Elon Musk sues Sam Altman, OpenAI over agreement breach

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SpaceX, Tesla and X owner Elon Musk is in a legal battle with OpenAI and its CEO, Sam Altman, claiming a breach of their nonprofit agreement.

According to a recent filing in the Superior Court of California for the County of San Francisco, Musk argues that OpenAI’s collaboration with Microsoft has deviated from its foundational principles of advancing open-source artificial general intelligence (AGI) for the benefit of humanity.

Musk’s legal action details complaints such as contract breach, fiduciary duty violation and unfair business practices. He urges OpenAI to return to its open-source principles and requests an injunction to prevent the for-profit exploitation of AGI technology.

Screenshot of the lawsuit against OpenAI and Sam Altman. Source: Courthouse News Service

According to the court filing, the launch of ChatGPT-4 in March 2023 deviated significantly from OpenAI’s principles. Despite being presented as a breakthrough in artificial intelligence (AI), GPT-4 is a closed model, unlike earlier versions. Musk argues that this move toward proprietary tech benefits Microsoft financially, contradicting OpenAI’s initial nonprofit mission.

OpenAI started as a nonprofit AI research lab in 2015 but became a commercial giant after establishing a business arm in 2020. OpenAI has since shifted to a profit-driven model. Critics, including Musk, who co-founded OpenAI, argue that the company is now focused on speed and profit instead of positive human impact.

Related: OpenAI accuses New York Times of hacking AI models in copyright lawsuit

According to the Financial Times, citing two people with knowledge of the company’s finances, OpenAI’s revenues have exceeded $2 billion annually, driven by the immense success of its leading AI product, ChatGPT, positioning it as one of the fastest-growing tech companies ever.

Musk has consistently viewed AI as a significant threat to human civilization. He has advocated for rigorous government regulation and careful handling of AI research, gaining attention from regulators. Musk’s key recommendation has been to acquire extensive knowledge to better grasp the issue.

Musk also critiques the expertise of OpenAI’s current board, claiming it lacks the technical knowledge required for responsible AGI development. Musk highlights the November 2023 removal and subsequent reinstatement of Altman as evidence of a profit-oriented agenda orchestrated to align with Microsoft’s interests.

Musk, an original board member of OpenAI until 2018, stated that the conflict between the board and Altman was related to the development of ChatGPT-4 and the next iteration of AGI technology. Musk expressed concern about how this could impact public safety.

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