Elon Musk sues Sam Altman, accusing him of betraying OpenAI's mission of benefiting humanity

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  • Elon Musk is suing OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman.

  • Musk accused the company of jeopardizing its nonprofit mission by partnering with Microsoft.

  • The Tesla CEO was a cofounder of OpenAI in late 2015 but later left.

Elon Musk is suing OpenAI and its CEO, Sam Altman, claiming that the ChatGPT maker's partnership with Microsoft is jeopardizing its original nonprofit mission.

"OpenAI, Inc. has been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft," lawyers for Musk argued.

They added: "Under its new board, it is not just developing but is refining an AGI to maximize profits for Microsoft, rather than for the benefit of humanity."

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, also named the OpenAI cofounder Greg Brockman. The lawyers claimed that the company's pivot to a "capped-profit" division breached its contract of being an open-source, nonprofit company as it was first established in late 2015.

The lawsuit quotes OpenAI's founding agreement as saying: "Resulting technology will benefit the public and the corporation will seek to open source technology for the public benefit when applicable. The corporation is not organized for the private gain of any person."

The company created OpenAI LP, a for-profit and nonprofit hybrid, in 2019.

It said in a blog post at the time that the idea was for investors and employees to get a "capped return" if it successfully achieved its mission.

OpenAI added that it would give any additional returns to its nonprofit entity.

The company was founded by Altman, Musk, and Brockman in December 2015 as a nonprofit research lab. Musk left OpenAI in 2018, but his lawyers said in the lawsuit that he "continued to make contributions to OpenAI" until mid-September 2020.

The lawyers also argued that OpenAI kept GPT-4 "a complete secret" and that Musk believed artificial general intelligence "poses a particularly acute and noxious danger to humanity" when in the hands of a for-profit company such as Google.

In recent months Musk has been critical of OpenAI's ownership structure and shift to focus on turning a profit.

"It isn't clear to me how the OpenAI structure is legal at all," he wrote on X last month, adding that he was offered shares at "various points, but it seemed unethical/illegal to accept them."

In November, Musk commented on the corporate structure after Altman was briefly ousted as OpenAI's CEO: "OpenAI being (semi) independent is probably better for the world than merging with Microsoft. Less concentration of power."

Microsoft has invested billions in OpenAI and made its first contribution in 2019.

In January, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said he didn't have any issues with OpenAI's ownership structure and just wanted the ChatGPT maker to have "good governance" rather than control of the company.

OpenAI didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider, made outside normal working hours.

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