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Microsoft secures nonvoting board seat at OpenAI

Sam Altman, chief executive officer (CEO) of OpenAI and inventor of the AI software ChatGPT, joins the Technical University of Munich (TUM) for a panel discussion. 

Sven Hoppe | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Microsoft will have a nonvoting board seat at OpenAI, the company announced Wednesday.

The move quells some of the remaining questions about Microsoft’s interest in the startup after a turbulent month that saw the company’s controlling nonprofit board fire and then rehire CEO Sam Altman.

OpenAI’s outlook has been intertwined with Microsoft since the software giant invested $13 billion into OpenAI and integrated its AI models into Office and other Microsoft programs. Previously, Microsoft did not have official representation on the board of directors that controlled the startup, allowing it to be surprised when Altman was first fired.

“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 said in a note to staff posted on OpenAI’s website.

Altman commended the team and said OpenAI did not lose any employees in the upheaval.

“Now that we’re through all of this, we didn’t lose a single employee. You stood firm for each other, this company, and our mission,” Altman wrote.

Altman said in his note that a board of directors — including former Salesforce CEO Bret Taylor, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo — would build out a new board of directors for the startup.

Mira Murati, who had been OpenAI’s chief technology officer and was briefly named interim CEO earlier this month, is the company’s CTO once again, and Greg Brockman has returned as OpenAI president.

Taylor, who will lead the new board, said in a message posted on OpenAI’s website that he was focused on “strengthening OpenAI’s corporate governance.” In a subsequent post on X, formerly Twitter, Taylor said he would leave the board after it’s fully staffed and the company is stabilized.

“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 declined to identify the person who will join OpenAI board meetings but will not have a vote.

Who’s on the board

Most board members, including co-founder and Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, who were serving at the time Altman was removed, have left the board, except for D’Angelo.

The reasons for Altman’s firing remain unclear. While the board cited a lack of transparency, issues over so-called AI safety and debates over whether the company should slow down its development of powerful AI it calls AGI could have been a factor.

Helen Toner, who had been an OpenAI board member since 2021, resigned from her role Wednesday. In a post on X, she wrote: “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 been a director of strategy for Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology for nearly five years, and also has spent time at the University of Oxford’s Center for the Governance of AI. She has also given a talk to the effective altruism community and been involved in its discussion forum.

“Building AI systems that are safe, reliable, fair, and interpretable is an enormous open problem,” Toner told the Journal of Political Risk last year. “Organizations building and deploying AI will also have to recognize that beating their competitors to market — or to the battlefield — is to no avail if the systems they’re fielding are buggy, hackable, or unpredictable.”

In a post on X, Altman mentioned Toner’s resignation and seemed to confirm Tasha McCauley’s as well. McCauley, who had been an OpenAI board member since 2018, is an adjunct senior management scientist at Rand Corp.

“The best interests of the company and the mission always come first,” Altman wrote in a post on X. “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.”

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