Will Sam Altman join Microsoft? Satya Nadella seems to know
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced late last night that former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman will join Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team, an announcement that sent Microsoft stock prices soaring. And now, less than 24 hours later, we’re on the edge Sam Altman is reportedly still trying to return to the role of CEO of OpenAI, and Nadella doesn’t seem so sure about that.
“(We’re) committed to OpenAI and Sam, regardless of configuration,” Nadella said in an interview with CNBC’s John Forte, adding that Microsoft “has chosen to partner explicitly with OpenAI (and) that obviously depends on the people at OpenAI staying there or Coming to Microsoft, so I’m open to both options.” Nadella added: “Obviously we want Sam and Greg to have a great home if they’re not (at) OpenAI, with all the colleagues at Microsoft, but I’m exactly where I was on Friday morning.”
On Friday morning, Nadella woke up and Sam Altman was still OpenAI’s CEO and had a close partnership with the company. Hours later, OpenAI’s board chose to fire Sam Altman in a shock decision, and it sure seems like Nadella is wishing he could hit the reset button again on Friday morning.
When pressed on whether Altman and the hundreds of OpenAI employees threatening to quit would actually join Microsoft, Nadella responded, “That’s up to OpenAI’s board, management, and employees to choose,” before clarifying that Microsoft already has its own AI capabilities, a message It’s clearly intended to calm nervous investors and anxious OpenAI customers.
In an interview with Bloomberg Television just moments later, anchor Emily Chang tried to get more out of Nadella in announcing the hiring of Altman and Brockman. Are they actually Microsoft employees? “So they’re all in the process of joining,” Nadella replied, before quickly turning to Microsoft’s work in AI again.
Reading between the lines of these tense interviews, it’s clear that Nadella wants what Altman and hundreds of OpenAI employees want: the departure of the OpenAI board. He didn’t say it outright, but he was more willing to talk about Bloomberg Television’s board changes than the possibility of Sam Altman becoming an actual Microsoft employee:
I think we would definitely like some changes in management. Surprises are bad and we just want to make sure things are done in a way that allows the partnership to continue well. This idea that changes happen suddenly somehow without you being in the loop is not good and we will certainly ensure that some of the changes that are needed happen and we will continue to be able to keep up with the partnership with OpenAI.
I reported earlier today that Sam Altman has not yet appeared in Microsoft’s corporate directory, according to multiple sources. This isn’t too surprising given that Microsoft’s HR and onboarding operations aren’t set up for 24-hour emergency deals, but Microsoft also hasn’t detailed the appointment to employees in any internal, company-wide memos yet. If Altman fully joins Microsoft, he will have the CEO title within Microsoft, which is typically reserved for leaders of large divisions like Microsoft Gaming, or acquired companies like LinkedIn and GitHub.
So it looks like Sam Altman is ready to continue as CEO. Whether it’s at Microsoft or OpenAI is still a question.