By COURTNEY BONNELL and MATT O'BRIEN
AP Business Writers
Microsoft on Monday hired two leading executives from the company that created ChatGPT after one of them was abruptly fired by OpenAI, the startup whose chatbot kicked off the era of generative artificial intelligence.
The developments followed a weekend of drama that shocked the AI field and fueled speculation about the future of OpenAI, which named a new chief executive on Friday and then replaced her on Sunday. The newest CEO vowed to investigate the firing of co-founder and CEO Sam Altman, one of the world's most sought-after experts on AI.
Microsoft, which has been a close partner of the company and invested billions of dollars in it, announced that Altman and OpenAI's former president, Greg Brockman, would lead its new advanced AI research team. Brockman, also an OpenAI co-founder, quit in protest after Altman was fired.
Many more OpenAI employees threatened to join them at Microsoft in an open letter addressed to OpenAI's board that called for its resignation and Altman's return.
"If the architects and vision and brains behind these products have now left, the company will be a shell of what it once was," said Sarah Kreps, director of Cornell University's Tech Policy Institute. "All of that brain trust going to Microsoft will then mean that these impressive tools will be coming out of Microsoft. It will be hard to see OpenAI continue to thrive as a company."
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he was "extremely excited" to bring on the pair and looked "forward to getting to know" the new management team at OpenAI.
In a reply on X, Altman said "the mission continues." Brockman posted: "We are going to build something new & it will be incredible."
Altman later added that his top priority with Nadella is to ensure that OpenAI "continues to thrive" and that it is committed to "fully providing continuity of operations to our partners and customers."
OpenAI said Friday that Altman was pushed out after a review found he was "not consistently candid in his communications" with the board of directors, which had lost confidence in his ability to lead the company.
Originally started as a nonprofit, and still governed as one, OpenAI's stated mission is to safely build AI that is "generally smarter than humans." Debates have swirled around that goal and whether it conflicts with the company's increasing commercial success.
OpenAI last week declined to answer questions about Altman's alleged lack of candor. The company's statement said his behavior was hindering the board's ability to exercise its responsibilities.
Hundreds of OpenAI employees signed a letter that began circulating early Monday calling for the board's resignation and Altman's return and threatening to follow Altman and Brockman to Microsoft, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Associated Press.
The copy showed that the number of signatures amounted to a majority of the company's 770 employees. The AP was not able to independently confirm that all of the signatures were from OpenAI employees.
"Everyone at OpenAI is united," one of the signatories, research scientist Noam Brown, said on X. "This is not a civil war. Unless Sam and Greg are brought back, there will be no OpenAI left to govern."
A company spokesperson confirmed that the board received the letter.
Altman helped catapult ChatGPT to global fame based on its ability to respond to questions and produce human-like passages of text in a seemingly natural way.
In the past year, he has become Silicon Valley's most in-demand voice on the promise and potential dangers of artificial intelligence.
Earlier this year, he went on a world tour to meet with government officials, drawing big crowds at public events as he discussed the risks of AI and attempts to regulate the emerging technology.
But as money poured into OpenAI this year, helping to advance its development of more capable AI, it also brought more conflict around whether that fast pace of commercialization fit with the startup's founding vision, said Kreps, the Cornell University professor. But rather than slow that pace, Altman's ouster may simply shift it out of OpenAI.
Altman "really has a walk-on-water aura, and I think a lot of it is well deserved," Kreps said. "He's the one who has attracted the investment, and he'll do that wherever it is."