Musk is on point on challenging Altman and profit-seeking OpenAI

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of X. File: Reuters

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of X. File: Reuters

Published Mar 5, 2024


Elon Musk, the South African-born entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX and Tesla, has been receiving serious backlash lately for all the right reasons.

This comes after he has been off the mark a couple of times. In the past Musk has been vocal about issues that should have been left to people with time to waste.

Recently, however, he has raised something that should receive everyone’s attention. Last week, he matched his criticism of Sam Altman, the co-founder of OpenAI, with legal action.

Sam Altman, the co-founder of OpenAI. File photo: Reuters

Why is one of the richest man in the world suing an innovator with a mission to advance technology?

One has to look to the past for answers.

A few years ago before ChatGPT was a reality, Musk, Altman and others set out a vision to develop an AI machinery that would be free of commercial interests and everything that came with it. It was supposed to be a holy AI that showed others how to do good. In a sense, it was going to set a standard for others to follow.

As most people who follow tech would know, OpenAI was turned around by Altman and became a for-profit entity that received funding from funders who were keen to see economic benefits from OpenAI.

The company moved away from its core value to doing something contrary to its founding values.

As a result of this move by Altman, there’s a serious gap of an AI organisation that can exist for the real benefit of all. For this reason, Musk has legally challenged Altman and OpenAI.

According to “The New York Times”, Musk sued OpenAI and its CEO, Altman, accusing them of breaching a contract by putting profits and commercial interests in developing AI ahead of the public good.

A multibillion-dollar partnership that OpenAI developed with Microsoft, Musk said, represented an abandonment of a founding pledge to carefully develop AI and make the technology publicly available.

The outcome of this legal challenge could shape the future of technology institutions that were designed to benefit all.

If the challenge by Musk succeeds, it will ensure that institutions that were created to benefit all are not turned around to benefit just a few.

An entity such as OpenAI was created to ensure that mistakes of the past are not repeated.

In the era before AI, many missed out on early benefits of tech. OpenAI was designed to avoid such an outcome.

Of all the sins that Musk has committed, this time around he’s on the right track. Some may say, as venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has said, it’s just sour grapes from Musk.

However, the reality is that someone had to raise this issue and perhaps shape the future of tech on such matters. In the future we are likely to see more technologies that will require neutrality. The future will require an OpenAI-type entity that is designed to serve society at large.

Tech needs an entity that is not just driven by profit. A great example in this regard is Wikipedia. As much as Wikipedia was criticised for inaccuracies, it has become one of the most important websites of our times.

One of the unique factors about the website is that it was built as a non-profit to benefit all. This is one of the reasons why it remained impactful and still served society. Imagine if Wikipedia had been turned into a for-profit organisation.

While Musk is making a point legally about the need for a non-profit organisation in AI, there’s a need for a group of tech leaders to set up such an AI institution for the benefit of all.

It should be an AI non-profit organisation that is built to watch the activity of other AI’s and ensure that society is made aware of its harms and contributes towards a solution.

Wesley Diphoko is a technology analyst. Follow him via X: @WesleyDiphoko.