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Billionaire Elon Musk sues ChatGPT creator for growing rich off AI

Elon Musk co-founded OpenAI with Sam Altman in 2015
Elon Musk co-founded OpenAI with Sam Altman in 2015 - AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Elon Musk is suing the co-founder of the ChatGPT developer OpenAI, alleging he compromised the company’s original pursuit to prioritise developing safe artificial intelligence (AI) over profits.

The Tesla billionaire accused Sam Altman of “stark betrayal” after the pair co-founded OpenAI in 2015, with Mr Musk agreeing to bankroll the group with the intention of developing AI that would benefit humanity.

The business was set up as a non-profit and shared details of its AI breakthroughs with other scientists.

However, in a lawsuit filed in California, Mr Musk claimed Mr Altman, who is chief executive of OpenAI, has since plotted to “radically depart from their mission”, raising billions of dollars from Microsoft and making OpenAI’s research a secret.

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In the lawsuit, Mr Musks’s lawyers wrote OpenAI had collected “tens of millions of dollars” to develop AI for the good of humanity, but had since become a “closed, for-profit partner of the world’s largest corporation, thereby personally enriching the defendants”.

The filing accuses Mr Altman and OpenAI of breach of contract and demands a ruling that would block Microsoft from using the start-up’s most powerful AI tools.

Mr Altman has repeatedly warned about the dangers of powerful AI and its threat to humanity
Mr Altman has repeatedly warned about the dangers of powerful AI and its threat to humanity - Markus Schreiber/AP

OpenAI is the developer of ChatGPT, an AI chatbot that can answer questions in plain English, generate code and engage in uncannily human conversations.

Mr Altman has repeatedly warned about the dangers of powerful AI and its threat to humanity.

The lawsuit claims Mr Altman and Mr Musk set up OpenAI over a shared concern of the existential risks posed by powerful AI in a bid to challenge Google, which had just acquired the AI lab DeepMind.

The group set out to develop so-called artificial general intelligence technology in a safe way, and not for profit. Mr Musk left OpenAI in 2018 amid a falling out with its leadership.

Last year Microsoft became the biggest investor in OpenAI, pumping as much as $10bn (£7.9bn) into developing its technology. In November, Mr Altman was ousted by OpenAI’s board, before returning as chief executive just days later amid pressure from staff and Microsoft.

The lawsuit, which was first reported by Courthouse News, claims that, since then, OpenAI has been turned into a “de facto subsidiary” of Microsoft that is seeking to “maximise profits”.

Last year, Mr Musk launched his own AI venture, xAI, under which he has developed an alternative to ChatGPT, called Grok. He has claimed it will be “politically neutral”.

When Mr Altman was sacked in November, Mr Musk demanded the board explain its reasoning. The true reason has never been made public, aside from the board claiming Mr Altman had not been “candid”.

OpenAI was contacted for comment.