OpenAI pushes back on Elon Musk lawsuit, says he suggested merger with Tesla


OpenAI on Tuesday hit back at Elon Musk’s lawsuit claiming the startup abandoned its original nonprofit mission by revealing communications showing the billionaire backed OpenAI’s move to create a for-profit entity and suggested it should merge with Tesla.

Musk, who was among OpenAI’s co-founders in 2015, filed a lawsuit last week alleging that the company breached its founding agreement to develop artificial intelligence (AI) for the benefit of humanity, rather than for profit, by partnering with Microsoft. Musk resigned his board seat at the company in 2018, thinking OpenAI had fallen behind Google in the AI race and that there may be a conflict of interest given his pursuit of AI initiatives at Tesla.

OpenAI’s other co-founders, including CEO Sam Altman, president Greg Brockman and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, wrote a blog post on OpenAI’s website that they “intend to move to dismiss all of Elon’s claims.” They also shared some of their communications with Musk that showed his support for their creation of a for-profit entity to raise the funding needed to develop AI at scale to reach artificial general intelligence, which the company defines as autonomous systems that surpass humans in most economically valuable tasks.

“In late 2017, we and Elon decided the next step for the mission was to create a for-profit entity. Elon wanted majority equity, initial board control, and to be CEO. In the middle of these discussions, he withheld funding. Reid Hoffman bridged the gap to cover salaries and operations,” the group of OpenAI co-founders wrote about the dynamics with Musk.


“We couldn’t agree to terms on a for-profit with Elon because we felt it was against the mission for any individual to have absolute control over OpenAI,” they continued. “He then suggested instead merging OpenAI into Tesla. In early February 2018, Elon forwarded us an email suggesting that OpenAI should ‘attach to Tesla as its cash cow’, commenting that it was ‘exactly right… 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.'”

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Musk departed the startup in late February 2018 to focus on his AI projects at Tesla and his fellow OpenAI co-founders said “he told our team he was supportive of us finding our own path to raising billions of dollars” and noted an email Musk sent to OpenAI leaders later that year on the subject.

“My probability assessment of OpenAI being relevant to DeepMind/Google without a dramatic change in execution and resources is 0%. Not 1%. I wish it were otherwise. Even raising several hundred million won’t be enough. This needs billions per year immediately or forget it,” Musk wrote to Sutskever, Brockman and Altman in December 2018.


xAI Elon Musk

Musk hasn’t commented specifically on the OpenAI blog posts’ description of his interactions with the startup he co-founded, although on Wednesday he posted a pair of memes on X, formerly Twitter, depicting OpenAI’s logo with the phrase “ClosedAI” – including one featuring current CEO Sam Altman.

OpenAI’s leaders said they regret the falling out with Musk in light of their recent success with the launch of ChatGPT over a year ago and his move to found his own AI startup called xAI.

“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,” the OpenAI leaders wrote in their blog post.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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