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The Inside Story of Microsoft's Partnership with OpenAI

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Microsoft hadnt been at the forefront of the technology industry in years, but its alliance with OpenAI had allowed the computer giant to leap over such rivals as Google and Amazon.

Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s chief technology officer, says of releasing A.I. software, “You have to experiment in public.”

Credit: Todd St. John

At around 11:30 a.m. on the Friday before Thanksgiving, Microsoft's chief executive, Satya Nadella, was having his weekly meeting with senior leaders when a panicked colleague told him to pick up the phone. An executive from OpenAI, an artificial-intelligence startup into which Microsoft had invested a reported thirteen billion dollars, was calling to explain that within the next twenty minutes the company's board would announce that it had fired Sam Altman, OpenAI's C.E.O. and co-founder. It was the start of a five-day crisis that some people at Microsoft began calling the Turkey-Shoot Clusterfuck.

Nadella has an easygoing demeanor, but he was so flabbergasted that for a moment he didn't know what to say. He'd worked closely with Altman for more than four years and had grown to admire and trust him. Moreover, their collaboration had just led to Microsoft's biggest rollout in a decade: a fleet of cutting-edge A.I. assistants that had been built on top of OpenAI's technology and integrated into Microsoft's core productivity programs, such as Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint. These assistants—essentially specialized and more powerful versions of OpenAI's heralded ChatGPT—were known as the Office Copilots.

Unbeknownst to Nadella, however, relations between Altman and OpenAI's board had become troubled. Some of the board's six members found Altman manipulative and conniving—qualities common among tech C.E.O.s but rankling to board members who had backgrounds in academia or in nonprofits. "They felt Sam had lied," a person familiar with the board's discussions said. These tensions were now exploding in Nadella's face, threatening a crucial partnership.

From The New Yorker
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