Before xAI, Elon Musk had hopes for OpenAI at Tesla

Key Points

  • 💡 Elon Musk has been involved in AI development for many years, including at Tesla and as a former board member of OpenAI.
  • 💼 Musk attempted to persuade OpenAI CEO Sam Altman to merge OpenAI with Tesla, but OpenAI declined.
  • 🚗 Tesla was already focusing on AI for Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) before OpenAI’s ChatGPT.
  • 💰 Altman later launched a for-profit arm of OpenAI, which received a large investment from Microsoft.
  • 🤖 Musk has expressed concerns about AI systems like ChatGPT becoming politically indoctrinated and posing risks to humanity.
  • 📅 Musk invited Altman to a meeting in February to discuss OpenAI, leading to a clash of views.
  • 🌐 Musk has other AI-related projects, including Tesla Optimus robot, Neuralink, and xAI, which aims to “understand the true nature of the universe.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been involved in the development of artificial intelligence for many years, both at his own companies and as a former board member of ChatGPT maker OpenAI. However, new details from biographer Walter Isaacson show that Musk may have courted the AI research lab to be absorbed by Tesla before stepping down.

In an excerpt from the biography shared this week by Time, Isaacson says that Musk tried to persuade current OpenAI CEO Sam Altman to incorporate the AI company into Tesla before leaving (via Business Insider). According to the account, OpenAI denied Musk’s requests, and Altman soon became the company’s new President and later CEO.

At the time, long before the then-non-profit had debuted ChatGPT, Tesla had also been ramping up AI efforts for its neural networks trained for Autopilot and the Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta, along with other projects.

Altman went on to launch a for-profit arm of OpenAI that gained a large investment from Microsoft, which Musk protested at the time due to concerns over how AI development would be handled. Over the years, Musk has expressed potential dangers about other AI systems and generative language models like ChatGPT, noting that they could become politically indoctrinated and pose major risks to humanity.

Isaacson says that Musk also invited Altman to meet with him in February of this year, during which Musk reportedly “unleashed a barrage of attacks on OpenAI.” Among the attacks were criticisms as to how the company could legally shift its original status as a non-profit to being funded by donations as a for-profit that would be able to generate millions of dollars.

“He’s a jerk,” Altman said of Musk in an interview with Kara Swisher after the meeting. “He has a style that is not a style that I’d want to have for myself. But I think he does really care, and he is feeling very stressed about what the future’s going to look like for humanity.”

At the time of writing, Insider says neither Musk nor Altman’s representatives have responded to requests for comment, which the publication submitted outside of typical office hours.

Earlier this month, Musk was recognized on Time’s List of the 100 most influential people in AI, alongside Altman and other industry leaders. He has also continually echoed concerns around the technology, even calling for an industry-wide pause on AI development in March and warning of a ‘potentially catastrophic outcome’ in June.

Other AI-related projects under Musk’s watch include the Tesla Optimus robot and Dojo supercomputer, his brain chip company Neuralink, and his new company, xAI, launched earlier this year.

The mission statement of xAI is to “understand the true nature of the universe,” according to the company’s website.

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