HomeWinBuzzer NewsElon Musk Sought "Absolute Control" of OpenAI, Company Alleges Amid Legal Dispute

Elon Musk Sought “Absolute Control” of OpenAI, Company Alleges Amid Legal Dispute

Elon Musk sues OpenAI for abandoning its non-profit mission and siding with Microsoft. OpenAI denies these claims, stating Musk previously wanted full control and to merge it with Tesla.


OpenAI has announced plans to dismiss all claims made by Elon Musk in a lawsuit accusing the artificial intelligence research company of breaching a contract. The lawsuit, filed in early March 2024, alleges that OpenAI veered away from its founding nonprofit mission, subsequently aligning itself more closely with commercial interests, notably with . In a detailed blog post, OpenAI's co-founders Greg Brockman, , John Schulman, , and Wojciech Zaremba have countered Musk's narrative, asserting that at one juncture, he aimed to amalgamate the entity with or assume complete dominance over it.

Allegations and Counterclaims

According to OpenAI, 's vision for the company entailed acquiring “majority equity, initial board control, and to be CEO”—terms that OpenAI found incompatible with its mission. The founders stated, “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.” This response comes after Musk criticized OpenAI for morphing into a “closed-source de facto subsidiary” of Microsoft, which, in his view, prioritizes profit over humanitarian benefits, thereby deviating from its original mission. The essence of the disagreement seems to hinge on the interpretation of OpenAI's transition from a nonprofit to a for-profit organization, which Musk argues is a contravention of their founding agreement. However, the specifics of such an agreement have yet to be disclosed publicly by either party.

Mission and Philosophy Dispute

While Musk's lawsuit includes claims suggesting that current AI developments like GPT-4 have essentially become proprietary technologies under Microsoft's influence, OpenAI rebuts this narrative. The company has clarified its stance on not open-sourcing artificial general intelligence (AGI), citing a conversation from January 2016 where this approach towards was deemed prudent. 

In the unfolding narrative that has been summarized by AI expert Wes Roth, OpenAI reveals that during late 2017, alongside Musk, it deliberated transitioning into a for-profit organization. Musk envisioned having majority equity, predominant board influence, and the CEO position. Amid these discussions, Musk paused his funding contributions, compelling Reid Hoffman to temporarily finance the company's immediate operational and salary needs. OpenAI, however, resisted Musk's proposals, prioritizing the collective mission over individual dominance.

OpenAI also revisits previous discussions around merging with Tesla. Elon Musk, in early February 2018, proposed integrating OpenAI with Tesla, suggesting that Tesla could serve as an economic foundation for OpenAI's ambitious goals against tech giants like . Despite these discussions, OpenAI chose a path that diverged from Musk's vision, underscoring a mutual commitment to a mission that did not inherently require open-sourcing all AI developments.

Correspondence from January 2016 reveals Musk acknowledging a strategy to become more selective in sharing AI advancements, aligning with OpenAI's broader mission for AI to benefit humanity while securing certain intellectual developments.

“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. 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. Elon soon chose to leave OpenAI, saying that our probability of success was 0, and that he planned to build an AGI competitor within Tesla.”

As this legal confrontation unfolds, the core of the dispute appears to be a divergence in visions for OpenAI's future, pitting Musk's pursuit for control against the company's stated commitment to advancing AI in a way that safeguards against centralized power. With both parties standing firm, the resolution of this lawsuit will likely have far-reaching implications for the governance and development of AI technologies.

Musk's Opposition to OpenAI: Legitimate Concerns or Sour Grapes

We now have two sides to this story. On the one side there is Musk, who claims that OpenAI has deviated from its mission and is potentially a threat in its push towards general intelligence. There have been reports OpenAI's Q* model has achieved general intelligence. What seems to set Q* apart from GPT and potentially any other AI model is the level of self-awareness it is reportedly exhibiting.

Musk has been vocal about the potential dangers of AI, despite launching his own X.ai company. OpenAI now claims that Musk's lawsuit is simply a bitter attack driven by a desire for revenge. Even so, there is no doubt the company has been going through turmoil, suggesting not everyone in OpenAI agrees with the direction the company has taken. 

In December, CEO Sam Altman was fired leading to a saga amid reports of boardroom backstabbing. Altman then joined Microsoft before days later resuming his position as OpenAI CEO. In the midst, Microsoft came out a winner by being given a seat on the board alongside its existing $10 billion investment in the company. 

As OpenAI prepares to contest Musk's allegations, the outcome of this legal battle may have significant implications for the development and governance of artificial intelligence technologies.

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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