OpenAI Responds to Elon Musk Lawsuit with Trove of Emails

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OpenAI has responded to a lawsuit filed by Elon Musk, alleging that he disengaged from the ChatGPT creator after an unsuccessful attempt to seize control of the company.

The artificial intelligence firm has released a collection of emails from the billionaire that purportedly demonstrate his support for the company’s profit-making strategy.

On Friday, Musk filed a lawsuit against the ChatGPT creator he helped establish, contending that the organisation had strayed from its initial commitment to benefit humanity and had instead become “driven by commercial considerations.”

In a blog post, OpenAI stated its intention to “refute all of Elon’s claims,” arguing that Musk endorsed its shift towards revenue generation due to the substantial costs associated with developing artificial general intelligence (AGI), the most advanced form of the technology.

“This requires billions per year immediately or forget it,” Musk stated in an email.

OpenAI remarked, “We are disappointed that it has come to this with someone whom we have deeply respected — someone who encouraged us to aim higher, then predicted our failure, initiated a competitor, and subsequently sued us when we began making significant progress towards OpenAI’s mission without him.”

The statement alleges that Musk sought to merge OpenAI with Tesla or assume control, and that he withheld funding while discussions were ongoing regarding the “for-profit” structure, demanding a majority stake, control of the board, and the position of chief executive. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, intervened and “bridged the gap” to cover salaries and operations during this period.

When his demands were not met, the Tesla entrepreneur reportedly moved on. The OpenAI statement noted, “Elon soon elected to depart OpenAI, asserting that our likelihood of success was 0, and expressing his intention to establish an AGI competitor within Tesla. When he left in late February 2018, he informed our team that he supported our pursuit of raising billions of dollars independently.”

Musk apparently urged the company to seek additional investment. “Elon suggested that we announce an initial $1 billion funding commitment to OpenAI. To date, the non-profit has received less than $45 million from Elon and over $90 million from other donors.”

While Musk and Sam Altman, the CEO and co-founder of OpenAI, were previously close, their relationship is said to have fluctuated over the past year. Supporters of Altman have argued that Musk’s decision to sue the company stemmed from jealousy over the tremendous success of ChatGPT and other products launched by OpenAI, such as Sora, the video generation tool.

The question of OpenAI’s mission has been a major issue for the company this year following the extraordinary success of ChatGPT. Altman was suddenly ousted from the company over a tense weekend in November 2023 — only to promptly return — reportedly due to a conflict between the company’s board and its management. The precise reasons have not been disclosed, but individuals close to the situation suggested it was primarily a matter of personal discord.

In its latest blog post, OpenAI reiterated its mission “to ensure that AGI benefits all of humanity, which involves both developing safe and beneficial AGI and facilitating widespread benefits.” This includes offering its products for free: “Albania is utilising OpenAI’s tools to expedite its EU accession by up to 5.5 years,” the company stated.

OpenAI contested Musk’s assertion that the organisation lacked transparency about its technology: “Elon understood that the mission did not necessitate open-sourcing AGI.” OpenAI mentioned that Ilya Sutskever, its chief scientist, informed Musk: “As we approach the development of AI, it will become appropriate to be less transparent. The ‘Open’ in OpenAI signifies that everyone should benefit from AI once it is developed, but it is perfectly acceptable not to disclose the scientific details,” to which Musk responded, “Agreed.”

Microsoft has invested $13 billion in OpenAI, acquiring a 49% stake. This collaboration has granted the AI company access to the technology giant’s computing infrastructure, including its cloud services, where AGI is being developed.

Reports suggest that Temasek, Singapore’s state-backed fund, is also in discussions regarding investment.

Musk’s lawsuit alleged that “OpenAI Inc has evolved into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the world’s largest technology company: Microsoft.”

Although Microsoft holds a board seat, it does not possess voting rights.

Microsoft’s advancements in AI contributed to a rise in the group’s second-quarter revenues to $62 billion. The group has introduced an AI tool integrated into its suite of products, such as Excel and PowerPoint, capable of drafting emails, creating presentations, and summarising meetings. Microsoft also has investments in other AI companies.

The Competition and Markets Authority in Britain is examining whether Microsoft’s multi-billion-dollar investment in OpenAI constitutes a stealth merger. American and European regulators are conducting similar investigations.