Sam Altman’s firing not related to safety, says Microsoft’s Brad Smith

  • When Sam Altman was removed as CEO from OpenAI, the burning question was simply, why?
  • Many believed that Altman's appetite for AI development was becoming too risky
  • Microsoft president Brad Smith recently said he doubts this is the case
Microsoft OpenAI

Microsoft President Brad Smith addressed the turmoil at OpenAI, clarifying that the issues leading to Sam Altman’s dismissal and subsequent reinstatement were unrelated to AI safety. 

Smith told the BBC, “It wasn’t fundamentally about a concern like that,” dismissing speculations that the dismissal was due to a dangerous discovery at the AI firm.

Numerous allegations were hurled across OpenAI in the midst of the turbulent week. There was talk that OpenAI was sitting on a potentially risky model named Q*, but this hasn’t amounted to much and is likely just hype and hearsay. 

However, the general vibe from within OpenAI was that Altman was perhaps laissez-faire about model development at a company whose founding principles are to develop safe AI for the benefit of all humanity – bold intentions indeed. 

In the end, it’s not been officially confirmed or denied by OpenAI that safety was the big issue that drove a wedge between Altman and the board. 

OpenAI’s relationship with Microsoft runs deep, and the company was pretty close to acquiring Altman and co-founder Greg Brockman, along with some 700+ employees, who threatened to leave OpenAI if Altman wasn’t reinstated.

Despite rumors suggesting a disagreement over AI safety, Smith emphasized this was not the case. He stated, “I don’t think that is the case at all. I think there obviously was a divergence between the board and others.” Smith further highlighted the continued partnership between OpenAI and Microsoft, affirming its strength

The incident has drawn attention from numerous tech leaders, including Elon Musk, who expressed mixed feelings about the situation and raised concerns over the board’s decision-making process. 

Musk said that, ultimately, OpenAI remaining separate from Microsoft is the best outcome, as this prevents power in the industry from being siloed further.

Microsoft gains non-voting observer seat at OpenAI’s board

Microsoft has gained a non-voting observer seat on OpenAI’s board, coinciding with the official reinstatement of Sam Altman as CEO of OpenAI. This announcement on November 30, 2023, reflects the evolving dynamics between Microsoft and OpenAI.

OpenAI’s board reshuffle now includes Bret Taylor as chair, alongside Larry Summers and former board member Adam D’Angelo. The addition of Microsoft as a “non-voting observer” marks a new phase of transparency and involvement for the tech giant within OpenAI, but the jury is out as to what this really means for either party. 

Altman, in an official memo to OpenAI employees upon reinstatement, expressed his enthusiasm and gratitude.

He said, “I have never been more excited about the future. 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. I feel so, so good about our probability of success for achieving our mission.”

He also praised the loyalty and support of OpenAI’s customers, noting, “The fact that we did not lose a single customer will drive us to work even harder for you.”

Altman outlined three immediate priorities for OpenAI: advancing their research and safety efforts, improving and deploying their products, and working closely with the new board on governance and an independent review of recent events. Maybe then we’ll know why Altman was fired. 

He expressed confidence in the organization’s future, stating, “I am so looking forward to finishing the job of building beneficial AGI with you all—best team in the world, best mission in the world.”

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