Microsoft chief Satya Nadella calls for governance ‘change’ at OpenAI, leaves open Altman’s possible return to company amidst staff revolt
Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella has called for a “change” in the governance of OpenAI following the chaotic firing of former company head Sam Altman over the weekend.
The Windows maker is by far OpenAI’s biggest investor and OpenAI depends on Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure for its costly computing infrastructure.
But Microsoft does not have a seat on the four-person non-profit board that governs the for-profit subsidiary of which Altman was chief executive, and had no say in his dismissal.
“At this point, I think it’s very, very clear that something has to change around the governance” of OpenAI, Nadella told CNBC.
“We’ll have a good dialogue with their board on that.”
In the early hours of Monday morning local time Nadella announced Altman and former OpenAI president and chairman Greg Brockman would join Microsoft.
The move, which one analyst compared to a world-class poker play, neutralised the threat that Altman, Brockman and other senior OpenAI staff could wind up working for a competitor such as Amazon, Apple or Google.
It temporarily brought to a halt the dizzying series of events that unfolded over the weekend, as investors including Microsoft, Tiger Global, Thrive Capital and Sequoia Capital lobbied for Altman to return to OpenAI.
Keeping options ‘open’
By the end of Monday, however, it was less clear whether Altman and Brockman would actually join Microsoft, where Nadella promised jobs for them and any other OpenAI staff who wished to follow them on a “new advanced AI research team”.
Evan Morikawa, an engagement officer at OpenAI, has claimed that 743 out of 770 staff at the firm have signed a letter demanding that Altman and Brockman return to their positions at the firm and that the current board resign, or else they will move over to Microsoft.
Nadella appeared to leave open the possibility that Altman, Brockman and the others could return to OpenAI, telling CNBC he was “committed to OpenAI and Sam, irrespective of what configuration”.
“Obviously that depends on the people at OpenAI staying there or coming to Microsoft, so I’m open to both options,” he said.
‘We are all going to work together’
Altman initially replied to Nadella’s message on X, formerly Twitter, announcing the hire, writing, “The mission continues,” but he later wrote, “We are all going to work together some way or other.”
Nadella told CNBC he respected OpenAI’s nonprofit roots and agreed the technology needed to be developed in a manner that mitigates its potential risks.
“We want to make sure that we’re dealing with not only the benefits of technology, but the unintended consequences of the technology from day one, as opposed to waiting for things to happen,” he said.