Redditors from r/wallstreetbets Call Attention to Possibility that an SEC Investigation of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella May Soon be Filed

The notorious subreddit r/wallstreetbets (notable for temporarily sending the stock of GameStop to record highs in January 2021 by inducing a short squeeze) has picked up on a discussion from the computer programming & tech news forum Hacker News, wherein users of the latter website are speculating about whether OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella may have engaged in a prohibited quip pro quo favor trading exchange, alleged to possibly trace back to 2019, in violation of each of their fiduciary duties to this own companies.

The depicted saga began with a controversial $1B investment which Altman accepted from Microsoft in 2019, an investment which some top OpenAI talent, including its then VP of Research Dario Amodei, criticized as putting the OpenAI mission at risk due to subjecting OpenAI, which is structured primarily as a non-profit, to excessive influence from a large corporation that has not always behaved ethically.

Following this controversial investment, Amodei resigned from OpenAI in 2020 over this concern, and founded a competitor called Anthropic, bringing with him a number of other talented OpenAI researchers.  This created an ongoing threat to OpenAI’s business due to the direct competition to ChatGPT from Anthropic’s Claude. 

Some analysts, including Stratechery writer Ben Thompson, have described the 2019 acceptance of Microsoft’s controversial investment by Altman as the beginning of a troubling pattern of Altman repeatedly making deals with Microsoft which were often unfavorable to OpenAI.

As Thompson describes it, this pattern of behavior culminated in an unusual intellectual property licensing arrangement which Microsoft’s Investor Relations site describes as a “broad perpetual license to all the OpenAI IP developed through the term of this partnership” “up until AGI” (Artificial General Intelligence). This perpetual license agreement includes the technology for OpenAI’s flagship products GPT-4 and Dall•E 3.

In what some are describing as favor trading, Nadella recently extended a job offer to Altman only 2 days after Altman was fired from OpenAI for unknown reasons. (Altman was later re-hired by OpenAI.)

The rapidity of the job offer (conducted without a traditional interview process) came as a surprise to many, as it occurred amid allegations that Altman may have molested his sister Annie Altman when they were children.

Some are contending that the abrupt job offer extended by Nadella is an example of favor trading, if viewed in the context of Altman’s years of controversial favorable treatment of Microsoft — treatment which directly led to an OpenAI talent exodus and the creation of OpenAI’s primary competitor Anthropic.

 Many of the allegations are summarized in a forum thread on Y-Combinator backed news site Hacker News, which appeared late in the day on Nov 22nd.

The forum thread in question provides instructions for any member of the public to file an SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) Whistleblower Complaint regarding Altman and Nadella’s pattern of potential favor-trading behavior. In particular, it is alleged that Altman’s conduct since 2019 may have constituted a violation of his fiduciary duty to the best interests of his own company, OpenAI, a pattern of conduct without which OpenAI’s competitor Anthropic would not exist.