Chhaya –
For a company at the vanguard of artificial intelligence (AI), the bizarre goings-on on at OpenAI do not suggest very intelligent leadership.
The company’s future is suddenly under a cumulonimbus after 700 of its 770 employees threatened to join Microsoft en masse unless its ousted CEO Sam Altman is reinstated. Altman, in the meantime has been appointed, as CEO of a new Microsoft research lab apparently created specially for him and other OpenAI employees in open revolt.
It is not necessarily so, but it would seem as if Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has mounted a strangely hostile takeover by acquiring its employees. This is notwithstanding that Microsoft has invested over $13 billion in OpenAI.
To recap, Altman was fired abruptly on Friday but was sought to be reinstated soon after that but immediately rebuffed even as he was snapped up by Nadella to head a new research venture within Microsoft even while OpenAI revolted to bring him back. Confusing? Well.
Now, as reported by The New York Times first, 700 of its employees are threatening to walk over to Microsoft unless Altman is reinstated. How would that work given that he has already been named CEO of a new Microsoft entity? No one knows.
In many ways, what has unfolded is the theater of the corporate absurd with Altman tweeting sentimentally this: “we have more unity and commitment and focus than ever before. we are all going to work together some way or other, and i’m so excited. one team, one mission.”
Evidently, he is not familiar with the basic rule of grammar to capitalize the letters at the beginning of sentences. That would be too much work for someone at the frontlines of AI.
He also tweeted, “satya and my top priority remains to ensure openai continues to thrive we are committed to fully providing continuity of operations to our partners and customers the openai/microsoft partnership makes this very doable”
This time he did away even with full stop at the end of a sentence. He cannot afford to slow down right now.
Nadella has said Microsoft is “setting a new pace for innovation” in AI.
“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. We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI’s new leadership team and working with them. And we’re 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,” he tweeted.
It is remarkable that a company leading the AI revolution is struggling to display a semblance of corporate intelligence. Going by various reports, the rupture within OpenAI’s original leadership of which Altman was the most high-profile member was over the pace of AI and its safety risks for humanity generally. Altman is said to be on the side of more rapid AI development also coupled with profit unlike his fellow co-founders, some of whom balk at the idea.
If the 700 employees do indeed walk out and join Microsoft, OpenAI could become an in-house Microsoft venture without being formally so. In a sense, those employees led by Altman would have merely changed their office even while retaining their technological intelligence.
There are those who apprehend that the confusion at OpenAI could seriously impact those companies that have chosen to use their AI solutions. However, if what Nadella and Altman are saying is anything to by, there is no real danger of the AI ball being dropped.
It is not clear what will happen to the $13 billion of Microsoft’s investment in OpenAI if all of its employees join tech giant.