SAN FRANCISCO - Hundreds of people who worked at the artificial intelligence startup, Open AI are threatening to leave the company after their CEO was unexpectedly fired on Friday. Overnight, Microsoft announced it had hired the ousted Sam Altman to be the head of its AI research division.
"Part of why any of us should care is not because some billionaire white dude is working for another company," said freelance tech reporter Ian Sherr. "This matters because this technology is about the future of how many of us will interact with computers," he said.
San Francisco-based open AI is the artificial intelligence tech company that created ChatGPT.
The popular app launched just about a year ago, and has hundreds of millions of users - from regular people, to multi-million dollar corporations.
Altman was its CEO and public face of the company. He was abruptly fired with few details about why, on Friday.
The company's president, Greg Brockman, later quit in solidarity with Altman.
"There's no question a number of startups were building their technology on top of ChatGPT's technology. So part of the question becomes, what happens to all these people? What happens to their futures?" Sherr said.
That question was answered at 12:30 a.m. Monday, when Microsoft announced it was hiring Altman and Brockman to lead a new Artificial Intelligence research division at that company.
In response, 500 employees of OpenAI, sent a letter to their board, calling board members to resign and reinstate Altman, or they would all follow him to Microsoft.
Part of the letter said, "Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI."
"That's very significant," said San Jose State University technology professor, Ahmed Banafa. "How many companies will you see employees that loyal to the CEO? That means he's the leader and they will continue with him. There is no way for the CEO and the current board to exist at the same company," he said.
One of the big unanswered questions is why Altman was fired in the first place.
The OpenAI board offered a statement over the weekend that said Altman was not "transparent" with them, but offered no other details.
"Imagine Steve Jobs being fired right before the iPhone was released, or right after it was released. That is what this feels like, for a lot of people in the tech industry," said Sherr.
After 500 of the company's 700 employees threatened to leave, OpenAI's co-founder and chief scientist, who was among the four board members who initially fired Altman, said he regretted the decision.
In a social media post this morning, Ilya Sutskever said: "I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we've built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company."
Whether that's possible is unclear.
Regardless of what happens, Microsoft may be the biggest beneficiary of this shakeup.
Prior to Altman's firing, Microsoft had been one of OpenAI's biggest investors, having poured $13 billion into the company.
Unless there are any other dramatic changes, OpenAI's leadership and possibly hundreds of its researchers and engineers, will be working for Microsoft, based in Washington state, instead of at OpenAI in San Francisco.