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Elon Musk’s Departure from OpenAI: How Sam Altman Steered the Organization Through Turbulence

Elon Musk's departure from OpenAI in 2018 had a significant impact on the organization and the company's CEO Sam Altman.


In 2018, Elon Musk, the tech magnate behind companies like Tesla and SpaceX, made a significant departure from OpenAI, the organization responsible for the development of ChatGPT. This move was not just a professional shift; it sent ripples throughout the artificial intelligence community. Musk's decision to step down from the OpenAI board reportedly came after his attempt to take over the company was declined.

Altman's Struggles Post Musk's Departure

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman candidly told The New Yorker about the challenges he faced following Musk's exit, stating, “It was very tough. I had to reorient a lot of my life and time to make sure we had enough funding.” This sentiment underscores the profound impact Musk's departure had on the organization, both operationally and financially. Musk, who was one of the co-founders of in 2015 alongside Altman, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, had invested an estimated $50 million to $100 million of his personal wealth into the initiative. His exit not only meant the loss of a visionary board member but also a significant financial backer.

The Backstory of Musk's Departure

While Musk initially cited a conflict of interest with Tesla as the reason for his departure, reports later emerged suggesting a different narrative. According to Semafor, Musk's decision to leave OpenAI was influenced by the company's rejection of his bid to lead it. provided a more candid account of the events, recounting, “Basically, he goes, ‘You're all a bunch of jackasses,' and he leaves.” This departure also marked the end of Musk's financial commitment to OpenAI, leaving the organization in a precarious position.

Despite the challenges, OpenAI has managed to carve a niche for itself in the AI landscape. Following the release of its AI chatbot, , the company secured a whopping $10 billion investment from Microsoft and raised an additional $495 million from venture capital giants like Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Thrive, and K2 Global. However, the relationship between Musk and OpenAI remains strained. Musk has criticized OpenAI for its perceived shift towards profit, even going so far as to label it a “maximum profit company effectively controlled by .” In response, Altman defended OpenAI's mission and called Musk's accusations “totally wrong.”

Musk has also said the partnership with Microsoft is “not what I intended at all” for OpenAI. As part of its significant investment in OpenAI, Microsoft has co-development in many of the company's AI models. For example, Microsoft has been a key part of the creation of OpenAI Codex, a model that powers GitHub Copilot.

Microsoft has also helped in developing GPT-3 and further iterations of the large language model that underpins ChatGPT. In fact, Microsoft has leveraged GPT-4 across its Bing Chat AI search, Copilot productivity AI, and more. As part of its deal with OpenAI, Microsoft reportedly takes a percentage of all profit the company makes.

Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke has been writing about all things tech for more than five years. He is following Microsoft closely to bring you the latest news about Windows, Office, Azure, Skype, HoloLens and all the rest of their products.

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