OpenAI says Elon Musk wanted ‘absolute control’ of the company

An image of Elon Musk on a background with a repeating pattern of folded dollar bills
Illustration by Kristen Radtke / The Verge; Getty Images

OpenAI has responded to Elon Musk’s lawsuit by saying that he at one point wanted “absolute control” of the company by merging it with Tesla.

In a blog post published on Tuesday, OpenAI said it will move to dismiss “all of Elon’s claims” and offered its own counter-narrative to his account of the company abandoning its original mission as a nonprofit.

“As we discussed a for-profit structure in order to further the mission, Elon wanted us to merge with Tesla or he wanted full control,” including “majority equity, initial board control, and to be CEO,” according to the post, which is authored by OpenAI co-founders Greg Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, John Schulman, Sam Altman, and Wojciech Zaremba. “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.”

Musk alleged in his suit that OpenAI has become “a closed-source de facto subsidiary” of Microsoft that is focused on making money instead of benefitting humanity. In so doing, his suit claims that OpenAI abandoned its original nonprofit mission that he helped fund.

In Musk’s view, this constitutes a breach of a contract. While Musk’s complaint mentions an OpenAI “founding agreement,” no formal agreement has been made public yet, and OpenAI’s post did not directly address the question of whether one existed.

A screenshot of the email described between Musk and several OpenAI executives.
OpenAI says this and other emails show Musk was on board with the company becoming less open.

OpenAI also defends its decision not open-source its work: “Elon understood the mission did not imply open-sourcing AGI,” the post says, referring to artificial general intelligence. The company published a January 2016 email conversation in which Sutskever said, “as we get closer to building AI, it will make sense to start being less open,” and that “it’s totally OK to not share the science.” Musk replied: “Yup.”

There are some other puzzling allegations in Musk’s suit, like the one that GPT-4 is “a de facto Microsoft proprietary algorithm” that represents artificial general intelligence. OpenAI had already rejected that claims in a staff memo but didn’t address it in its public blog post on Tuesday.