Friends no more: OpenAI hits back at Elon Musk, cites his own emails

Elon Musk and Sam Altman were once friends. Now, they’ve declared war on each other. After Musk sued Altman’s OpenAI for daring to make money, the company fired back with alleged proof that the billionaire was lying.

Musk sued ChatGPT-maker OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman last week, saying they had abandoned the company’s original mission to develop AI for the benefit of humanity, not profit.

The lawsuit says that Altman and OpenAI's co-founder Greg Brockman originally approached Musk to make an open-source, non-profit company. But OpenAI’s current focus on making money breached that contract, lawyers for Musk claim.

Last year, Altman was fired by OpenAI’s former board, which indeed said that the CEO was betraying the company’s mission not to seek profitability. But Altman returned to the firm a few days later, and it is continuing with the commercialization.

Even then, Musk, who co-founded OpenAI in 2015, kept publicly commenting on the whole debacle, for example, sharing an anonymous letter that dissed Altman and spoke of “deceit and manipulation” at OpenAI. The firm didn’t react.

But now, after Musk attacked OpenAI with a lawsuit, the company has decided to strike back. In a new blog post, OpenAI uses Musk’s own emails to show that he actually backed the firm’s plans to become a for-profit business.

“We intend to move to dismiss all of Elon’s claims,” said OpenAI, attaching all relevant email conversations between Musk, Altman, and Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s former chief scientist.

The company said Musk wanted OpenAI to raise billions of dollars and that he was lashing out after attempting – and failing – to make OpenAI part of his Tesla empire.

Musk wrote in an email: “Tesla is the only path that could even hope to hold a candle to Google. Even then, the probability of being a counterweight to Google is small. It just isn’t zero.”

However, when OpenAI declined to “attach to Tesla as its cash cow,” Musk soon chose to leave the company, saying that their “probability of success was zero and that he planned to build an AGI (artificial general intelligence) competitor within Tesla.”

“We're sad that it's come to this with someone whom we’ve deeply admired – someone who inspired us to aim higher, then told us we would fail, started a competitor, and then sued us when we started making meaningful progress towards OpenAI’s mission without him,” said OpenAI.

Musk’s reaction to the blog post has been typical. When OpenAI shared it on X, the social media platform, he scornfully replied: “Change your name.” Tesla is not commenting at all.

As The Wall Street Journal says in a new piece, the bromance between Musk and Altman has indeed turned toxic. However, the feud does allow the world to get an intimate look at the AI arms race and the shifting balance of power in the industry.

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