Elon Musk doesn’t express regret a lot, publicly standing by his money-sucking tweets that have been called dated plagiarism and cringey at best and antisemitic and hateful (if not slanderous) at worst. The former CEO of Twitter and Tesla CEO hasn’t even admitted to feeling any shame about dressing up as Wario in a courtroom (admittedly in an SNL sketch). But in a news-making blockbuster interview with CNBC that aired last night, Musk confessed to several mistakes, and some big ones with his role in forming the company that became OpenAI, the originator of the game-changing ChatGPT artificial intelligence technology.
A co-founder at OpenAI, Musk resigned from the board in 2018, only to see ChatGPT become the technology with the fastest adoption rate, well, maybe ever. Musk was focused on his own inventions, the self-driving car and humanoid robot thingy which still appears to be mostly robot, Musk has gotten sidetracked in the last year by Twitter, a $44 billion gift to himself. Running Twitter has proven to be more work than simply fun, as serial tweeter Musk admits he might have overpaid by more than $20 billion as the company depreciates in value under his reign.
The grass is always greener on the other side of Silicon Valley, but in Musk’s case, by backing out of OpenAI he’s lost out on quite a bit of money, along with an association with the hottest thing in tech these days. In his interview with CNBC’s David Faber, Musk did what he likes to do best and shared more of his thoughts, this time regarding his choices at OpenAI, what he revealed is a former friendship with Google’s Larry Page, and claims that his role in OpenAI’s success was pivotal.
“I fully admit to being a huge idiot here,” Musk says, when asked whether he should have a larger stake in OpenAI given that he invested so much in the project. Musk said he underestimated the potential of the company’s profitability, but he argued this was unforeseen. After all, the company transitioned from nonprofit to for-profit in 2019, not long after Musk left, and this also gets to the root of his beef with Page.
“I am the reason OpenAI exists,” Musk insisted, adding that he poured roughly $50 million into the group, while lamenting, “man, fate loves irony next level.” “It wouldn’t exist without me,” he continued, telling Faber that he came up with the name and recruited key scientists and engineers such as Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s co-founder and chief scientist.
Elon and Larry, the real story, according to Elon
The Tesla founder explained that he didn’t—and still doesn’t—believe that companies should profit off of A.I. (notwithstanding Tesla vehicles’ A.I.-like qualities). He describes his fallout with Larry Page as related to this: “I would be constantly urging him to be careful about the danger of A.I., and he was really not concerned about the danger of A.I. He was quite cavalier about it.” Adding to their falling out, Musk describes Page’s lobbed accusation that Musk was a speciesist, or believed that AI wasn’t as good as humans. Though musk calls it the “last straw” he also doesn’t seem to mind the label.
Musk said he was spurred to make his open source and therefore the opposite of Page’s DeepMind initiative at Google, and made sure that OpenAI would be a nonprofit. “The intent was: ‘What’s the opposite of Google,’ [it] would be an opensource nonprofit. Because Google is closed source, for-profit. And that profit motivation can be potentially dangerous.”
Part of Musk’s underestimation comes from thinking OpenAI couldn’t wage war against Google. “In the beginning I thought, ‘Look, this is probably a hopeless endeavor, how could OpenAI possibly compete with Google Deepmind?’ This seemed like an ant against an elephant, not a contest.”
He’s still sore about how it went down, asking rhetorically if it should be legal for a nonprofit to take IP developed for that purpose and transfer it to a for-profit company, as OpenAI has done. It does “seem weird” to him, likening its transformation to funding an organization that claims to save the Amazon rainforest and then finding out that it becomes a lumber company which profits off selling its materials instead.
“You’d be like ‘Oh, wait a second, that’s the exact opposite of what I gave the money for, is that legal? That doesn’t seem legal.’” Musk expresses he’s wary of anyone profiting off of A.I. “I do worry that Microsoft actually may be more in control than say the leadership team at OpenAI realizes,” he adds. Whether it be Microsoft or OpenAI leadership running the now very profitable show, one thing is certain, Musk is in the audience at this point.