OpenAI employees threaten mass exodus if Altman isn’t reinstated

21 Nov 2023

Sam Altman speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2015. Image: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch (CC BY 2.0)

In a letter yesterday, nearly all employees at OpenAI told the board that its conduct has made it clear it is ‘incapable’ of overseeing the AI start-up.

Just days after the OpenAI board fired CEO Sam Altman claiming it no longer had confidence in his ability to lead the company, nearly all of its employees have signed a letter asking the board to resign because they believe it lacks “competence”.

Altman, the AI wunderkind who took the world by storm after leading OpenAI during its development of ChatGPT, was unexpectedly fired by the company’s board of directors on 17 November after a “deliberative review process”.

The board claimed Altman had not been “consistently candid in his communications” and that it no longer had confidence in his ability to lead OpenAI.

“We are grateful for Sam’s many contributions to the founding and growth of OpenAI,” OpenAI said. “At the same time, we believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward.”

Altman’s departure came days after he announced the company paused new ChatGPT Plus sign-ups due to a “surge in usage”. Earlier in the month, the company said it was suffering outages due to abnormal traffic that was “reflective” of a DDoS attack.

Now, OpenAI employees are determined to bring Altman back to the company.

“The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardised all of [our] work and undermined our mission and company. Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI,” the letter reads.

The published letter contains 599 signatures but at time of writing about 700 employees have signed (out of 770 at the Microsoft-backed company). The letter said that the “most stabilising path forward” is if the board resigns and is replaced by a “qualified” board.

“Leadership worked with you around the clock to find a mutually agreeable outcome. Yet within two days of your initial decision, you again replaced interim CEO Mira Murati against the best interests of the company,” the letter goes on.

At the time of writing, former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear is chief executive of OpenAI. Meanwhile, Altman now serves as head of an advanced AI research team at Microsoft.

Microsoft is a major investor in OpenAI and has incorporated various OpenAI products into its own offerings.

“We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” Nadella said of Altman’s new team.

“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,” Nadella confirmed.

In the letter, OpenAI employees also threatened to resign and join the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Altman and Brockman.

“Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Sam Altman speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2015. Image: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch via Flickr (CC BY 4.0 DEED)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic