Elon Musk sues OpenAI and CEO Sam Altman over contract breach

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Semafor Signals

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Insights from Kara Swisher, Hollywood Reporter, and Bloomberg Opinion

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Elon Musk is suing ChatGPT-maker OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman among others, claiming that the company he co-founded in 2015 has abandoned its mission of developing artificial intelligence for the benefit of humanity rather than profit.

The lawsuit sets up a legal battle between two of the most powerful tech leaders as legal scholars, philosophers, and political leaders debate the future of AI.

“To this day, OpenAI, Inc.‘s website continues to profess that its charter is to ensure that AGI benefits all of humanity,’” the lawsuit read. ”In reality, however, OpenAI, Inc. has been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft.”

Musk’s lawyers argued that in maximizing profits for Microsoft, OpenAI has breached that charter. (Microsoft is a Semafor investor).

Musk left OpenAI in 2018, four years after saying that AI is “potentially more dangerous than nukes.”


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Lawsuit is about Musk’s personal grudges against Altman and OpenAI

Sources:  Kara Swisher, The Hollywood Reporter

“Everything is about [Musk’s] personal gripes,” and this lawsuit is no exception, tech journalist Kara Swisher told Semafor. Altman and OpenAI’s founders rejected Musk’s proposal to take over the company in 2018. He is holding a grudge, Swisher said, deploying his tactic of using the courts to advance his personal and business agendas. Musk may claim that OpenAI is not benefiting humanity, but “he’s not here to help us,” Swisher said. In 2013, The Hollywood Reporter described Musk’s tech ambitions as a “billionaire industrialist supervillain’s plot,” where it “begins with him offering the world something that is beneficial to mankind” but turns out to be a “sinister tool” for “world domination.”

Lawsuit illustrates the problem with AI startups’ idealism

Source:  Bloomberg Opinion's Parmy Olson

Irrespective of Musk’s intentions behind the lawsuit, its potentially positive outcome could be to force AI companies “to be honest about their intentions as they evolve,” Bloomberg Opinion tech columnist Parmy Olson argued. The lawsuit illustrates how most startups that vow to harness AI for the greater good “end up falling under the sway of tech giants” who can provide the massive computing power required to build better AI systems. After Microsoft invested $16 million in French AI startup Mistral — which touted its open-source AI models — the company’s latest AI system is now closed source and accessible only to Microsoft’s Azure cloud customers. It’s common for many startups to veer from their idealistic goals after being bought out by big companies, but “the stakes are higher with artificial intelligence systems that are being woven into all facets of life,” Olson opined.

Musk and Altman’s diverging views on AI’s existential risks

Sources:  The Guardian, CNN, Fortune, VentureBeat

Both Musk and Altman have held divergent and changing views on protecting humans from AI’s existential threat. Musk’s lawsuit reiterated his position about the dangers of artificial general intelligence — AI that is smarter than humans — being exploited by for-profit companies, warning that AGI could pose a “noxious danger to humanity.” Musk previously called for a pause in building large AI models, and later launched his own startup to develop an alternative AGI model that is “pro-humanity” and seeks to be “maximally curious and truth-seeking.” Altman originally held more prophetic views about AGI, warning of its dangers to humanity while acknowledging its potential to do good, but has recently adopted a more measured tone, telling Davos attendees, “It will change the world much less than we all think.”