On Wednesday, OpenAI announced that Microsoft will now have a seat on the board at OpenAI, but it won’t include voting rights.
This decision helps clear up some uncertainty about Microsoft’s involvement with OpenAI, especially after a tumultuous month where the nonprofit board of OpenAI initially fired and then re-hired CEO Sam Altman.
Microsoft’s Integral Role in OpenAI
Microsoft’s connection with OpenAI has been close ever since the software giant invested $13 billion in OpenAI and incorporated its AI models into Microsoft Office and other programs. Before this, Microsoft didn’t officially have a say on the board that manages OpenAI, which led to surprises when Altman was initially let go.
Sam Altman expressed confidence in the decision to partner with Microsoft, stating in a message to OpenAI staff on the organization’s website, “We clearly made the right choice to partner with Microsoft, and I’m excited that our new board will include them as a non-voting observer.”
Altman praised the team and highlighted that OpenAI didn’t lose any employees during the recent changes.
“In going through all of this, we didn’t lose a single employee. You stood strong for each other, this company, and our mission,” Altman stated.
Leadership Changes and Future Plans at OpenAI
Altman mentioned in his message that a new board of directors would be formed, featuring individuals like former Salesforce CEO Bret Taylor, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo.
Mira Murati, who previously served as OpenAI’s CTO and briefly held the position of interim CEO earlier this month, is now back as the company’s CTO. Greg Brockman has also returned as OpenAI’s president.
Taylor, set to lead the new board, expressed his dedication to “enhancing OpenAI’s corporate governance” in a message shared on OpenAI’s website. In a follow-up post on X (formerly Twitter), Taylor mentioned that he plans to step down from the board once it’s fully staffed and the company stabilizes.
“As I have communicated to board colleagues and management, when these transitional tasks have been completed, I intend to step away and leave the oversight of OpenAI in the good hands of board colleagues,” Taylor tweeted.
A Microsoft spokesperson chose not to disclose the identity of the individual attending OpenAI board meetings without voting rights.
Who’s on the Board
Most of the board members, including co-founder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who were serving when Altman was removed, have stepped down from their positions, with the exception of D’Angelo.
The reasons behind Altman’s dismissal are not entirely clear. While the board mentioned a lack of transparency, concerns related to “AI safety” and debates over whether the company should ease the pace of developing powerful AI known as AGI might have played a role.
Board Resignations at OpenAI
Helen Toner, an OpenAI board member since 2021, resigned from her role on Wednesday. In a post on X, she clarified, “To be clear: our decision was about the board’s ability to effectively supervise the company, which was our role and responsibility. Though there has been speculation, we were not motivated by a desire to slow down OpenAI’s work.”
Toner has served as the director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology for nearly five years. Additionally, she has experience at the University of Oxford’s Center for the Governance of AI. Toner has also addressed the effective altruism community through a talk and participated in its discussion forum.
Discussing the challenges, Toner highlighted, “Creating AI systems that are safe, reliable, fair, and interpretable is a significant ongoing challenge.” She stated the importance for organizations developing and deploying AI to acknowledge that rushing ahead of competitors, whether in the market or on the battlefield, is futile if the systems they introduce are flawed, vulnerable, or unpredictable.
Altman, in a post on X, acknowledged Toner’s resignation and appeared to confirm Tasha McCauley’s departure as well. McCauley, an OpenAI board member since 2018, holds the position of an adjunct senior management scientist at Rand Corporation.
Altman stated on X, “The best interests of the company and the mission always come first. It is clear that there were real misunderstandings between me and members of the board. For my part, it is incredibly important to learn from this experience and apply those learnings as we move forward as a company. I welcome the board’s independent review of all recent events. I am thankful to Helen and Tasha for their contributions to the strength of OpenAI.”
Microsoft now has a seat on OpenAI’s board without voting rights, clarifying their involvement after recent upheaval. CEO Sam Altman is positive about the partnership, praising the team’s resilience. Changes include a new board and returning executives. Helen Toner’s resignation highlights the importance of effective supervision, adding complexity to recent events.