Microsoft will join OpenAI’s board in an observational non-voting role after Sam Altman’s return to CEO following a failed ousting attempt.
Altman was fired from OpenAI on 17 November, with board members accusing him of not being “candid” in his communications within the company. With Altman now reinstated, OpenAI’s biggest investor Microsoft has joined its board of directors.
In this role, Microsoft will be able to attend board meetings but will not have the power to vote on internal decisions.
More than 500 OpenAI employees, including CTO Mira Murati, signed an open letter to the board asking for Altman’s reinstatement and the resignation of the remaining board members.
In an internal memo from Altman to OpenAI staff, as reviewed and originally reported by The Verge, Altman stated that he was “excited” about the company’s future.
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“I am extremely grateful for everyone’s hard work in an unclear and unprecedented situation, and I believe our resilience and spirit set us apart in the industry,” the note read.
The note specified that during Altman’s departure and return, OpenAI had not lost customers and that it would continue working towards its goal of improving its products and furthering research into AI safety.
Altman’s note also thanked Microsoft and stated that OpenAI “had made the right choice” to partner with the company.
Microsoft first invested $1bn in OpenAI in 2019 and is said to have a 49% stake in the company.
This partnership was then extended in January 2023, when Microsoft announced a further investment of $10bn in OpenAI. In a blog post written by Microsoft in January, both Altman and Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella stated that they shared ambitions for AI and its safety.
Writing an industry update when Altman was hired into Microsoft’s AI research team shortly after his initial OpenAI departure, GlobalData senior analyst Beatriz Valle wrote that the events of Altman’s sudden departure and the subsequent drama that ensued highlight OpenAI’s unusual legal structure.
“OpenAI is controlled by its non-profit board, which has no fiduciary obligations toward stakeholders or investors,” Valle explained, “… the company also attracted headlines when it started talks with investors to seek a valuation of $86bn, an unusually high figure for a startup with a history of low revenue sales.”