Elon Musk tried to merge Tesla and OpenAI, emails reveal

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Elon Musk tried to merge Tesla and OpenAI, emails reveal


In response to Elon Musk’s lawsuit against OpenAI, the company answered by releasing emails from Elon Musk showing that he actually supported OpenAI pivoting to a for-profit model and even merging with Tesla.

OpenAI, an AI company now famous for its ChatGPT chatbot based on large language models, was originally co-founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk as a non-profit.

In 2018, Musk left OpenAI’s board and cited a potential conflict with Tesla’s own AI effort as the reason for severing ties with the company at the time. The main issue seems to be a competition for AI talent between OpenAI and Tesla – though Musk has since said that he also disagreed with OpenAI’s direction on AI safety and moving from a non-profit organization to a for-profit.

Over the last few months, and especially since he launched his own AI startup (outside of Tesla), xAI, Musk has been hammering OpenAI over its move to a for-profit structure.

During that time, OpenAI continued to make waves in the AI industry – most recently through the unveiling of Sora, an impressive AI text-to-video generator.

Earlier this week, Musk went as far as filing a lawsuit against OpenAI in which he accused the company of prioritizing profits over public good and going against its original mission.

Today, OpenAI fought back with a blog post in which the company said it plans to move to “dismiss all of Elon’s claims”. The company showed proof, including emails, that Musk said that OpenAI wouldn’t be helpful as a non-profit and he supported a move to for-profit:

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.

When that didn’t sit well with the rest of OpenAI, Musk shifted strategy and suggested to merge OpenAI into Tesla:

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. 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”.

OpenAI released an email from Musk to prove this chronology of events. Musk forwarded an email from a person whose name has been redacted. In that email, the person explains the logic for merging OpenAI and Tesla. Musk wrote that the person is “exactly right”.

Here are the emails:

Electrek’s Take

Honestly, I don’t know what to think at this point. I don’t know if I was always wrong about Elon. I don’t know if he changed drastically over the last few years or if he just got worse at hiding his true self, but this is not the man I used to consider my hero.

For months, Elon has been publicly bashing OpenAI for its pivot to for-profit and now we learned that he himself admitted that it won’t be able to survive as a non-profit and supported the pivot – though only if he is in control of the company as its own entity or within Tesla.

This is a high level of hypocrisy.

Elon completely supported the shift to for-profit (as long as he was in control of it), but now he has decided the bash the move and even sue the company as he started a competing startup. If you think that’s a coincidence, I have a bridge to sell you.

That said, based on those emails, he does ultimately seem to want AI to be good for humanity, but his methods are questionable. He requires us to just trust him entirely, which is so hard to do these days.

This whole thing supports what Sam Altman said last year: “Elon desperately wants the world to be saved, but only if he is the one saving it.”

Also, it’s just a coincidence that by him “saving the world” from AI/with AI, he would own the entities getting extremely valuable from it. Just a coincidence.

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