There might be more than meets the eye here.
Like everyone else in the tech industry, SpaceX, Tesla, and Twitter CEO Elon Musk has had a lot to say about OpenAI in recent weeks — as he probably should, considering that he was one of the firm's original founders, launching the former non-profit back in 2015 alongside figures like Reid Hoffman, Ilya Sutskever and, among others, OpenAI's current CEO, Sam Altman.
And honestly, most of what Musk has had to say about the firm lately has been pretty fair. He's taken to Twitter several times now to criticize the now-not-so-open-OpenAI for going back on its non-profit, open-source roots, a grievance that's been widely echoed elsewhere within the industry.
A valid complaint indeed. But apparently, Musk's OpenAI woes might be a bit more complicated than an ideological battle between two former colleagues.
According to a report from Semafor, sources familiar with the matter claim that before leaving the company in 2018, Musk, who believed that OpenAI had fallen woefully behind Google's AI labs and needed major changes, actually tried to take over as company CEO. After an internal power struggle, they say the company's board — Altman included — vetoed Musk's proposal. And in response, sources say, Musk walked away completely.
But the purported rift between Musk and Altman didn't end when the SpaceX founder left. Per Semafor's reporting, Musk's departure — which at the time was publicly chalked up to a conflict of interest, with Musk claiming that there was too much competition between OpenAI and Tesla for top industry talent — seems like where it all began.
As one of the firm's founders, Musk had pledged the then-non-profit organization a significant amount of cash (as Semafor notes, the original founders put together a collective billion dollars.) When he vacated his seat, those donations were meant to continue.
"Elon Musk will depart the OpenAI Board," reads the February 2018 OpenAI blog post that announced Musk's departure, "but will continue to donate and advise the organization."
But Musk's donations didn't continue, according to Semafor's sources. And AI, as it's trained on massive datasets, isn't cheap; roughly a year after the Tesla CEO's departure, OpenAI would change to for-profit status. Six months after that, Microsoft made its first billion-dollar investment into the firm. And the rest, as they say, is history.
These are all just allegations, of course. If true, though, they'd add quite a bit of extra flavor to Musk's recent anti-OpenAI comments — especially considering that he's said to be launching his own AI firm.
READ MORE: The secret history of Elon Musk, Sam Altman, and OpenAI [Semafor]
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