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Report: After Altman firing, OpenAI tried to merge with rival—and was rejected

Enlarge / Anthropic CEO Dario Amodei on Tuesday, July 25, 2023, during a hearing on AI held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law.

Getty Images | Bloomberg

After firing CEO Sam Altman, OpenAI’s board of directors reached out to the CEO of its rival, Anthropic, to propose a merger, but the proposal was quickly rejected, according to news reports. The board approached Anthropic co-founder and CEO Dario Amodei “about a potential merger of the two companies” as “part of an effort by OpenAI to persuade Amodei to replace Altman as CEO,” The Information reported yesterday, citing “a person with direct knowledge” of the contact.

“It’s not clear whether the merger proposal led to any serious discussion. Amodei quickly turned down the CEO offer due to his position at Anthropic,” The Information wrote.

The report was subsequently confirmed by Reuters. “OpenAI’s board of directors approached rival Anthropic’s CEO about replacing chief Sam Altman and potentially merging the two AI startups, according to two people briefed on the matter,” Reuters wrote. “Anthropic CEO Dario Amodei declined on both fronts, the people said.”

We contacted OpenAI and Anthropic today and will update this article if we get any response.

Amodei worked for OpenAI for over four years and co-founded Anthropic in 2021. Amodei was part of a group that “left [OpenAI] in late 2020 to launch Anthropic over concerns the company was moving too quickly to commercialize its technology,” The Information wrote. That included his sister, Daniela Amodei, who is president of Anthropic.

OpenAI faces employee revolt, possible customer exodus

Altman was fired on Friday by the board of directors of OpenAI, Inc., the nonprofit that controls the for-profit subsidiary OpenAI Global. The firing was controversial, to put it mildly: By the end of Monday, 747 out of 770 OpenAI employees reportedly signed a letter threatening to quit and join Altman at Microsoft if the firing isn’t reversed. OpenAI is currently being led by interim CEO Emmett Shear.

Microsoft pledged to invest billions in OpenAI, but the Altman firing may fracture that relationship. Microsoft announced that it was hiring Altman quickly after the OpenAI firing, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella suggested yesterday that he’s open to Altman returning to OpenAI.

Anthropic has reportedly fielded numerous calls from OpenAI customers who may be interested in switching vendors. “More than 100 OpenAI customers contacted OpenAI competitor Anthropic over the weekend, a startup that has raised billions from both Amazon and Google in recent months, according to someone familiar with the situation,” according to another report by The Information.

Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and the startup Cohere could all win some business from concerned OpenAI customers, the report suggested. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is reportedly working with Anthropic in a bid to take on OpenAI customers.

“AWS set up a dedicated team to work with Anthropic and respond to OpenAI customer inquiries,” The Information report said. “Over the weekend, AWS and Anthropic discussed how to pitch several OpenAI customers, including Snap, Morgan Stanley, and Wall Street trading firm Jane Street. At least one AWS salesperson suggested the companies put pressure on OpenAI customers to move quickly.”

In September, Anthropic announced a $4 billion investment from Amazon as part of a collaboration to “make Anthropic’s safe and steerable AI widely accessible to AWS customers.” Google is reportedly investing $2 billion in Anthropic.

A Business Insider report provides more evidence of a potential customer exodus. “Several startup founders told Business Insider that they were considering switching to an open source model like Meta’s Llama 2, or Anthropic’s Claude. And some said they were looking to switch cloud providers to Google or Amazon Web Services from Microsoft Azure,” the report said.


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