What to know after OpenAI fires CEO Sam Altman and Microsoft immediately hires him

Satya Nadella quickly hired Sam Altman after his firing resulting in Microsoft shares hitting an all-time high

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In just a few days, the high-profile artificial intelligence company OpenAI has fired CEO Sam Altman and hired his replacement, Emmett Shear. Meanwhile, Microsoft has hired Altman, and a majority of OpenAI’s employees seem set to follow him. Here’s what to know.

Who is Emmett Shear?

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Emmett Shear is a big name in the tech world. Born in 1983 and raised in Seattle, he founded a live video platform, Justin.tv, that eventually became the video service Twitch, which was purchased by Amazon in 2014 for close to $1 billion. Shear served as CEO of that company until March when he resigned to spend more time with his newborn son.

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What’s his new role?

Shear is now heading OpenAI, the world’s pre-eminent artificial intelligence development organization. It’s the company behind ChatGPT, the popular generative AI chatbot that is (depending on whom you ask) either an amusing parlour trick, a boon to productivity, or the harbinger of the end of the human race.

Who is Sam Altman?

Altman, an entrepreneur and investor, was born in Chicago in 1985 and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He was CEO of OpenAi from 2019 until his recent departure. Before that he was president of startup accelerator company Y Combinator from 2014 to 2019, having been a partner there since 2011.

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Who came with him to Microsoft?

Altman as well as OpenAI co-founder and former president Greg Brockman have been hired by Microsoft to lead that company’s new advanced AI research team. Brockman was removed from the OpenAI board when Altman was fired, but told he would not be fired. He quit later that day.

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Is anyone else coming with him?

Potentially, yes. On Monday, a letter signed by about 600 of OpenAI’s 770 employees, and endorsed by OpenAI’s chief technology officer (and briefly interim CEO) Mira Murati, said they would resign and follow Altman to Microsoft, citing the way his firing was handled. The letter says they are “unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgment and care for our mission and employees.” It adds: “Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary.”

What would that do to OpenAI?

The company is already in turmoil. Venture capital firm Thrive Capital had been expected to lead an offer for employee shares that would value the company at $86 billion. But it has since told OpenAI that Altman’s departure could alter that plan.

What’s the history between OpenAI and Microsoft?

Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI, and helped provide the computing power needed to run its systems, making it the startup’s biggest shareholder and closest technology partner. Its shares rose two per cent on news of Altman’s arrival, and were nearing an all-time high on Monday.

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What does Shear make of all this?

Shear has said he will hire an independent investigator to look into what led to Altman’s departure, which he said “has been handled very badly, which has seriously damaged our trust.” He also plans to “reform the management and leadership team in light of recent departures into an effective force.”

What’s Shear’s take on AI?

Varied, but seemingly positive. “The upsides usually outweigh the downsides,” he said in a clip from a recent podcast that was shared on the social media platform X, adding: “Regulating early is usually a mistake.” He explained that once AI becomes adept at solving the kinds of problems that go into making it, “it can fully self-improve itself, at which point it will get very fast, very quickly. And that kind of intelligence is just an intrinsically very dangerous thing, because intelligence is power.”

— With files from Bloomberg and The Associated Press

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