Elon Musk sues ChatGPT for allegedly abandoning not-for-profit AI ideals

Elon Musk helped found ChatGPT. Now he's sueing his former partners.

Elon Musk helped found ChatGPT. Now he's sueing his former partners. Photo: Getty

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk is suing ChatGPT-maker OpenAI and its CEO, Sam Altman, saying they’ve abandoned the startup’s original mission of developing artificial intelligence for the benefit of humanity and not for profit.

The lawsuit filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco is a culmination of Musk’s long-simmering opposition to the startup he co-founded.

OpenAI has since become the face of generative AI, partly due to billions of dollars in funding from Microsoft. Musk went on to found his own artificial intelligence startup, xAI, launched last July.

Musk’s lawsuit alleges a breach of contract, saying Altman and co-founder Greg Brockman originally approached him to make an open source, non-profit company, but the startup established in 2015 is now focused on making money.

Musk said OpenAI’s three founders originally agreed to work on artificial general intelligence (AGI), a concept that machines could handle tasks like a human, but in a way that would “benefit humanity,” according to the lawsuit.

Instead, OpenAI “set the founding agreement aflame” in 2023 when it released its most powerful language model GPT-4 as essentially a Microsoft product, the lawsuit alleges.

Musk has sought a court ruling that would compel OpenAI to make its research and technology available to the public and prevent the startup from using its assets, including GPT-4, for financial gains of Microsoft or any individual.

OpenAI, Microsoft and Musk did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on the lawsuit.

Musk, who runs electric vehicle maker Tesla, rocket maker SpaceX and social media platform X, decided to try to seize control of OpenAI from Altman and the other founders in late 2017, aiming to convert it into a commercial entity in partnership with Tesla, utilising the automaker’s supercomputers, said one source with knowledge of the situation.

‘A slice of equity’

Altman and others resisted, and Musk resigned, saying he wanted to focus on Tesla’s AI projects. He announced his exit to OpenAI staff in February 2018 during a meeting at which Musk called for OpenAI to increase its development speed, which one researcher called reckless, the source said.

Since then, Musk on several occasions has called for regulation of AI.

“We expect this will have zero impact on AI development inside or outside of OpenAI, and would chalk it up to Musk seeking to get a slice of equity in a company he effectively founded but in which he holds no stake,” said Giuseppe Sette, president and co-founder of market research firm Toggle AI.

OpenAI’s tie-up with Microsoft is under antitrust scrutiny in the US and Britain following a boardroom battle last year that resulted in the sudden ousting and return of Altman and creation of a new temporary board.

Musk, who has called AI a “double-edged sword,” was among experts and executives who last year called for a six-month pause in developing systems more powerful than OpenAI’s GPT-4, citing great risks to humanity and society.

Since ChatGPT’s debut, companies have adopted it for a range of tasks from summarising documents to writing computer code, setting off a race among Big Tech companies to launch offerings based on generative AI.

-with AAP

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