Elon Musk’s feud with OpenAI shows he’s both right and wrong about AI: Morning Brief

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Less than a week after Tesla CEO Elon Musk sued OpenAI, alleging that the influential AI startup abandoned its core mission of working for the public good, the company has fired back. What did you do?

But by trying to prove that Musk was along for the ride, OpenAI hurt itself.

And it echoes the dark side of Big Tech’s legacy: grandiose proclamations—building community, making information free—that hide profit motives and justify social harms.

Musk argued that OpenAI violated its core principles of sharing its tech breakthroughs with the public by becoming a closed-source alliance with Microsoft. In joint emails, OpenAI leaders suggested that, as their technology develops, scientific details should be kept out of full public view to protect against bad actors.

OpenAI published a blog post earlier this week that revealed a Musk-backed plan to turn the organization into a for-profit entity in early 2017. The creator of ChatGPT also claims that Musk claimed full control over the transformed company.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reacts during an event with British Prime Minister Rishi Singh at Lancaster House on November 2, 2023 in London, England. (Kristy Wigglesworth – WPA Poll/Getty Images) (WPA Poll via Getty Images)

In the uneasy portrait that OpenAI presents, Musk comes across as a bitter ex and a hypocrite. And while the re-heated memes Musk is sharing about and responding to OpenAI’s need to change its name on X are cringeworthy content, they also offer straightforward criticism of the company.

Because the same evidence OpenAI marshals against Musk undermines the startup’s own narrative about democratizing the power of advanced AI tools.

“As we get closer to building AI, it will start to become less open,” OpenAI co-founder Ilya Sotskiver wrote in a 2016 email. “Open in Open AI means that everyone should enjoy the fruits of AI once it’s built, but it’s perfectly fine not to share the science…”

OpenAI said Musk pushed for majority equity, initial board control, and a CEO role. When that didn’t pan out, Musk suggested merging OpenAI with Tesla.

And when another push offer didn’t pan out, Musk left OpenAI, wishing well but thinking he could build an AI shop himself. A power struggle that may sound familiar to Tesla’s board and shareholders.

Musk, of course, stands to benefit from the fall of OpenAI. His AI startup, xAI, is behind chatbot Grok, a rival to ChatGPT, and is working to build Tesla into an AI juggernaut.

But the disinterested shouldn’t be the only ones poking holes in the tech world’s latest growth story. The corrosive effects of massive data harvesting and black-box algorithms took years to trickle down to techlash. Opposition to OpenAI’s tools, even at this early stage, already exists.

And that’s part of what makes a straight-faced mission statement about benefiting humanity and “helping create broadly distributed benefits” hard to take seriously.

A decade ago, tech had major social goals. But in 2024 you don’t need a pile of emails to know that this story isn’t real — the public didn’t believe it anyway.

Hamza Shaban is a Yahoo Finance reporter covering markets and the economy. Follow Hamza on Twitter. @hshaban.

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