Elon Musk is one of the most influential and controversial figures in the world of technology. He is the founder and CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company, among other ventures. He is also known for his outspoken views on artificial intelligence (AI), which he considers to be the biggest existential threat to humanity.
But what many people may not know is that Musk was also one of the co-founders and early backers of OpenAI, a research organization that aims to create and ensure the safe and beneficial use of general AI. OpenAI is behind ChatGPT, a powerful AI chatbot that can generate realistic and coherent texts on almost any topic.
How did Musk get involved with OpenAI? What was his role and contribution? And why did he part ways with the organization? Here is a brief history of Musk’s relationship with OpenAI, as told by various sources.
The beginning: 2015-2016Musk’s interest in AI dates back to at least 2014, when he famously said that AI was “potentially more dangerous than nukes” and that he was “increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level.”
In December 2015, Musk joined a group of prominent AI researchers and entrepreneurs to announce the launch of OpenAI, a non-profit organization that would “advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.”
Musk was one of the initial donors who pledged $1 billion to fund OpenAI. He also became a member of its board of directors, along with Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, PayPal’s Peter Thiel, and others.
In a blog post, OpenAI stated that its goal was “to ensure that artificial intelligence is used for good, empowering humanity and avoiding pitfalls such as dystopian futures or massive unemployment due to automation.” It also declared that it would make its research and code open and accessible to everyone.
Musk said that he co-founded OpenAI because he wanted to create a “counterweight” to the potential misuse of AI by corporations or governments. He also said that he hoped OpenAI would be a “good steward” of superintelligence, which he defined as “an AI that can recursively improve itself beyond human comprehension.”
In 2016, OpenAI released its first major project: an AI system that could play Atari games at a superhuman level. It also launched Gym, a platform for developing and comparing reinforcement learning algorithms. And it hosted a public event where its AI bot defeated one of the world’s best players of Dota 2, a popular online game.
The split: 2017-2018Despite its initial success and vision, OpenAI soon faced some challenges and controversies. One of them was the growing cost of running its experiments on cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS). According to TechCrunch, OpenAI spent $11 million on AWS in 2017 alone.
Another issue was the tension between Musk and some of the other board members over the direction and governance of OpenAI. According to Wired, Musk wanted OpenAI to be more focused on building safe and aligned AI systems, while others wanted it to be more open and collaborative with other researchers.
In February 2018, Musk announced that he was stepping down from OpenAI’s board of directors, citing potential conflicts of interest with his own AI work at Tesla and Neuralink. He said that he would remain an advisor and donor to OpenAI, but would no longer have any formal role or influence.
Musk’s departure was seen by some as a sign of his dissatisfaction with OpenAI’s progress and priorities. According to The Verge, Musk later said that he left because he disagreed with some of OpenAI’s decisions, such as creating a for-profit arm and accepting a large investment from Microsoft.
The aftermath: 2019-2023After Musk left, OpenAI underwent some major changes. In March 2019, it announced that it was transforming from a non-profit into a “capped-profit” corporation, which meant that it could raise money from investors but limit their returns to 100 times their initial investment.
The reason for this change was to attract more funding and talent to support its ambitious research agenda. In July 2019, OpenAI received a $1 billion investment from Microsoft, which also became its exclusive cloud provider. In exchange, Microsoft gained access to OpenAI’s technology and products.
One of these products was ChatGPT, an AI chatbot that uses deep neural networks to generate natural language texts based on user inputs. ChatGPT was first released in 2019 as an experiment, but soon became viral for its ability to write anything from jokes to essays to code.
ChatGPT also sparked controversy for its potential misuse and abuse. Some critics argued that ChatGPT could be used for spreading misinformation, plagiarism, spamming, phishing, or even cyberattacks. Others raised ethical concerns about ChatGPT’s lack of transparency, accountability, and human oversight.
Musk himself expressed his admiration and alarm about ChatGPT in several tweets. He called it “scary good” and warned that “we are not far from dangerously strong AI.” He also revealed that he had no control or insight into OpenAI anymore, and questioned its governance structure and revenue plans.
Musk also claimed that he donated $100 million to OpenAI when it was a non-profit, but later reduced this figure to $50 million. According to TechCrunch’s analysis of tax filings, however, Musk only donated about $15 million to OpenAI between 2015 and 2018.
Musk also accused OpenAI of having access to Twitter’s database for training ChatGPT without his knowledge or consent. He said that he put this on pause until he understood more about OpenAI’s intentions. He also compared OpenAI to a lumber company that chopped down the Amazon rainforest for money.
OpenAI has not responded publicly to Musk’s criticisms or accusations. It has continued to work on improving ChatGPT and other AI projects. It has also announced plans to launch an IPO in 2024.
The conclusion: What does the future hold?Musk’s history with OpenAI is a complex and fascinating one. It shows how one of the most visionary and influential leaders in technology helped create one of the most innovative and controversial organizations in AI research.
It also shows how their relationship soured over time due to differences in goals, values, interests, and opinions. And it shows how their actions have shaped the development and impact of AI on society.
What does the future hold for Musk and OpenAI? Will they ever reconcile or collaborate again? Will they compete or cooperate in advancing AI for good? Will they agree or disagree on how to ensure the safety and ethics of AI?
Only time will tell.