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Marriage of Sam Altman and Microsoft — how (we suspect) the astonishing transaction went down

Marriage of Sam Altman and Microsoft — how (we suspect) the astonishing transaction went down
(AI-generated image: leonardo.ai, Sam Altman and Satya Nadella lookalikes kissing)

Rarely is a tech columnist presented with such a bounty of riches as in the current Sam Altman saga. When Altman (heir to the throne of world’s most influential tech leader) was fired just a few days ago, a colleague of mine asked me if I was writing about it. I’ll first wait for the dust to settle, I replied. 

Whoo boy, there has been a lot of dust, and I am certain that it has not settled yet. 

While the chronology of events is well known, here it is in the tiniest nutshell.

1) The board of OpenAI fires Sam Altman for entirely unclear reasons. It makes some statement like him being ‘less than candid’, which illuminates nothing. Major investors in the company are not timeously informed. 

Tech commentators are stunned. 

2) Then Altman comes back to OAI for a board meeting, rumours of his re-hiring are rife. He leaves the building immediately after. Then (within hours) OAI announces that they are hiring another guy to run the company.

Tech commentators are stunned. 

3) Then (within hours, again) Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft announces that he has hired Altman as CEO of a new AI research unit. 

Tech commentators are stunned. 

There are so many strands to this story, that it is difficult to know where to begin, so let’s start at the end, with Satya Nadella hiring Altman to run a new AI unit. When someone like Altman (and his wingman ex-OAI president Greg Brockman) are suddenly on the open market, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any investor. 

Here’s how I imagine it went down when Nadella called Altman: 

‘Hey, Sam, it’s Satya here”

“Hey ‘bro, how’s it hanging?”

“Some few days, huh?”

“You think?”

“What the hell happened?”

“I want to move fast. They wanted to be cautious. That about sums it up.”

“The board didn’t even ask my advice. I’m a little pissed off after spending $13-billion, I must tell you.”

“Yeah, I can imagine. So wassup?”

“I want you to come to Microsoft. Bring your squad.”

(a small pregnant silence can be heard on the recording here)

“I beg your pardon?”

“Come and work for us.”

“But you already have OAI.”

“Yes, but I invested in you. And fuck them anyway.” (this last bit would not have been said. Nadella is too polite for that, but he definitely would have thought it).

“Interesting. I have some good offers in the pipeline, so I dunno.”

“Who?”

“Zuckerberg, Musk, Brin and Page, Bezos, Apple, Sequoia, Andreesen, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kanye, Netflix, IBM, Walmart, Trump.”

“Wait. What? Trump?”

“Yeah, said he would get me $140-billion by end of day tomorrow. Oh, and my cousin.”

“Who’s your cousin?”

“Sheldon. He runs a laundromat. Thinks AI might be a good investment.”

“I can do better than all those investors.”

“How so?”

“Money. I have a ridiculous amount of money.”

“What else”

“Computers. I have a ridiculous number of computers.”

“What else?”

“Developers. I have a ridiculous number of developers.”

“What else?”

“Market. I have a ridiculously large market.”

“What else?”

“I won’t ever yell at you, that’s why everyone likes me.”

“Can I have some Microsoft stock?”

“Sure. We have a ridiculous amount of stock.”

“Can I work at home? I promise not to play video games or take naps.”

“I suppose.”

“Will you hurt OAI? They were nasty to me.”

“I am going give them such a slap, their ears will ring.”

“Can I continue to use my Mac and Google Meet?”

(Another silence)

“Jesus, Sam. OK, yes, but keep it quiet.”

“OK.”

“OK?”

“Yeah, send me a contract.”

“OK. 3PM OK?”

“Perfect. See you tomorrow, dude.”

“Bye Sam.” DM

Steven Boykey Sidley is a professor of practice at JBS, University of Johannesburg. His new book It’s Mine: How the Crypto Industry is Redefining Ownership is published by Maverick451. It can be ordered directly from the DM store here or on Kindle. It’s also available at bookstores.

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