OpenAI hits back at Elon Musk’s lawsuit and says he wanted full control of ChatGPT maker

The OpenAI logo is seen displayed on a cell phone with an image on a computer screen generated by ChatGPT's Dall-E text-to-image model, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Boston.
The OpenAI logo is seen displayed on a cell phone with an image on a computer screen generated by ChatGPT's Dall-E text-to-image model, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in Boston. Copyright AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Copyright AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
By Pascale Davies
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Musk’s lawsuit alleges OpenAI abandoned its original plans to be an open-source AI company that was for the good of humanity.


OpenAI has struck back at billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk by releasing emails that show he supported its plans to create a for-profit company, which he wanted to be the head of, have board control, and merge it with Tesla.

The leaked emails counter Musk’s current lawsuit against OpenAI and its co-founders Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, which alleges the start-up betrayed its non-profit mission to develop artificial intelligence (AI) that benefits society.

“As we discussed a for-profit structure in order to further the mission, Elon wanted us to merge with Tesla or he wanted full control,” including “majority equity, initial board control, and to be CEO,” according to the OpenAI blog post published on Tuesday authored by OpenAI co-founders Brockman, Altman, Ilya Sutskever, John Schulman, and Wojciech Zaremba.

“We couldn’t agree to terms on a for-profit with Elon because we felt it was against the mission for any individual to have absolute control over OpenAI”.

Musk was an early investor in OpenAI and left the board in 2018 after clashing with Altman. Musk is now raising money for his own AI project called XAI.

His lawsuit filed last week claims OpenAI had breached an agreement to make breakthroughs in AI “freely available to the public” by forming a multibillion-dollar alliance with Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion (€12 billion) into the company.

“OpenAI, Inc has been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft,” Musk’s lawsuit alleges.

The Tesla boss says this constitutes a breach of a contract.

OpenAI: ‘Elon wanted to be CEO’

OpenAI, which is closed source, said in its blog post that the expense of building AI tools presented a barrier to its original non-profit mission to develop increasingly sophisticated AI “that benefits all of humanity”.

“In late 2017, we and Elon decided the next step for the mission was to create a for-profit entity. Elon wanted majority equity, initial board control, and to be CEO. In the middle of these discussions, he withheld funding,” the blog post authors added.

OpenAI also said in its blog post that “Elon understood the mission did not imply open-sourcing AGI (artificial general intelligence)”.

The company also published a 2016 email conversation in which Sutskever said, “as we get closer to building AI, it will make sense to start being less open,” and that “it’s totally OK to not share the science.” Musk replied: “Yup”.

OpenAI has set the pace for AI competition since it launched ChatGPT in November 2022 and the start-up is estimated to be valued at $80 billion (€73 billion).

However, last November the saga of Altman’s firing and subsequent re-hiring by the OpenAI board has raised concerns over the company’s safeguards and governance.

“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,” OpenAI said in its blog post.

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