OpenAI employees threatened an exodus that threatened the company’s future.

CEO Sam Altman, who was fired after more than 700 of his 770 employees signed a letter on Monday, says OpenAI’s future is in jeopardy if he isn’t installed at the top artificial intelligence startup. .

One of the board members who pushed Altman on Friday reversed course on Monday and signed the letter on an internal message board, three people familiar with the matter said.

Board member Ilya Sutskever posted on social media X, formerly known as Twitter, “I am very sorry to be involved in the actions of the board.”

The ousting of Mr. Altman by the four-member board — which he said was disloyal to him but did not say how — kicked off a weekend of corporate pranks in which Mr. Altman joined Microsoft for a fresh start. AI project. Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in OpenAI, essentially owns a 49 percent stake in the company.

The staff letter calls for Mr. Altman’s reinstatement, and Microsoft has assured OpenAI employees that all positions are available if they choose to join the new AI branch.

OpenAI and Microsoft declined to comment. Emmett Shear, whom OpenAI’s board named interim CEO late Sunday, told reporters Monday that he could not comment because he was on another call.

The turmoil throws into doubt the future of one of the fastest-growing companies in Silicon Valley history. As the industry grapples with mass layoffs, OpenAI technology has spawned hundreds of startups. Many businesses are now concerned about their future.

“This is a decade of failure,” said Gaurav Oberoi, founder of Lexion, a startup that relies on OpenAI to help companies streamline legal, sales and vendor contracts. It’s a lesson in how to destroy a huge amount of value and their own reputation overnight.

Earlier Monday, in a 530-word post on X, Mr. Shear said he planned to hire an independent investigator to review the details before and after Mr. Altman was fired. He is committed to gathering insights from employees, partners and investors that he says will inform how he rebuilds the company’s leadership team.

“I believe it will take more than a month to get real growth,” said Mr. Shear, the former CEO of live-streaming site Twitch. Later that day, Mr. Shear spoke to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

During an appearance on Bloomberg TV on Monday, Mr. Nadella said his message to Mr. Shear was clear. “Hey, look, we’re going to remain very, very committed to OpenAI and the mission and the roadmap, and they can count on us,” Mr. Nadella said.

In the swift movement, the change of heart described by Mr. Sutskever is one of the most striking. “I never intended to harm OpenAI,” OpenAI co-founder Mr. Sutskever said in an X post with Mr. Altman and its chief scientist. He can put the company back together.” Mr. Altman He posted the message again And added three red hearts.

Mr. Sutskever did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to Mr. Altman, several key OpenAI employees have joined Microsoft’s new AI subsidiary. That includes Greg Brockman, president of OpenAI, who left the startup together after Mr. Altman was ousted. In a post to X on Monday morning, Mr. Brockman said that he and Mr. Altman will be joined by three other OpenAI researchers, Jakub Pacocki, Szymon Sidor and Alexander Madry, at Microsoft.

Mr. Pachocki developed the GPT-4 technology that underpins OpenAI’s popular chatbot ChatGPT. In the year He worked closely with Brockman, an engineer who co-founded OpenAI with Mr. Altman in 2015, and has been deeply involved in all aspects of the company since its early days.

OpenAI employees were in turmoil within hours of the board announcing Mr. Altman’s resignation, two OpenAI employees told The New York Times. The crew was privately sharing bad jokes and memories about power struggles from the HBO show “Success.” Many used private group message chats and video calls to plan their next move — and to bond with each other.

And the challenge for Mr. Shear to win his credibility as chief executive quickly became clear. Most OpenAI employees skipped an all-hands video call Sunday night to introduce Mr. Shear, and some responded to the meeting with lewd emojis, a person familiar with the matter said.

OpenAI still maintains its partnership with Microsoft. Microsoft CEO Mr. Nadella told X on Monday morning that Microsoft will continue to work with the startup to sell products and services based on GPT-4 and other OpenAI technologies.

But if the majority of OpenAI employees leave for Microsoft, it will be difficult for the startup to build the next generation of AI technologies – more powerful systems than ChatGPT. Other companies, including Google and Meta, are working on such technologies.

Lexion’s Mr. Oberoi said his company has been using OpenAI’s large language models, or LLMs, to create new features because its AI technologies are more advanced than anything else on the market. But in this weekend’s upheaval, the company said Lexion will develop features in parallel with its Anthropic OPAI rival so that it can “change quickly if needed.”

“This underscores a big conversation going on: Are you going to build your technology and platforms and key features on third-party LLMs?” Mr. Oberoi said. “As a developer of their products, I worry if there are other sudden decisions that could affect our model. Also, the price is very expensive.

On Monday morning, Mr. Altman tried to please OpenAI’s customers. In a post to X, a priority for Mr. Nadella and himself is that OpenAI continues to grow. “We are fully committed to providing our partners and customers with ongoing operations,” he wrote.

“We all work together in one way or another, and I’m so excited,” he wrote in another post on X. “One team, one mission.”

Karen Weiss Contribution reporting.

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