(CN) — Elon Musk says in a Thursday lawsuit that Sam Altman and OpenAI have betrayed an agreement from the artificial intelligence research company's founding to develop the technology for the benefit of humanity rather than profit.

In the suit filed Thursday night in San Francisco Superior Court, Musk claims OpenAI's recent relationship with tech giant Microsoft has compromised the company's original dedication to public, open-source artificial general intelligence.

"OpenAI, Inc. has been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft. Under its new board, it is not just developing but is actually refining an AGI to maximize profits for Microsoft, rather than for the benefit of humanity," Musk says in the suit.

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I think open source AI development is bad for humanity, and think one of the good things about the OpenAI team is that they seem to have realized this (tho perhaps for the wrong reasons).


I am curious about the counterfactual where the original team had realized being open was a mistake from the beginning (let's call that hypothetical project WindfallAI, or whatever, after their charter clause). Would Elon not have funded it? Would some founders (or early employees) have decided not to join?

It seems clear that Elon would not have funded it? The idea might not have even existed, the effort might still be unified in Deepmind, with the rest of the space still in denial about immanent generality, for a lack of language demonstrations.

If you're asking about deeper causality underlying why Elon has always thought that open source would be the safest route, I don't know if there is any, that might have been a quirk opinion.

I wonder if the court will have to seriously investigate the claim that open source promotes safety. If the discussion goes well, that could be monumental.

Title updated. "Sues" was an understatement. There's a substantial chance that the stated damages would destroy the company?


Presumably, yes, the remedy would be to unwind the for-profit subsidiary and return to the original stated goals. Wouldn't even be ultra vires, so to speak, because of how they set it up in the first place - to be dissolved at the wave of a hand by the non-profit board.

However, I think there is about 0% probability of this. I can't think of any lawsuit remotely like this which succeeded. Non-profits are accorded incredible deference on this sort of thing. The board members could be diving Donald Duck-style into piles of cash and a judge would not want to overrule them on these threadbare grounds. If all Musk has is some emails vaguely discussing goals many years ago and he's butthurt about what OA LLC is doing now, he's got nothing.

This just looks like typical Musk lawfare harassment, similar to his attempts to get out of his ironclad Twitter purchase agreement or random libel lawsuit threats - it's just sniping at OA and embarrassing it. The billionaire's equivalent of leaving the standard 'OpenAI? Not so open now are they?' comment. (He may even have persuaded himself he has a case, but he doesn't.)

It's not like it costs him anything but money or risks backfiring in any meaningful way. The worst that can happen to him is that the judge dismisses all of it at the first opportunity and he loses <0.01% of his net worth in high-powered legal fees. (Presumably Sam Altman is already pissed off at Musk and can't really be made madder.) Well worth it to embarrass OA publicly. (And if you believe Jimmy Apples, it's already hampered OA internally. Every day counts in DL now, and how could you spend, say, $0.1m to help X.ai more effectively catch up to OA than this lawsuit...?)

EDIT: one lawyer's analysis: "So many words for a lot of nothing of a case."

Unfortunately if OpenAI the company is destroyed, all that happens is that all of its employees get hired by Microsoft, they change the lettering on the office building, and sama's title changes from CEO to whatever high level manager positions he'll occupy within microsoft.

It's unclear to me and I am not a lawyer: does Musk have standing?

No. Traditionally, donors have no standing to sue charity. From https://www.thetaxadviser.com/issues/2021/sep/donor-no-standing-sue-donor-advised-fund.html

California limits by statute the persons who can sue for mismanagement of a charitable corporation's assets. The court found that the claims raised by Pinkert for breach of a fiduciary duty for mismanagement of assets were claims for breach of a charitable trust. The court determined that under California law, a suit for breach of a charitable trust can be brought by the attorney general of California...

This looks more like a spotlight grab than a serious legal challenge. What a waste of time and money for everyone.

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