OpenAI Says Elon Musk Tried to Merge It With Tesla

OpenAI, in its first public comments about Elon Musk’s lawsuit against the influential artificial intelligence research lab, said that Mr. Musk tried to transform the lab from a nonprofit into a for-profit operation before he left the organization in early 2018.

The comments, made in a blog post published on Tuesday evening, are part of an escalating feud between Mr. Musk and OpenAI, which is now at the forefront of an industrywide A.I. boom. The company said it intended to move to dismiss all the claims in Mr. Musk’s suit.

Mr. Musk filed the suit against OpenAI and its chief executive, Sam Altman, on Friday, accusing them of breaching a contract by putting profits and commercial interests ahead of building A.I. for the public good. He said that when the A.I. lab entered a multi-billion-dollar partnership with the tech giant Microsoft, it abandoned its founding pledge to carefully develop A.I. and freely share it with the public.

(The New York Times sued OpenAI and its partner, Microsoft, in December, claiming copyright infringement of news content related to A.I. systems.)

Mr. Musk helped found OpenAI as a nonprofit in 2015 with Mr. Altman; Greg Brockman, who was the former chief technology officer of the payments company Stripe; and several A.I. researchers. Before the lab was announced, Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman intended to raise about $100 million, but Mr. Musk said it should tell the press and public it was raising $1 billion and that he would provide the added funds, according to a contemporaneous email included in the blog post.

Mr. Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We need to go with a much bigger number than $100M to avoid sounding hopeless,” he wrote in the email. “I will cover whatever anyone else doesn’t provide.”

The nonprofit raised less than $45 million from Mr. Musk and more than $90 million from other donors, OpenAI said in its blog post.

The company said that Mr. Musk had been among the OpenAI leaders who realized in early 2017 that if the lab remained a nonprofit, it could not raise the money it would need to reach its lofty goal of building artificial general intelligence, or A.G.I., a machine that can do anything the human brain can do.

“We all understood we were going to need a lot more capital to succeed at our mission — billions of dollars per year, which was far more than any of us, especially Elon, thought we’d be able to raise as the nonprofit,” the blog post said.

When Mr. Musk and the other OpenAI founders agreed to create a for-profit company, Mr. Musk said he wanted a majority of the equity in the company, initial board control and to be the chief executive, OpenAI said. Amid the discussions, he withheld funding from the nonprofit, OpenAI said.

The other founders could not agree to his terms because they believed that giving one person absolute control of the organization went against its mission, OpenAI said. Mr. Musk then suggested that OpenAI be attached to his electric car company Tesla, according to another email included in the blog post.

“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,” the email read.

With his suit, Mr. Musk argued that OpenAI had breached its original mission because it was no longer sharing its underlying technology with the public, what is called “open sourcing.”

OpenAI’s blog post also included an email in which Mr. Musk seems to acknowledge that, as the company nears the creation of A.G.I., it would have to begin to hold back the technology to prevent it from causing harm.

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