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OpenAI fight spills out into public as company releases emails from Elon Musk

SpaceX, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during live interview with Ben Shapiro at the symposium on fighting antisemitism on January 22, 2024 in Krakow, Poland (Getty Images)
SpaceX, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during live interview with Ben Shapiro at the symposium on fighting antisemitism on January 22, 2024 in Krakow, Poland (Getty Images)

The fight over the future of OpenAI has spilled out into public after the company published emails from Elon Musk.

Last week, Mr Musk sued the artificial intelligence startup, which he helped co-found, arguing that it had gone against its mission to benefit humanity and failed to make its finding open source as promised. He has criticised OpenAI’s work with Microsoft, arguing that it has instead pursued profit.

Now the ChatGPT creator has responded in a long blog post that included emails from Mr Musk that appeared to suggest he had in fact supported the plan to make profit from the company, and wanted it to merge with Tesla.

OpenAI‘s other co-founders including Sam Altman, Greg Brockman and Ilya Sutskever said they would move to dismiss all of his claims in the same blog post.

“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,” they said.

OpenAI had agreed on the for-profit entity in 2017 after realizing its non-profit structure would not be able to able to support the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI), a concept that machines could handle tasks like humans, according to the post.

“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,” OpenAI said, adding that “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.”

“In early February 2018, Elon forwarded us an email suggesting that OpenAI should ‘attach to Tesla as its cash cow,’ commenting that it was ‘exactly right... Tesla is the only path that could even hope to hold a candle to Google.’”

The emails suggested Musk agreed that OpenAI‘s mission did not mean the startup would share all its technologies, including AGI.

He responded with “Yup” to a 2016 mail from Sutskever saying that “as we get closer to building AI, it will make sense to start being less open,” according to the emails posted on the blog.

Sutskever had said OpenAI‘s mission meant everyone should benefit from AI, but that it was “OK” not to share the science, even though sharing everything was the right strategy for recruitment initially.

Mr Musk and X did not respond to a request for comment. But on Wednesday he posted a series of jokes suggesting that OpenAI should instead be called “ClosedAI”.

Additional reporting by agencies