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Clash of the AI Titans: Elon Musk Files Lawsuit Against OpenAI and its Founders

March 11, 2023


The rapid development and mass proliferation of artificial intelligence (“AI”) tools over the past few years has been met with a broad spectrum of response - the excited optimism of many industry leaders on one end has been equally matched by vocal skepticism from individuals fearing a dystopian, technological usurpation of humanity prophesized by sci-fi films and texts. Sam Altman, one of the entrepreneurs behind popular OpenAI chatbot ‘ChatGPT,’ views were somewhere in the middle.

Altman had previously publicized his concerns over the potential threat to humanity posed by artificial general intelligence (“AGI”) and, in recognition thereof, committed himself and his firm to the responsible development of AGI. In a self-proclaimed effort to hold Mr. Altman and OpenAI to this promise, Elon Musk filed a lawsuit alleging that the company and its founders breached the contractual terms of their Founding Agreement by abandoning the startup’s original mission to develop artificial intelligence for the benefit of humanity and prioritizing profits instead.

According to Musk, Altman and current OpenAI President Greg Brockman approached him to help finance the start-up back in 2015, promising that the firm would be a non-profit focused on “[catching] up to Google in the race for AGI,” countering the competitive threat from the tech giant and making OpenAI’s technology “freely available” to the public. These promises later became entrenched in the Founding Agreement between the three.

Musk’s lawsuit alleges that OpenAI and its founders, in direct violation of the terms of the Founding Agreement, have prioritized the pursuit of profits over technological development focused on benefiting humanity. This is evidenced, according to Musk, by a partnership with Microsoft, whose investment of roughly $13 billion drove the company’s shift to a for-profit model focused on commercializing its AGI research and appeasing shareholders. The lawsuit claims that “…OpenAI, Inc. has been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft.”

Musk, who left OpenAI’s board in 2018, was one of the signatories amongst a group of experts who penned an open letter calling for a pause in the development of AI almost exactly one year ago. Yet, following his acquisition of X (previously Twitter), Musk launched his own AI firm xAI which spearheaded the development of “Grok” – the social network’s answer to ChatGPT. Accordingly, many have interpreted the lawsuit to be a mere “case of sour grapes” and criticized it as a meritless attempt by Musk to disrupt his competitor.

Author: Roy Friedman, 2023/2024 Articling Student


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