Microsoft hires former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman

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Microsoft is hiring former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and co-founder Greg Brockman. Altman was fired from OpenAI on Friday, after the board said it “no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.” After a weekend of negotiations to potentially bring Altman back to OpenAI, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced both Sam Altman and Greg Brockman will be joining Microsoft’s new advanced AI research team.

“We’re extremely excited to share the news that Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team,” says Nadella. “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Altman acknowledged he was joining Microsoft by reposting Nadella with the message “the mission continues.” Nadella responded by providing some hints at how he sees Altman’s new CEO role at Microsoft. “We’ve learned a lot over the years about how to give founders and innovators space to build independent identities and cultures within Microsoft, including GitHub, Mojang Studios, and LinkedIn, and I’m looking forward to having you do the same.”

Microsoft typically only assigns a CEO title to leaders of separate or big businesses inside the software giant. Xbox chief Phil Spencer was named Microsoft Gaming CEO recently, with Microsoft using or continuing CEO positions for a number of its acquisitions, including GitHub, LinkedIn, Mojang, and Activision Blizzard. This could hint at bigger plans for Microsoft’s new advanced AI research team.

Brockman has also revealed that the new team at Microsoft will include some key OpenAI talent. Jakub Pachocki, director of research at OpenAI, will join an unnamed leadership position in Microsoft’s advanced AI research team. OpenAI research scientist Szymon Sidor and head of preparedness Aleksander Madry are also joining Microsoft in leadership positions, according to Brockman. OpenAI employees are also posting “OpenAI is nothing without its people” to X in a sign of more resignations to come.

Altman’s hiring comes just hours after negotiations with OpenAI’s board failed to bring him back as OpenAI CEO. Instead, former Twitch CEO and co-founder Emmett Shear has been named interim CEO. He will take over for Mira Murati, who was named interim OpenAI CEO following Altman’s shock firing on Friday.

Altman had been negotiating to return as OpenAI CEO, but OpenAI’s four-person board refused to step down and let him return, according to multiple sources speaking to The Verge. He had reportedly been pitching a separate startup to build custom, Nvidia-rivaling AI tensor processing unit (TPU) chips to investors recently, according to The New York Times. The TPU project was codenamed “Tigris,” attracting a number of prominent venture firms and even interest from Microsoft.

Microsoft’s new advanced AI research team, led by Altman and Brockman, comes just a week after Microsoft announced it has built its own custom AI chip that can be used to train large language models and potentially avoid a costly reliance on Nvidia. Microsoft has also built its own Arm-based CPU for cloud workloads. Both custom silicon chips are designed to power its Azure data centers.

A person holding Microsoft’s Azure Maia 100 AI chip
Microsoft’s new custom AI chip.Image: Microsoft

Altman and OpenAI had been working with Microsoft to refine and test the Maia AI chip. Microsoft was quick to downplay the chip’s impact on its close Nvidia partnership, but the Maia GPU is part of a series, and the company is already working on a second generation.

Microsoft still has a “multibillion dollar investment” in OpenAI, rumored to be worth around $10 billion. Microsoft is the exclusive cloud partner for OpenAI, and Microsoft’s cloud services power all OpenAI workloads across products, API services, and research.

“We remain committed to our partnership with OpenAI and have confidence in our product roadmap, our ability to continue to innovate with everything we announced at Microsoft Ignite, and in continuing to support our customers and partners,” Nadella said in his statement. “We look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI’s new leadership team and working with them.”

Update November 20th, 3:28AM ET: Article updated with additional details from Satya Nadella on Altman’s hiring.

Update November 20th, 4:33AM ET: Article updated with more details on Microsoft’s new AI team and confirmation of OpenAI’s new CEO, Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear.

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