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Elon Musk sues OpenAI and accuses ChatGPT creator of abandoning its original mission



A previous version of this article contained a misspelling of Jason Kwon’s last name. The article has been corrected.

Elon Musk is suing OpenAI, the artificial intelligence powerhouse he helped found and now competes with, alleging that it has strayed from its original nonprofit mission of researching AI in benefit of humanity.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court against OpenAI, CEO Sam Altman and co-founder Greg Brockman, Musk asked the court to block OpenAI from using its products, such as the popular broadspeak model ChatGPT, for “financial advantage,” including in its multibillion-dollar partnership with Microsoft. Musk wants a court order requiring OpenAI to follow its “long-standing practice of making AI research and technology developed by OpenAI publicly available” rather than keeping it proprietary.

Over the past year, Musk has publicly criticized Altman and the company, as OpenAI has become the most talked about tech startup in Silicon Valley. Last March, Musk founded a new AI company, called X.AI, which builds its own AI model, potentially putting it in competition with OpenAI. Musk also complained that OpenAI and its investor, Microsoft, took data from his social media company X to train their AI models.

OpenAI spokespeople declined to comment. But in an internal memo to staff obtained by The Washington Post, Jason Kwon, OpenAI’s chief strategy officer, responded to the lawsuit.

“We categorically disagree, and while we have a long way to go, we have already made far more progress on the mission than many – including Elon – thought possible,” Kwon said in the memo. “We believe the claims in this suit may stem from Elon’s regrets about not being involved in the company today.”

Musk is no stranger to legal battles, having faced several himself. In the past, he has said he would fight legal battles even if they were unlikely to succeed if he believed them to be fair.

Still, the lawsuit adds to the legal challenges OpenAI faces. The company’s success in creating better AI tools has propelled it to the top of the tech industry, with Big Tech AI leader Google scrambling to keep up. But OpenAI faces numerous other lawsuits from authors and news organizations who say the company used their work to train its AI without permission or payment.

Regulators in the United States and Europe are also examining the company’s dealings with its largest investor, Microsoft, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether the company’s investors were misled, according to sources close to the case.

In the memo to employees, Kwon said OpenAI complies with all laws and requests for information from regulators. “We communicate clearly and frequently with our investors, who seem very happy with us,” he said.

Musk has long expressed concerns about AI, saying in 2014 that inventing super-intelligent computers would amount to “summon the demon.” A year later, he helped start OpenAI alongside Altman and Brockman, with the ostensible aim of researching AI for the benefit of the public and keeping what Musk saw as potentially dangerous technology out of the hands of a corporate giant, like Google or Microsoft , according to Musk’s lawsuit.

Musk is known for aggressively going after his enemies, and the lawsuit could lead to the public disclosure of internal communications and details about OpenAI’s founding and business dealings through a court-ordered discovery. .

Last year, Musk said on X that he donated $100 million to help found the company, but later interview on CNBC he said that figure was actually “in the order of $50 million.” The lawsuit says Musk contributed $44 million to OpenAI between 2016 and 2020, in addition to contributing to research decisions and recruiting AI researchers such as Ilya Sutskever, a well-known AI scientist.

In 2018, Musk stepped down as co-chair of the nonprofit, although he continued to make contributions until OpenAI began changing its corporate structure, which included a subsidiary at for profit, according to the lawsuit.

Over the past year, OpenAI has rapidly commercialized its new tools, selling access to its underlying AI technology directly to other companies and building a consumer business that includes a $20 per month subscription to a premium version of ChatGPT. Hiring top AI researchers and running the servers needed to train new AI models is extremely expensive, and the company still relies on outside funding, including from Microsoft.

The company has sparked a broader debate within the AI ​​community about whether companies should get ahead of the curve and release their products to the public or whether they should take more care to ensure that tools don’t present not bias or allow people to create malware before selling it.

Musk has hired a team of AI experts to lead research at his own AI company, which he says will work with Tesla, Musk’s automaker which already has a large AI team and has the computer chips needed to train AI models. Musk is also working on a humanoid robot called Optimus.


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