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Elon Musk accuses OpenAI of “treason” in court

OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, is already in the sights of competition authorities due to its close ties to Microsoft and is now the subject of a complaint from billionaire Elon Musk, who accuses it of “betrayal” of its original mission.

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The boss of Tesla, SpaceX and

In documents filed in a San Francisco court on Thursday evening, the wealthy entrepreneur criticized OpenAI and Sam Altman for failing to respect the principles on which the company was founded.

According to Elon Musk, the further development of OpenAI in 2023 represents “a blatant betrayal of the founding agreement.”

At its inception, OpenAI had the status of a non-profit organization intended to work for the good of humanity and to develop “open source” artificial intelligence (AI) programs (accessible to all, modifiable, usable and redistributable).

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Contrary to its original goals, OpenAI did not publish the code of its latest base model, GPT-4, thereby “breaching the original contract,” Elon Musk’s lawyers argue in the lawsuit.

The founding agreement has therefore been completely called into question, they say, accusing OpenAI of making profits “with potentially catastrophic effects on humanity”.

“Have they deviated from what they proclaim to be their mission? I would definitely say yes,” Nikolas Guggenberger, a law professor at the University of Houston, told AFP. “But that is not necessarily a sufficient basis for a lawsuit by someone who is no longer part of the project,” he added.

“De facto subsidiary” of Microsoft

“OpenAI has been transformed into a de facto subsidiary […] of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft,” Musk’s lawyers continue.

The launch in late 2022 of ChatGPT, the generative AI interface that made this content production technology (text, sound, images, etc.) widely known, made OpenAI a star of Silicon Valley.

Microsoft has pumped around $13 billion into the organization in recent years, and both companies market generative AI services to developers and individuals.

“Unlike the original contract [ils] “Choosed to use GPT-4 not for the benefit of humanity, but as a proprietary technology aimed at maximizing profits for the largest company in the world,” Musk's complaint says.

Last year he founded his own artificial intelligence company, xAI.

In particular, he demands the exclusion of GPT-4 from the license granted by OpenAI to Microsoft and compensation for damages.

OpenAI did not respond to AFP's request for comment and Microsoft declined to comment.

“Elon isn’t wrong. […] He didn’t get what he paid and worked for,” responded Gary Marcus, AI specialist, in his newsletter.

“Anyone doing business with Altman would be wise to read it. The company that Sam (Altman) and Greg (Brockman) have built has little to do with what was originally promised.”


OpenAI's change in direction had already led to Sam Altman being fired by his organization's board in November.

Supported by Microsoft and the vast majority of the start-up's employees, the young boss was reinstated a few days later and the Windows manufacturer was given an observer seat on the board after Sam Altman fired critical members.

“This litigation at least has the advantage of shedding light on the decision-making process,” commented Anupam Chander, a law professor at Georgetown University.

“It puts pressure on OpenAI to explain how it still respects this original vision of creating artificial intelligence for the benefit of all humanity.”

OpenAI is also in the sights of regulators.

The European Commission, guardian of competition law in Europe, said in January that it was examining “whether Microsoft's investment in OpenAI” could be “subject to scrutiny.”

The American Competition Authority (FTC) announced an investigation into investments by Microsoft, Google and Amazon in the most important start-ups for generative artificial intelligence, OpenAI and Anthropic.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is also examining Sam Altman's internal communications as part of an investigation into the terms of his ouster and return to the company in November.