Elon Musk Sues OpenAI and Sam Altman for ‘Perverting’ Nonprofit AI Mission

Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters
Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Elon Musk is suing OpenAI, its CEO Sam Altman, and others, accusing them of deserting the company’s original purpose of developing artificial intelligence for the good of humanity rather than making profits.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in San Francisco alleges that Altman and Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s co-founder, had originally asked for Musk’s help in creating open-source AI out of shared concerns about the threats that the technology could eventually pose. The Tesla boss now says that the ChatGPT maker has been “transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft.”

The Intercept and Raw Story, Progressive News Stalwarts, Sue OpenAI

Musk, who helped to found OpenAI in 2015 before stepping down from its board three years later, is basing his case on a founding agreement among himself, Altman, and Brockman about the principles to which their research lab should adhere.

He alleges that they agreed it should be a “nonprofit developing [Artificial General Intelligence] for the benefit of humanity, not for a for-profit company seeking to maximize shareholder profits,” and that the technology it developed should not be kept “closed and secret for proprietary commercial reasons.”

That agreement was set “aflame” in 2023, the lawsuit claims, with the release of OpenAI’s GPT-4, whose “internal design was kept and remains a complete secret except to OpenAI.”

Musk’s “contributions to OpenAI, Inc. have been twisted to benefit the Defendants and the biggest company in the world,” the lawsuit alleges. “This was a stark betrayal of the Founding Agreement, turning that Agreement on its head and perverting OpenAI, Inc.’s mission.”

The case is a dramatic escalation in the criticisms Musk has made of OpenAI since his departure from the organization, which came shortly before it established its for-profit arm, through which Microsoft has invested a reported $13 billion. Musk last year started a new AI company, xAI, as a competitor to OpenAI focused on advancing “our collective understanding of the universe.”

The filing also comes amid mounting legal and regulatory battles for OpenAI. Its board fired Altman in November alleging he had not been “consistently candid in his communications,” only for him to return as CEO less than two weeks later. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that the SEC is now investigating whether the company misled its investors over the episode, which also reportedly triggered a criminal investigation in New York.

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