Can you undo a coup? Freshly fired OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is reportedly in talks to return to the company that canned him just five days ago, as the corporate infighting continues at the chaotic but red-hot AI startup.
It’s been nothing but messy @sama drama since Friday morning’s stunning firing of OpenAI co-founder and CEO Sam Altman, as the board of directors of the company behind ChaptGPT put forth some vague allegation that Altman “was not consistently candid” with them.
Altman’s replacement was the company’s CTO Mira Murati, who lasted two days on the job, and was replaced by former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear, against a backdrop of nearly the whole OpenAI workforce threatening to quit in a mass revolt. It seemed Altman had a soft landing arranged, as Microsoft announced late Sunday that they were hiring Altman (Microsoft is OpenAI’s largest investor, having put $13 billion into the company).
What’s odd about the tweet above that Sam Altman has retweeted, with heart emojis, a post from OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who reportedly engineered Altman’s ouster. (Sutskever seems to admit this in the post). And simultaneous to all this heart emoji retweeting, The Verge had a Monday report that Altman was plotting his return to OpenAI, that the Microsoft gig was never a done deal, and that Sutskever had flipped and wanted to bring Altman back on.
Update:— Emily Chang (@emilychangtv) November 21, 2023
- @Sama and the OpenAI board are now in talks for his possible return, specifically he's speaking with @adamdangelo
- one scenario, transition board where Sam would serve as director
- meantime @eshear has told folks he will leave if the board can't provide evidence of…
It gets juicier! As of Tuesday morning, Bloomberg reports that Altman is now in active negotiations to return to OpenAI. Per Bloomberg, “Altman and members of the OpenAI board have opened negotiations aimed at a possible return,” and that “Discussions are happening between Altman and at least one board member.”
satya and my top priority remains to ensure openai continues to thrive— Sam Altman (@sama) November 20, 2023
we are committed to fully providing continuity of operations to our partners and customers
the openai/microsoft partnership makes this very doable
And it is perhaps no coincidence that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave multiple interviews Monday saying that Altman could return to OpenAI, according to TechCrunch. Nadella told CNBC that Microsoft “chose to explicitly partner with OpenAI [and] obviously that depends on the people at OpenAI staying there or coming to Microsoft, so I’m open to both options.”
Satya Nadella just did interviews on CNBC and Bloomberg TV and made clear that it’s very possible Altman could go back to OpenAI, as we first reported he’s still willing to do today.— Alex Heath (@alexeheath) November 20, 2023
He could not answer @emilychangtv’s question about who will be CEO of OpenAI tomorrow
Very pointedly, Nadella had words about the OpenAI board that chose to fire Altman. “It’s clear something has to change around the governance — we’ll have a good dialogue with their board on that, and walk through that as that evolves,” he told CNBC.
It’s not hard to read between the lines here that Microsoft now wants a seat on that board, which they do not currently have. The chaos on that board now presents such an opportunity. And Microsoft may be tipping the scales in favor of Altman's return, for which they may be hoping to get a little something in return for themselves.
Image: SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 06: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks during the OpenAI DevDay event on November 06, 2023 in San Francisco, California. Altman delivered the keynote address at the first-ever Open AI DevDay conference.(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)