Who runs OpenAI? Sunday evening in the United States, the answer seemed clear. Two days after dismissing Sam Altman for unclear reasons, the board of directors of the company behind ChatGPT appointed Emmett Shear, former director of the video platform Twitch, to replace him on an interim basis. Microsoft, for its part, announced that it was hiring Sam Altman to head a new entity focused on advanced research in AI. But twenty-four hours later, nothing is certain. And it is not impossible that Sam Altman ends up getting his job back.
The Verge was the first to report that OpenAI co-founder and ex-president Greg Brockman had not given up the fight. Both wish to return to the helm, provided that the four directors who voted for their dismissal resign. One of them, scientific director Ilya Sutskever, already made an about-face on Monday. If two other directors withdraw, the game will be won for the old management.
“I deeply regret having participated in the decision of the board of directors. I never wanted to harm OpenAI,” published Ilya Sutskever on the social network , in tears, to change his mind. He was the officiant at their wedding ceremony in 2019.
The three remaining directors are subject to other pressures. Almost all of OpenAI's 770 employees signed an open letter on Monday threatening to join Sam Altman at Microsoft if the latter is not reinstated in his duties. This would mean draining OpenAI of its brains and making it an empty shell, at least temporarily. At the same time, some OpenAI investors are considering suing the board of directors and have started approaching law firms to explore their options. According to The Information, around a hundred OpenAI customers, worried about the turn of events, approached its competitors Anthropic, Cohere, and Google Cloud.
But what does Microsoft think of all this? Its general director Satya Nadella conducted numerous interviews on Monday night with Bloomberg, CNBC and with American tech journalist Kara Swisher. He hammered home the same message: whether Sam Altman ends up at Microsoft or OpenAI, we will have to make a clean sweep of the current governance of the AI champion. “Surprises are not pleasant,” and Microsoft “wants changes in governance. “For such decisions to be made without you being in the loop is not good,” he explained on Bloomberg.
The company is in fact supervised by administrators belonging to the “non-profit” branch of OpenAI, who are not accountable to investors. Their mission is to ensure that the company does not drift from its original mission, which is to build safe “super intelligence” for humanity. In short, to favor fundamental research over rushed commercial developments.
As for the future of Sam Altman, Satya Nadella says he is “open to both scenarios”. “It will be up to the board of directors to decide, and up to the employees to choose what they want to do,” he said on CNBC.