OpenAI Issues Public Rebuttal To Elon Musk Lawsuit

OpenAI has hit back at Elon Musk, after the Tesla and SpaceX CEO filed a lawsuit last week against the AI pioneer.

Last Friday Elon Musk sued OpenAI and its chief executive and co-founder Sam Altman alleging breach of contract, arguing the firm is no longer following its original non-profit principles.

Musk’s lawsuit, filed in a San Francisco court, argued that OpenAI is no longer focused on its original mission of developing artificial general intelligence (AGI) in a way that would “benefit humanity”, as was the plan in 2015.

Tesla and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk. Image credit: SpaceX

Elon Musk

When OpenAI was founded in 2015, Musk was part of it – serving as an initial board member. Musk donated $44 million (£35m) to the group, and claimed he had been “induced” to do so by promises “including in writing” that it would remain non-profit.

But in 2018 Musk resigned from the OpenAI board and no longer has anything to do with the AI pioneer.

OpenAI highlighted Musk’s departure came after he urged the company to merge with Tesla, and said the startup should “attach to Tesla as its cash cow.”

OpenAI said the suggestion came after Musk and the company decided the next step was to create a for-profit entity in 2017 to generate capital for building artificial general intelligence (AGI).

The billionaire however wanted majority equity, initial board control, and to be CEO of OpenAI, the company said.

But OpenAI and Musk could not agree to the terms on a for-profit because the startup felt it was against the mission for any individual to have absolute control over the firm.

Indeed since Musk’s departure from OpenAI, he has been critical of the company and warned it has strayed from its initial goals.

He then filed his lawsuit against OpenAI last week.

Elon Musk has well documented concerns about artificial intelligence, and in July 2023 launched an AI startup called xAI to challenge OpenAI’s ChatGPT with a ‘pro-humanity’ alternative offering.

OpenAI fights back

But now in a blog post written by Greg Brockman; Ilya Sutskever; John Schulman; Sam Altman; Wojciech Zaremba; and OpenAI, OpenAI sought to highlight the apparent hypocrisy of Elon Musk, pointing out that Musk previously said it should raise at least $1 billion and agreed with co-founder Ilya Sutskever that the company should “start being less open” over time.

Indeed, Musk told OpenAI’s co-founders in late 2018 that he believed the company had a 0 percent probability of succeeding against competitor DeepMind at Google “without a dramatic change in execution and resources.”

“The mission of OpenAI is to ensure AGI benefits all of humanity, which means both building safe and beneficial AGI and helping create broadly distributed benefits,” the authors wrote. “We are now sharing what we’ve learned about achieving our mission, and some facts about our relationship with Elon. We intend to move to dismiss all of Elon’s claims.”

“When starting OpenAI in late 2015, Greg (Brockman) and Sam (Altman) had initially planned to raise $100m,” the blog stated. “Elon said in an email: ‘We need to go with a much bigger number than $100M to avoid sounding hopeless… I think we should say that we are starting with a $1B funding commitment… I will cover whatever anyone else doesn’t provide.’”

“We spent a lot of time trying to envision a plausible path to AGI,” the blog stated. “In early 2017, we came to the realisation that building AGI will require vast quantities of compute. We began calculating how much compute an AGI might plausibly require. We all understood we were going to need a lot more capital to succeed at our mission – billions of dollars per year, which was far more than any of us, especially Elon, thought we’d be able to raise as the non-profit.”

It is thought that after it was decided in 2017 to raise more capital, OpenAI has raised as much as $11 billion from its main backer, Microsoft.

“Elon soon chose to leave OpenAI, saying that our probability of success was 0, and that he planned to build an AGI competitor within Tesla,” the blog stated. “When he left in late February 2018, he told our team he was supportive of us finding our own path to raising billions of dollars. In December 2018, Elon sent us an email saying “Even raising several hundred million won’t be enough. This needs billions per year immediately or forget it.”

Email evidence

“We’re sad that it’s come to this with someone whom we’ve deeply admired – someone who inspired us to aim higher, then told us we would fail, started a competitor, and then sued us when we started making meaningful progress towards OpenAI’s mission without him,” blogged OpenAI.

“We are focused on advancing our mission and have a long way to go,” it concluded. “As we continue to make our tools better and better, we are excited to deploy these systems so they empower every individual.”

OpenAI then provided email evidence of Musk’s comments in the blog post, to back up its claims.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

Recent Posts

Nvidia Overtakes Microsoft As Most Valuable Tech Firm

Nvidia dethrones Microsoft as world's most valuable tech firm, in ongoing market capitalisation battle of…

3 hours ago

Apple Drops ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ Service

Apple sunsets its buy now, pay later service known as 'Apple Pay Later', and will…

4 hours ago

Microsoft Xbox Marketing Chief Leaves For Roblox

Microsoft loses Xbox marketing chief amidst executive changes in company's gaming division, broader layoffs and…

1 day ago

YouTube Test Community ‘Notes’ Feature For Added Context

YouTube begins testing Notes feature that allows selected users to add contextual information to videos,…

1 day ago

FTC Sues Adobe Over Hidden Fees, Termination ‘Resistance’

US regulator sues Photoshop maker Adobe over large, hidden termination fees, intentionally difficult cancellation process

1 day ago

Tencent To Ban AI Avatars From Livestream Commerce

Chinese tech giant Tencent to ban AI hosts from livestream video platform as it looks…

1 day ago