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Read Microsoft’s internal memos about the chaos at OpenAI

Read Microsoft’s internal memos about the chaos at OpenAI


Microsoft CTO and EVP of AI Kevin Scott addresses colleagues about the turmoil of the past few days.

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Photo by Berke Bayur/Anadolu via Getty Images

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, OpenAI announced that Sam Altman is returning as CEO, following a shock firing on Friday. Over the weekend, it looked like Altman and OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman might end up at Microsoft, leading a new AI research lab. But after days of negotiation, that’s no longer the case and OpenAI has appointed a new board of directors and brought back Altman as CEO of the company.

After a weekend of chaotic scenes, including hundreds of OpenAI employees threatening to quit and join Microsoft, things seem to be settling down. Microsoft CTO and EVP of AI Kevin Scott has now addressed Microsoft employees about the OpenAI turmoil. It’s the first company-wide communication to Microsoft employees about the situation, beyond CEO Satya Nadella’s announcement of Altman’s hiring not hiring on Sunday and the initial reaction to the news on Friday.

The Verge has obtained the memo, posted to Microsoft’s internal employee forum. Here it is in full:

As you’ve likely seen by now, OpenAI has appointed a new board of directors. Sam Altman and Greg Brockman have agreed to return to OpenAI with Sam as CEO. The events of the past few days have been uncertain for our colleagues at OpenAI, and of intense interest to many others. Throughout, nothing has changed or wavered about our resolve and focus to deliver the world’s best Al technology platforms and products to our customers and partners. We will continue to support our colleagues at OpenAI and the phenomenal work they’ve been doing alongside us in service of that mission. As we have for these past 4+ years, we look forward to continuing our work with Sam and his team.

Despite the potential of the past few days to distract us, both Microsoft and OpenAI scientists and engineers have been working with undiminished urgency. Since Friday, Azure has deployed new Al compute, our newly formed MSR Al Frontiers organization published their new cutting-edge research Orca 2, and OpenAI continued to ship product like the new voice features in ChatGPT that rolled out yesterday. Any of these things alone would have been the accomplishment of a quarter for normal teams. Three such achievements in a week, with a major US holiday and with a huge amount of noise surrounding us, speaks volumes to the commitment, focus, and sense of urgency that everyone has. It is both humbling and inspiring to be part of such an amazing team at Microsoft, and to have the privilege of working with the team at OpenAI.

On behalf of the SLT [senior leadership team], thank you all for your resolve, and to the huge number of people who went above and beyond over the past few days to help in so many ways: we are enormously grateful.

Shortly after Scott’s memo, Nadella also took to X (formerly Twitter) to share some Thanksgiving words and praise OpenAI and Microsoft employees. But in a post on Microsoft’s internal company forum, he expanded on his message and noted that AI “is only a tool” that is “a means, not an end.”

Here’s Nadella’s internal message in full:

This week, many of us will pause to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, and I want to take a moment to say a big thank you to each of you for your hard work and contributions to our company. The pace of innovation that you have driven has been remarkable, especially during a time of so much continued hardship and uncertainty in the world. But technology, including Al, is only a tool. It’s a means, not an end. And, ultimately, our end is our mission to empower people and organizations all over the planet — one individual, one community, one country at a time. At the end of the day, the greatest privilege of my job is working with people who are driven by mission. There is no better example of this than this past 5 days, when I saw people across the company remaining focused on our mission and serving our customers and partners, stepping up to help in every way possible. This is what I’m especially thankful for going into the Thanksgiving holiday. I am deeply grateful for what you do every day and the difference it makes in the world. I feel lucky to count all of you as colleagues. To those who celebrate, have a great Thanksgiving

I’ve personally spent the past few days trying to figure out where Altman would have even fit into Microsoft’s org structure. Nadella referred to his potential position as CEO, which is typically reserved for leaders of big divisions or those who arrive at Microsoft following an acquisition. Would Altman have taken a seat on the senior leadership team? Would he have reported directly to Nadella? All of this was never clear, especially amid reports that Microsoft was preparing for an influx of OpenAI employees by readying office space and computers.

Scott doesn’t even address the fact Microsoft said it was creating a “new advanced AI research team,” nor the fact that Altman won’t actually be joining the company. It’s like Microsoft has helped hit the reset button back to Friday morning, something I thought Nadella was hinting at when he appeared in two TV interviews earlier this week.

Nadella’s appearances on Bloomberg TV and CNBC on Monday made it clear that Microsoft was happy for Altman and Brockman to return to OpenAI. “[We’re] committed to OpenAI and Sam, irrespective of what configuration,” said Nadella in his CNBC interview, adding that Microsoft “chose to explicitly partner with OpenAI [and] obviously that depends on the people at OpenAI staying there or coming to Microsoft, so I’m open to both options.”

Kevin Scott, who sent today’s memo, heads up Microsoft’s AI efforts. Was there really ever room for two senior AI leaders inside Microsoft? I guess now we’ll never know.

Update, November 22nd 1:50PM ET: Article updated with Satya Nadella’s own memo to employees.