Elon Musk, the tech magnate behind Tesla and SpaceX, has now filed a lawsuit against OpenAI and its Chief Executive Officer, Sam Altman. For reference, OpenAI is the research company Musk had co-founded in 2015, although he no longer holds a stake in the company. The lawsuit alleges that OpenAI has strayed from its foundational mission of advancing artificial intelligence (AI) for the benefit of humanity, and the company is being sued for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and claims of unfair business practices, among other grievances.

This development comes a few months after OpenAI went through a tumultuous time – at the end of last year, Altman found himself ousted from OpenAI, and was then swiftly reinstated. OpenAI also went on to have a new initial board of directors, and Microsoft joined as a nonvoting observer.

Established in 2015, OpenAI was initially conceived as a non-profit organization that focusses on the development of open-source AI tech and ensures that AI benefits humanity on a broad scale. Musk, prior to parting ways with the firm in 2018, was said to be a “moving force” behind OpenAI’s creation and invested heavily in the firm in its early years. Now, the billionaire’s lawsuit contends that recent developments within OpenAI, particularly its partnership with Microsoft, have deviated from these core principles. The lawsuit asserts that OpenAI’s alignment with Microsoft has effectively transformed it into a “closed-source de facto subsidiary,” prioritizing profit motives over ethical considerations.

According to Musk, Altman has “set aflame” OpenAI’s founding agreement by signing a multi-billion-dollar investment deal (which amounted to $13 billion) with Microsoft. “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 maximise profits for Microsoft, rather than for the benefit of humanity,” the lawsuit alleges, adding that AGI poses “a grave threat to humanity.” As of now, Musk is also aiming for an injunction that prevents OpenAI, Microsoft, Altman, and president Gregory Brockman, from profiting off of the company’s AGI.

Another point of contention revolves around OpenAI’s development and subsequent secrecy surrounding its most advanced creation, the powerful and popular GPT-4. This powerful language model, capable of generating human-quality text, has raised concerns due to the veil of secrecy surrounding its inner workings. The lawsuit criticizes the decision to keep the inner workings of GPT-4 a “complete secret,” alleging that it is primarily driven by “commercial considerations, not safety.” “Where some like Mr Musk see an existential threat in AGI, others see AGI as a source of profit and power,” said the lawsuit, adding that in the hands of for-profit companies such as Google, AGI poses a “particularly acute and noxious danger to humanity”.