Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave his first televised statements Monday after a bizarre weekend that involved the ousting of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, but his comments did little to clear up the confusion.
Despite Microsoft announcing in a statement on Sunday that Altman and fellow AI guru Greg Brockman were “joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team,” those moves now appear to be in question.
Nadella told CNBC’s Jon Fortt on Monday evening that he’s “committed to OpenAI and Sam, irrespective of what configuration,” but would not go into details.
“Obviously we want Sam and Greg to have a fantastic home if they’re not going to be in OpenAI and all the colleagues at Microsoft, but I’m exactly where I was Friday morning,” he added.
When asked how clear it was if Altman was coming to Microsoft, Nadella appeared to acknowledge that it’s possible the ex-CEO may be on his way back to his old gig at OpenAI.
“Look, that is for OpenAI board and management and the employees to choose,” he said. “I care about us making sure that we can continue to innovate. I feel very very confident. Quite frankly, Microsoft has all the capability to just do that on our own but we chose to explicitly partner with OpenAI and we want to continue to do so and that obviously depends on the people.”
OpenAI’s turmoil has left Nadella in a sticky situation. Microsoft is one of OpenAI’s largest investors, but he stands to gain Altman, a pioneer in artificial intelligence, at Microsoft if OpenAI doesn’t have him back.
Hundreds of OpenAI employees signed and sent a letter over the weekend to the company’s board that demanded Altman be reinstated as CEO—threatening to join their former boss at Microsoft if their decision wasn’t reversed ASAP.
Nadella continued to walk a tightrope when discussing the employment choices of OpenAI’s employees, saying it’s up to them whether they move to Microsoft or stay put.
“I’m open to both options,” he said.
Nadella insisted the ordeal has not led to any long-term damage at OpenAI, adding that its artificial intelligence research is ongoing, as is its partnership with Microsoft. He did indicate that he’d like to see a change in governance at OpenAI, however.
“At this point, I think it’s very clear that something has to change,” he said.
His comments did little to clear up confusion about what Altman’s supposed role within Microsoft is, and where Brockman—who was OpenAI’s chairman—might eventually end up.
In a subsequent interview with Bloomberg on Monday, Nadella said Brockman and Altman were only in the “process of joining” Microsoft. He wouldn’t confirm if they’re currently considered to be on staff or not.
Adding to the confusion was social media posts by Altman, who said that he and Nadella’s “top priority” is ensuring that OpenAI continues to thrive.
“We are committed to fully providing continuity of operations to our partners and customers,” he posted to X, formerly Twitter, on Monday afternoon. “The OpenAI/Microsoft partnership makes this very doable.”