In 2018, OpenAI created ChatGPT as a non-profit that promised to ‘advance artificial intelligence in a way that benefited humanity as a whole’. Tech mogul and billionaire Elon Musk argues that these lofty claims have since been abandoned. In a 35-page lawsuit, he complains that the organisation has moved away from its altruistic purpose and bemoans the need for increased ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ at OpenAI.

To be clear, it is true that OpenAI is not a wholly charitable endeavour; the company has received $2 billion in revenue annually since ChatGPT’s public release. The company is now unashamedly profit-driven and closed-source rather than open-source, meaning that there is less opportunity for collaboration.

But transparency and accountability have never been part of Elon Musk’s brand. The face of ruthless technological innovation, he once tweeted that capitalism (and, by extension, privatisation) is ‘morally right’. In a series of leaked emails with Ilya Sutskever, he agreed to backtrack on the open-source nature of the ChatGPT project way back in 2016. Sutskever proposed that it was ‘totally OK to not share the science’ with anyone, to which Musk replied, ‘Yup’. Clearly, then, he was aware that ChatGPT was not a charity project, and for over seven years, he has had no issue with it. 

Recently, OpenAI has attracted a large investment from Microsoft, while Tesla has not. Herein lies the crux of the problem. In his complaint, Musk specifically describes OpenAI as a ‘closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft’. The wording here is clever, but the complaint is not with the fact that it is closed source or owned by the largest technology company in the world. To Musk, Microsoft is a competitor, and the lawsuit is a calculated attempt to strengthen his own hand. Tesla’s AI products have been comparatively unsuccessful; slandering the efforts of OpenAI could give them a chance to overtake. 

Positively, the situation has sparked a salient debate about the ethical viability of developing AI systems in general—a conversation that can only benefit us as consumers. The social media buzz around this lawsuit can help shine light on the ethics of the OpenAI mission in the first place. What is the purpose of developing something like this, and what direction is it going in? Will it help anyone? 

OpenAI’s careers page previously listed six core values for its employees. They were: audacious, thoughtful, unpretentious, impact-driven, collaborative, and growth-oriented. The same page now lists five values, with ‘AGI focus’ being the first and most important. AGI is defined as ‘highly autonomous systems that outperform humans at most economically valuable work’.

I would argue that AI has the potential to disrupt the workforce in positive ways, possibly removing the need for manual/ low-level jobs but potentially creating millions of new ones and reinventing expectations around productivity and output. Ideally, instead of Microsoft remaining as the principal shareholder, with whatever murky consequences this may entail, OpenAI should be opened up to a more diverse range of perspectives and interests. The result might be a program with more diverse uses that is less profit-driven, leading to a future in which AI genuinely benefits us all.

The lawsuit highlights the sad fact that most technological developments arise out of a primal desire for competition. Meta recently poured millions into upgrading Instagram’s algorithm via AI, a blatant attempt to copy TikTok’s wildly successful format. Musk’s concern about the ethics of OpenAI is similarly opportunistic and self-motivated. Realistically, even if Microsoft is removed as the main shareholder of OpenAI, it’s completely possible another company might essentially monopolise it again. There are many possibilities, and not all are good. Only time will tell.

Edited by Connor Forbes

Design by Connor Forbes


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