Salesforce tries to grab AI talent from the OpenAI maelstrom

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Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff is hoping to turn OpenAI’s chaos to his advantage, offering to at least match the compensation of any AI experts willing to join the CRM giant. 

Salesforce is looking to bolster its AI SME bench following September’s launch of the Einstein 1 Platform. With native Data Cloud and Einstein AI capabilities built on Salesforce’s underlying metadata framework, the platform allows customers to create and train AI-powered applications in a low-code environment.

Why we care. Other companies have undoubtedly been trying to poach OpenAI’s employees, but Salesforce is the first to try to do it at the wholesale level. Benioff’s company is the first major third-player to jump into the fray. Its pockets are certainly deep enough to pay whatever someone asks, but Microsoft has money and ousted OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. If Benioff can pick up some personnel it would be a PR win and a big boost for its own AI efforts.

Dig deeper: AI in marketing: How to balance automation and the human touch

What’s happening at OpenAI. The high-tech, high-stakes soap opera has already had a huge number of plot twists, but here’s where things stand as of noon on Nov. 21. One thing to know going in, OpenAI is a for-profit company run by a non-profit board of directors.

  • Last Friday, Sam Altman, the company’s CEO and the public face of generative AI, was ousted by the OpenAI’s board of directors for … reasons. The company has said Altman’s firing was the result of a failure to communicate with the board, not anything unethical or illegal. To call the move a surprise is putting it mildly.
  • Company co-founder Greg Brockman and several other colleagues resigned in protest. Altman, Brockman and company were unemployed for nano-seconds before getting job offers from Microsoft, a major OpenAI funder and partner.
  • Speaking of nano-seconds, that’s about how long CTO Mira Murati served as interim CEO. The board found out Murati was an Altman supporter and on Sunday replaced her with Emmett Shear — the former chief executive of Twitch.
  • Also over the weekend, an open letter signed by 500 OpenAI employees said they, too, would go work for Microsoft if the board didn’t bring back Altman and Brockman and then resign. By Tuesday, nearly all of the company’s 770 employees had signed the letter.
  • Also, also, over the weekend, there were news stories saying Altman was maybe almost brought back as CEO but then wasn’t. 
  • Reports in several reputable news outlets based on anonymous sources within the company said all this was the result of a conflict between Altman and Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist and a board member. Sutskever wants the company to prioritize safety and is said to be concerned about Altman’s drive to increase growth.
  • On Monday, Sutskever had a change of heart, saying on X/Twitter that he regretted taking part in the ouster. He has also signed the letter pledging to follow Altman and Brockman to Microsoft unless the board reverses its decision.

Got all that? Listen closely and you can hear 1,000 podcasts on the topic waiting to be born.

Real concerns. At the heart of all this is a serious question: Does AI pose a threat to humanity and, if so, how much of one? It is refreshing to see a significant argument over this. We as a species have a close-to-perfect record of not considering a technology’s consequences until the genie is well out of the bottle. 

That said, if AI is indeed a major threat, it will have to act fast if it wants to beat climate change to the punch.

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