OpenAI says Musk agreed the ChatGPT maker should become a for-profit company

FILE - Elon Musk addresses the European Jewish Association's conference, in Krakow, Poland, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Musk is suing OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman, Thursday, Feb. 29, over what he says is a betrayal of the ChatGPT maker's founding aims of benefiting humanity rather than pursuing profits. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

FILE – Elon Musk addresses the European Jewish Association’s conference, in Krakow, Poland, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Musk is suing OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman, Thursday, Feb. 29, over what he says is a betrayal of the ChatGPT maker’s founding aims of benefiting humanity rather than pursuing profits. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

Elon Musk supported making OpenAI a for-profit company, the ChatGPT maker said, attacking a lawsuit from the wealthy investor who has accused the artificial intelligence business of betraying its founding goal to benefit humanity as it pursued profits instead.

In its first response since the Tesla CEO sued last week, OpenAI vowed to get the claim thrown out and released emails from Musk, escalating the feud between the San Francisco-based company and the billionaire that bankrolled its creation years ago.

“The mission of OpenAI is to ensure AGI benefits all of humanity, which means both building safe and beneficial AGI and helping create broadly distributed benefits,” OpenAI said in a blog post late Tuesday from five company executives and computer scientists, including CEO Sam Altman. “We intend to move to dismiss all of Elon’s claims.”

AGI refers to artificial general intelligence, which are general purpose AI systems that can perform just as well as — or even better than — humans in a wide variety of tasks.

The lawsuit from Musk, who now has his own AI startup, says that when he funded OpenAI as it was launching, he secured an agreement that the research lab would remain a nonprofit to develop technology for the public’s benefit.

His lawsuit claims breach of contract and seeks an injunction preventing anyone — including Microsoft, which has invested billions in OpenAI — from benefiting financially from its technology.

OpenAI said both the startup and Musk recognized the need for the company to become a for-profit entity to gain enough resources to compete with companies like Google, posting screenshots of emails between the Tesla CEO and OpenAI leaders in which they discuss the possibility but can’t agree on terms.

“This needs billions per year immediately or forget it,” Musk said in an email dated Dec. 26, 2018, about the level of funding OpenAI would need.

In response to the OpenAI blog post Wednesday, Musk took to his social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Change your name,” Musk posted. “To ClosedAI and I will drop the lawsuit,” he said in a follow-up tweet hours later.

The law firm that brought Musk’s case to court didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Musk was an early investor in OpenAI when it was founded in 2015 and co-chaired its board alongside Altman. He said in his lawsuit that he invested “tens of millions” of dollars in OpenAI.

However, the company said that while Musk invested less than $45 million, it has raised more than $90 million from other donors.

OpenAI said that by 2017, the company leaders started to realize that building artificial general intelligence would take vast amounts of computing power.

“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 non-profit,” it said.

In discussions, OpenAI says Musk demanded to be CEO and majority shareholder and have control of the board but OpenAI executives didn’t think any single person should have “absolute control.”

Musk then suggested OpenAI could be merged with Tesla so that the electric car maker could act as a “cash cow” to compete with Google’s well-funded AI efforts.

It didn’t happen, and Musk instead left to build his own artificial general intelligence startup, xAI, while remaining supportive of OpenAI’s plans to raise billions of dollars, the company said.

OpenAI also pushed back against Musk’s argument that it broke its promise to keep its code open to the public instead of walling it off for private gains.

It posted an email from chief scientist Ilya Sutskever saying that open sourcing everything lets “someone unscrupulous” build “unsafe AI” and that “it’s totally OK to not share the science.” Musk replied: “Yup.”

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AP Technology Writer Matt O’Brien contributed from Providence, Rhode Island.

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The AP has signed a deal with OpenAI for it to access its news archive.

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