Elon Musk at the 2022 Met Gala

Elon Musk May Be the Lesser of Two Evils in This Legal Battle With OpenAI

In an unexpected turn of events, Elon Musk is suing the company he co-founded, OpenAI, and its CEO, Sam Altman, over claims the company breached its founding agreement.

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It’s interesting to see two controversial individuals who both have concerning visions for the future of artificial intelligence now involved in a legal battle against each other. Musk, Altman, and several other engineers and scientists co-founded OpenAI in 2015. However, Musk has since departed the company and no longer has a stake in it. Since his departure, Altman became CEO, despite a temporary firing, and the company has partnered with Microsoft. In their founding charter and personal statements, both Musk and Altman have claimed their visions for AI’s future are developing the technology in a way that is safe and beneficial to humanity.

Both have strange ways of illustrating that vision, though. Altman’s company has been working tirelessly to continue creating more advanced and even “human-level” AI despite the many issues ChatGPT has presented. Meanwhile, Musk has described a terrifying vision of merging humans and AI. His startup, Neuralink, is already working on developing such technology and testing brain chips in human patients. Both Musk and Altman have made statements demonstrating they know full well the dangers AI poses to humans, but neither has stopped exhibiting unrestrained ambition as they relentlessly continue advancing technology. Musk’s desperation to introduce new tech has even led to him endangering his employees.

However, now the billionaire is doubling down on his alleged stance to develop AI only with the benefit of humanity in mind.

Why is Elon Musk suing OpenAI?

Musk filed his lawsuit against OpenAI on February 29. The lawsuit also names co-founders Altman and Brockman as defendants. The suit accuses the defendants of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and unfair competition. It also lists promissory estoppel as one of the elements of the suit, which means the defendants have violated the principle that holds promises are enforceable by law.

Before getting into the violations, the suit provides some background context. It describes how Musk has long been concerned about the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI), a form of AI that can complete various tasks with human-level intelligence. According to Musk, Google has been at the “front of the race for AGI” since it began developing AlphaZero and managed to give the system a superhuman level of chess expertise within 24 hours. The suit emphasizes that AGI’s dangers are even more significant when the technology lies in the hands of for-profit companies that care more for gain than protecting humanity.

As a result, in 2015, Musk and Altman began discussing their shared concerns over AGI, with the latter writing that “[d]evelopment of superhuman machine intelligence (SMI) is probably the greatest threat to the continued existence of humanity.” He went on to write that SMI could “destroy every human in the universe.” Soon, he proposed to Musk that they form a non-profit to combat Google’s AGI development. Along with Brockman, the group formed The Founding Agreement, stipulating that the company would be non-profit, would be “open-source,” would not keep its technology secret, and would be for the benefit of humanity.

However, the suit alleges Brockman, Altman, and OpenAI breached that contract in numerous ways, including keeping GPT-4 a secret and turning into a closed, for-profit organization in its partnership with Microsoft. The lawsuit argues that OpenAI’s board should exclusively control the development of AGI to avoid having a for-profit make critical decisions. It claims that Microsoft has significant leverage over the company, though, accusing it of being responsible for Altman’s rehiring and personally blessing a whole new board hand-picked by Altman. Additionally, the suit describes OpenAI as being a “subsidiary” of Microsoft and refining AGI solely to maximize profits for the business.

What does Musk want to achieve with his OpenAI suit?

Musk’s lawsuit aims to force OpenAI to return to its original mission as a non-profit dedicated to advancing AI to benefit humanity and being transparent in its research. It also seeks restitution for the funds Musk gave OpenAI when it was actively breaching its contract and engaging in unfair practices.

Musk is well-known for being performative and making hyperbolic claims for attention. However, this suit may be different. Even AI expert Gary Marcus admits Musk has a good argument. The facts are quite simple. OpenAI is clearly not doing what it was founded for and can no longer be labeled a non-profit. Musk poured many resources into OpenAI, and it may not have been founded without his investment. Meanwhile, he has substantial proof that the company went against what was outlined in its agreement. Musk even has e-mails and written statements proving Altman made promises, enforceable by law, about what OpenAI would be and did not keep them.

One can still be skeptical about Musk’s own intentions with AI and recognize that his suit could be beneficial. At the very least, if successful, it would ensure that OpenAI can’t facade as a non-profit while very much being for-profit, can’t allow Microsoft to influence its decisions, and has to be transparent about its developments, all of which would be helpful to those concerned about AI advancement. It remains to be seen what the outcome of the suit is, but Musk could prove to be the lesser of two evils in this legal battle.

(featured image: Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty)


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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is an SEO writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, YA literature, celebrity news, and coming-of-age films. She has over two years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.