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News of OpenAI workers' big bluff is the latest crack in Sam Altman's facade

Dan DeFrancesco   

News of OpenAI workers' big bluff is the latest crack in Sam Altman's facade
  • This post originally appeared in the Insider Today newsletter.

Hello and happy first night of Hanukkah for those who celebrate! If you still haven't jumped on the TikTok bandwagon but are wondering about the hype, check out the most popular videos from the app this year.

In today's big story, we're looking at the truth behind OpenAI workers' threat to leave the startup amid the Sam Altman ouster.

What's on deck:

But first, show me your best poker face.

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The big story

Open illusion

"It's not a lie... if you believe it."

-George Costanza, OpenAI employees (probably)

OpenAI employees threatening to quit during Sam Altman's ouster was the type of loyalty workers rarely show toward a boss.

In reality, it was a bit of a bluff.

While the entire company signed a letter stating they'd follow Altman to Microsoft if he wasn't reinstated, no one really wanted to do it, current and former OpenAI staffers told Business Insider's Kali Hays, Ashley Stewart, and Darius Rafieyan.

It's not just OpenAI employees who were bending the truth. Microsoft viewed hiring OpenAI's employees as an absolute last resort, according to insiders.

Part of OpenAI employees' issue with joining Microsoft was the less-than-stellar impression they had of working for so-called "legacy" tech. OpenAI staffers "see themselves as innovators who are radically changing the world," a former employee of the startup told BI.

But the real problem was money, as is often the case. A tender offer was right around the corner, giving employees a chance to make a fortune selling existing vested equity to outside investors. The walkout would have spoiled those plans.

News of OpenAI employees' bluff is the latest crack in the Altman facade.

In the wake of Altman's ouster-turned-return drama, there was plenty of speculation about the perceived power he now held. (When news of his return broke, I suggested he was "now arguably one of the most untouchable executives in the world.")

But as BI's Alistair Barr pointed out, Altman's public statements in the wake of his return to OpenAI tell a different story. He was adamant OpenAI "will be totally fine without me," adding that its leadership team "is clearly ready to run the company without me."

That sentiment, coupled with the revelation that OpenAI employees didn't truly have unwavering support for Altman, paints the past few weeks' events in a very different light.

The OpenAI drama also forced companies to make sure they aren't solely relying on the startup, according to Alistair. The timing isn't ideal for OpenAI, as bigger tech companies get more aggressive with AI rollouts.

All that's to say, OpenAI employees might have successfully pulled off a massive bluff, but the rest of the industry now knows their tell.

3 things in markets

3 things in tech

  • Google is finally launching Gemini — its biggest shot at OpenAI. The generative AI model will be launched in phases. And it's the search giant's opportunity to thwart the narrative that it's fallen behind rivals like OpenAI. Here's everything we know about it so far.

  • The new Silicon Valley mantra. It's moved away from Mark Zuckerberg's "move fast and break things." Now, the new saying from OpenAI CEO Sam Altman starts with: "Move faster. Slowness anywhere justifies slowness everywhere."

  • Block CEO Jack Dorsey finally addresses layoff of Tidal staff. The music streamer just cut 40 employees. And it's likely just the beginning, according to an internal note sent by Dorsey. He also said in the memo that Block is looking to get on a more "sustainable" financial path.

3 things in business

  • The next lucrative side hustle: selling electricity to your neighbors. New technologies and a fleet of startups are allowing people to not just independently power their homes with solar, but also store and sell excess solar power to their neighbors.

  • Self-checkout theft is a bigger problem than you may have thought. It's increasingly clear that the machines lead to an increase in shoplifting. Now, new data reveals more precisely how big of a hit retailers take from skipped scans.

  • The hottest housing markets of 2024. The top metros were based on factors like changes in existing home sales and existing home median sale prices. This landed areas like Bakersfield, California and Rochester, New York in the top 10 housing markets for next year.

In other news

What's happening today

  • The Game Awards for video games is tonight in Los Angeles. Games that were nominated include "Resident Evil 4," "Super Mario Bros. Wonder," and "Viewfinder."

  • Happy birthday, Sara Bareilles. Larry Bird, Terrell Owens, Emily Browning, and Pete Alonso were also born on this day.

  • Earnings today: Broadcom, Lululemon, Docusign, and other companies.

For your bookmarks

Conversation starters

"I started conversations with 10 strangers over a month to gain confidence in my dating life." Their top takeaways include that "hello" and "how are you?" aren't great conversation starters.

The Insider Today team: Dan DeFrancesco, senior editor and anchor, in New York City. Diamond Naga Siu, senior reporter, in San Diego. Hallam Bullock, editor, in London. Lisa Ryan, executive editor, in New York.

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