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Elon Musk Sues OpenAI

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Elon Musk is suing OpenAI for breach of contract.

He says the company violated its promise to develop AI for the good of humanity, not profit. (CEO Sam Altman and co-founder/president Greg Brockman are also being sued.)

And Musk wants them to pay the price:

He's seeking a court order to force the company to make its research and technology public. And he wants OpenAI to give back all the money it made as a result of breaching the contract.

Buckle up...

There's a lot to unpack about what's really going on here.

I got the lowdown from Marketing AI Institute founder/CEO Paul Roetzer on Episode 86 of The Artificial Intelligence Show.

Remember, Elon Musk helped found OpenAI

It helps to remember:

Musk is one of the founding members of OpenAI. And he says OpenAI agreed at the beginning to use any AI it developed to benefit humanity, not make money.

Furthermore, he claims the seed money he gave OpenAI at the start was contingent on this promise. (He says that money totaled more than $44 million.)

Musk's lawsuit alleges that the company broke this promise and should be punished.

Microsoft and AGI are central to the lawsuit

His argument is that OpenAI's commercial relationship with Microsoft violates the founding agreement:

“OpenAI, Inc. has been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft,” the suit says. “Under its new board, it is not just developing but is actually refining an AGI to maximize profits for Microsoft, rather than for the benefit of humanity.”

The idea of AGI, or artificial general intelligence, is central to Musk's suit. AGI is AI that can broadly perform many tasks as well as or better than humans. Musk claims that OpenAI's GPT--4 is a type of AGI. As such, it should be used to benefit humanity, not be commercialized.

There's a lot of history that led to this

The lawsuit is probably more for show than anything, says Roetzer. But it may be designed to force discovery, in order to publicize more information about OpenAI's work.

To understand the lawsuit fully, it helps to understand the history behind it, he says. (This is covered in-depth in Episode 73 of The Artificial Intelligence Show.)

  1. Google buys AI lab DeepMind in 2014. DeepMind is founded by major AI leaders Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg, and Mustafa Suleyman. Musk was an early investor in DeepMind. He invested after meeting Hassabis in the early days of the lab.
  2. When Google tried to buy DeepMind in 2014, Musk tried to stop it, but failed. He appears to have been convinced that Google founder Larry Page was not a responsible steward of potential AGI technology. They got in a public fight about the future of AI that The New York Times reported was the "last straw" for Musk.
  3. Musk helps found OpenAI in 2015 as a non-profit. Three years later, OpenAI releases a charter that says their mission is to ensure that AGI benefits all of humanity.
  4. In 2019, OpenAI announces OpenAI LP, a capped-profit company created from the non-profit. They state that the mission of beneficial AGI still comes first. But this structure is designed to help them raise money they need to further that mission.
  5. In March 2023, Microsoft researchers publish a paper called "Sparks of Artificial General Intelligence: Early experiments with GPT-4." In it, they allege GPT-4 shows signs of early AGI.
  6. In June 2023, OpenAI publishes an update to their structure. In it, they say that "the board determines when we've attained AGI." This system, they state, is "excluded from IP licenses and other commercial terms with Microsoft, which only apply to pre-AGI technology.
  7. In November 2023, Sam Altman is fired suddenly as OpenAI CEO. Days before, he confirms to the Financial Times that OpenAI is training GPT-5. He hints during the interview, and subsequent public appearances before being fired, that the next step forward in what they're building will be a big one.
  8. Altman is quickly reinstated at CEO. But exactly what the company is building—and how advanced it is—remains unknown. 

The key—and open—question, says Roetzer, is:

Has OpenAI made a breakthrough in the pursuit of AGI?

Elon Musk thinks they have. 

But Musk is also building advanced AI

Musk may be on to something. But he's also an unreliable narrator.

"He is building his own large language model, Grok, which is not open source," says Roetzer.

"He is build building full self driving cars with computer vision technology and real world data that may actually be critical to unlocking true AGI. He's building humanoid robots at Tesla. That can learn from multimodal data and take actions in the real world. And he is merging humans and machines with Neuralink, where they're literally embedding hardware into human brains to merge the humans with the machines, because he thinks that's critical to our survival."

So everything he says he's worried about are also things he appears to be doing.

That doesn't change the legal merit of his case one way or another. Thats for the courts to decide, says Roetzer.

"But it's more likely to me this is about stopping Sam and OpenAI over some beef he has with them."

This isn't about money, it's about Elon

For proof to support that, history again provides a guide:

The New York Times reports that Musk initially wanted to operate OpenAI as a non-profit. But he started to change his mind a couple years after it started. In 2017, he hatched a plan to wrest control of OpenAI from Altman and turn it into a commercial operation. A commercial operation that would join forces with Tesla.

When Altman and others pushed back, Musk quit OpenAI.

With Musk's departure, OpenAI was hurting for cash. 

That's around the time in 2019 that Altman ran into the person who'd provide that cash:

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

The two companies inked a deal quickly. In 2019, Altman formed a for-profit company under the original non-profit, and injected tons of Microsoft money into it.

"So why are they a for-profit company?" asks Roetzer. "It's because Musk wanted to do it first and got pushback. He left, took his money with him, and they needed the money to do what they were doing. So the whole lawsuit is based on this premise that OpenAI changed their direction, which is the direction he tried to force them in anyway."

In short?

"So this isn't about money. This is about Elon."

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