Almost a year after OpenAI launched its popular ChatGPT tool, the company’s CEO and co-founder Sam Altman is heading to Microsoft after a surprise ouster.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced on Monday that Altman, along with former OpenAI President and fellow co-founder Greg Brockman, will lead a generative artificial intelligence (AI) team at the tech giant.
The announcement caps a weekend of tumultuous news after the OpenAI board of directors fired Altman on Friday night. Altman’s ouster and Brockman’s decision to follow him could leave Microsoft on the winning side of the mess.
Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI and is working closely with the company by integrating ChatGPT into Microsoft products. The company’s partnership with OpenAI keeps Microsoft in a leading position in the AI arms race that is heating up this year.
With Altman directly under Microsoft, Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said the company stands to gain more.
“It makes it cleaner that he’s under them. So I think Microsoft ultimately ended up in a better position than it was on Friday,” Ives said.
Ives said he expects Microsoft to spearhead OpenAI in AI innovation with Altman, and that Microsoft’s hiring of the “golden child of AI” is “music to the ears of investors .”
Sarah Kreps, professor of government and director of the Tech Policy Institute at Cornell University, said the biggest battle in the AI space today is talent.
“Finding people who are smart, have good ideas and are determined, because everyone is chasing the same people, and now Microsoft has got a huge pool of talent. And so Microsoft’s gain is OpenAI’s loss at this point,” Kreps said.
In the immediate aftermath it appeared that OpenAI employees were unhappy with the board’s decision to fire Altman. Hundreds of employees have signed a letter threatening to leave OpenAI, according to multiple reports, unless Altman and Brockman are reinstated and board members resign.
OpenAI’s new interim CEO, former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear, announced Monday that he would launch an investigation into the process that led to Altman’s ouster.
Kreps said it will be interesting to see how many OpenAI employees move to Microsoft.
“Sam Altman gets a lot of attention, and it seems at this point that’s for good reason. I mean, the loyalty he has from his employees is amazing and amazing. And I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them follow him at Microsoft, he said.
He also said that the changing dynamic between OpenAI and Microsoft could change the culture to create a different space to attract new AI talent to the mainstream tech giant, rather than the future of OpenAI. which generated a lot of buzz last year.
The shake-up could also benefit other tech companies looking to hire talent as they build and invest in AI.
Google launched Bard, a rival to ChatGPT, earlier this year and is competing to get ahead of Microsoft in AI. Amazon announced in September that it would invest $4 billion in AI startup Anthropic.
Ives said the OpenAI shakeup puts the industry in “hunting season.”
“Google, Amazon, Apple and others, they’re going to be looking for some of these AI engineers and developers that are wanted,” he said. “It creates a little pocket of air and some chaos that will benefit some big technology players.”
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