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Employee pressure sees Sam Altman reinstated as OpenAI chief

Having been ousted by board members late last week, Sam Altman is already due to be reinstated as OpenAI CEO. The tech tycoon has his workforce to thank.

Well, this is awkward.

Cast your mind all the way back to last Friday (November 17th), when the surprising news broke that OpenAI CEO Sam Altman had been dismissed by the company board.

Having led OpenAI’s first developer conference just a week prior, in which the landmark announcement of ‘GPTs’ was delivered and demoed by Altman himself, the company co-founder was let go by executives for failing to be ‘candid in his communications.’

Exactly what that meant was never clarified outside of OpenAI’s walls, but Altman’s walking orders would be about as short-lived as a juice cleanse anyway.

The corporate drama that unfolded in wake of the announcement was frankly biblical, with nearly all of OpenAI’s 750-strong workforce threatening to resign over the weekend.

This put Sillicon Valley rivals on high alert, as some of the best talent in AI development would’ve been without work or representation overnight.

Once the Uno reverse card was shown and the employees seized the upper-hand – which didn’t take long – the newly formed union not only demanded that Altman be returned to his post, but also for wholesale changes to be made to personnel at board level.

Microsoft, a major shareholder in OpenAI, showed solidarity with the disgruntled workforce and called for a change in ‘governance structure.’

It even offered Altman and ex company president Greg Brockman – who was let go shortly after – lead positions for a Microsoft AI research program on Monday (November 20th), which they reportedly agreed to verbally.

Nonetheless, the threat of a mass staff exodus was enough to see the demands come to fruition in a matter of days. Both Altman and Brockman have now officially resumed work at OpenAI, having basically had the weekend off.

Having established who rules the roost in this whole scenario, OpenAI’s new board looks markedly different.

Only the chief scientist, Ilya Sutskever, remains, while Quora co-founder Adam D’Angelo is drafted in alongside tech entrepreneur, Tasha McCauley, and Helen Toner, a director at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

Despite Sutskever’s involvement in the decisions of the previous regime, private negotiations permitted him to stay.

‘I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions,’ Sutskever tweeted. ‘I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.’ Altman and Brockman responded with heart emojis.

Passive aggressive or genuine, you decide.

Aside from displaying the power of well-constructed worker unions, the OpenAI rollercoaster has inadvertently revealed just how intrinsically Microsoft is involved in the very fabric of the company.

Not only did the tech giant actively call for a change of leadership, but it also immediately swooped in to secure (and reassign) OpenAI’s two most senior members to research in an internal department. Could Microsoft now move from investor to owner?

Make no mistake, ‘Altman will essentially now call the shots at OpenAI from Microsoft’s perch,’ as finance analyst Dan Ives states.

I’m not f***ing leaving!