Elon Musk on Sam Altman and ChatGPT: I am the reason OpenAI exists

CNBC Television
16 May 202305:17

TLDRElon Musk reflects on his significant contribution to OpenAI, emphasizing his initial vision for an open-source, non-profit entity as a counterbalance to Google's dominance in AI. He expresses frustration with the organization's shift to a for-profit model and raises concerns about the control and influence over AI development, particularly in relation to Microsoft's involvement and access to OpenAI's software and models.


  • 💡 Elon Musk is a significant reason for OpenAI's existence, having contributed substantially to its founding.
  • 💸 Musk donated an amount in the order of $50 million to OpenAI, though he couldn't recall the exact figure.
  • 🤖 Musk had frequent discussions with Ilya Sutskever about AI, emphasizing the dangers of AI, which Sutskever initially didn't seem concerned about.
  • 🌐 At the time of OpenAI's conception, Google, particularly after acquiring DeepMind, dominated the world's AI talent and resources.
  • 🚀 Musk's vision for OpenAI was to create an open-source, non-profit entity as the antithesis of Google's closed-source, for-profit model.
  • 🔄 The name 'OpenAI' was suggested by Musk, with 'open' referring to open-source, contrasting with Google's approach.
  • 😔 Musk expresses regret and feels like an 'idiot' for not ensuring governance or control over the funds he contributed.
  • 🏢 OpenAI's transition from a non-profit to a for-profit entity seems to contradict Musk's original intent and concerns him.
  • 🌳 Musk compares OpenAI's transformation to an organization that starts to save the rainforest but ends up destroying it for profit.
  • ⚖️ Musk questions the legality of a non-profit turning its intellectual property into a for-profit venture and wonders if this should be the default for everyone.
  • 🔒 Concerns are raised about the control of a potential 'god-like' AI and the relationship between OpenAI and Microsoft, post-investment.

Q & A

  • Why does Elon Musk claim to be the reason OpenAI exists?

    -Elon Musk states that he is the reason OpenAI exists because he was concerned about the dangers of AI and the lack of focus on AI safety by other major tech companies like Google. He contributed significantly to the establishment of OpenAI, both financially and conceptually.

  • How much did Elon Musk contribute financially to OpenAI?

    -Elon Musk cannot remember the exact number, but he contributed an amount on the order of $50 million to OpenAI.

  • What was Elon Musk's relationship with Ira Page?

    -Elon Musk used to be close friends with Ira Page, and they would have long conversations about AI and its potential dangers. Musk would constantly urge Page to be careful about AI, but Page was not as concerned.

  • What was the situation with Google and AI talent at the time of OpenAI's formation?

    -At the time, Google had acquired DeepMind and had three-quarters of the world's AI talent, along with substantial computing resources and financial backing. However, Google did not seem to be concerned about AI safety.

  • What was the final straw that led to Elon Musk's decision to contribute to OpenAI?

    -The final straw was when Larry Page, Google's co-founder, called Musk a 'species' for being pro-human consciousness. This solidified Musk's resolve to support OpenAI and ensure a focus on AI safety.

  • Did Elon Musk have any role in naming OpenAI?

    -Yes, Elon Musk not only contributed financially but also came up with the name 'OpenAI', which was intended to represent an open-source, non-profit alternative to closed-source, for-profit entities like Google.

  • What was Elon Musk's initial perception of OpenAI's chances of competing with Google and DeepMind?

    -Musk thought it was a hopeless endeavor, comparing it to an elephant fight, and doubted OpenAI's ability to compete with Google and DeepMind due to their vast resources and talent pool.

  • How did Elon Musk contribute to the recruitment of key scientists and engineers for OpenAI?

    -Musk played an instrumental role in recruiting key personnel, notably persuading a man who went back and forth on his decision to ultimately join OpenAI, which was crucial for its success.

  • What is Elon Musk's stance on OpenAI's transition from a non-profit to a for-profit entity?

    -Musk expresses disappointment and finds it strange that OpenAI, initially a non-profit open-source organization, transformed into a for-profit closed-source entity. He questions the legality and ethics of such a transition.

  • What concerns does Elon Musk have regarding the control of a potential 'digital super intelligence'?

    -Musk is concerned about who would control such an intelligence and the relationship between OpenAI and Microsoft, especially given Microsoft's investment and rights to all the software and model weights. He worries that Microsoft may have too much control.

  • What does the transition of OpenAI from non-profit to for-profit say about the legal and ethical standards in the tech industry?

    -Musk implies that if it is legal for a company to start as a non-profit, then transfer its intellectual property to a for-profit entity that makes a lot of money, it raises questions about the default practices and standards in the tech industry.



🤔 Reflecting on OpenAI's Origins and Early Concerns

The speaker discusses their significant early financial contribution to OpenAI, recalling an approximate donation of $50 million. They emphasize their role in the establishment of OpenAI, including naming the organization and advocating for an open-source, non-profit model as a counterbalance to Google's dominance in AI, particularly after the acquisition of DeepMind. The speaker expresses frustration with the direction OpenAI has taken, especially concerning the shift towards a for-profit model and the potential loss of control over the AI's development and governance. They also mention their efforts in recruiting key personnel, highlighting the pivotal role of a particular individual who eventually joined OpenAI. The speaker questions the legality and ethics of OpenAI's transformation and worries about the control of AI technologies, especially in the context of creating a superintelligent entity.


😓 Concerns Over Microsoft's Influence on OpenAI

The speaker voices concerns about Microsoft's increased control over OpenAI as part of their investment. They mention that Microsoft has rights to all the software and model weights, which raises worries about the implications of such control. The speaker compares the situation to an organization dedicated to saving the Amazon rainforest that instead becomes a lumber company, emphasizing the disconnect between their initial intentions and the current direction of OpenAI.




OpenAI is an artificial intelligence research organization committed to ensuring that artificial general intelligence (AGI) benefits all of humanity. In the context of the video, Elon Musk explains that he was a significant contributor to OpenAI and even came up with its name, emphasizing its initial mission as an open-source, non-profit entity to counterbalance the for-profit, closed-source AI development by companies like Google and DeepMind.

💡Elon Musk

Elon Musk is an entrepreneur and business magnate known for founding SpaceX, Tesla, Neuralink, and The Boring Company. In this video transcript, Musk discusses his early involvement with OpenAI, his concerns about AI safety, and his disappointment with the organization's transition from a non-profit to a for-profit entity. His contributions and vision for OpenAI are central to the narrative of the conversation.

💡Sam Altman

Sam Altman is an American entrepreneur, investor, and CEO of Y Combinator. Although not directly mentioned in the provided transcript, he is a key figure associated with OpenAI, having been its CEO. The reference to him in the context of this conversation likely relates to the governance and decision-making processes within OpenAI that have led to its transformation, which Musk expresses disappointment about.


ChatGPT is an AI language model developed by OpenAI, known for its ability to generate human-like text based on the input it receives. While not explicitly discussed in the provided transcript, the mention of ChatGPT could relate to the broader discussion about the evolution of AI and the concerns Musk has about the control and safety of advanced AI systems like those being developed by OpenAI.

💡AI Safety

AI Safety refers to the precautions taken to ensure that the development and deployment of artificial intelligence does not pose a risk to humanity. In the transcript, Musk highlights his concerns about the dangers of AI and how he used to urge his friend Ira Page to be more cautious about these risks. The conversation reflects on the importance of AI safety in the context of OpenAI's mission and the potential consequences of not addressing these concerns adequately.

💡Ira Page

Ira Page is an AI researcher and one of the individuals with whom Elon Musk had discussions about AI safety. Musk mentions their conversations and his attempts to convince Page of the potential dangers of AI. Page's role is significant as it provides insight into the early discussions that influenced the creation of OpenAI and the concerns that shaped its initial goals.

💡Google DeepMind

Google DeepMind is a leading AI research lab owned by Google that focuses on creating AI systems capable of learning and adapting. In the video, Musk mentions DeepMind as an example of a for-profit entity with a significant portion of the world's AI talent, highlighting the imbalance in AI development and safety concerns that led to the creation of OpenAI as an alternative, open-source, and non-profit organization.

💡Open Source

Open source refers to a type of software or product whose source code is made publicly available, allowing anyone to view, use, modify, and distribute the software. In the context of the video, Musk explains that OpenAI was intended to be an open-source project to promote transparency and collaborative development, contrasting with the closed-source, for-profit model of companies like Google DeepMind.

💡For Profit

For profit describes a business or organization that is primarily focused on making a profit for its owners or shareholders. In the transcript, Musk expresses disappointment that OpenAI transitioned from a non-profit open-source organization to a for-profit entity, which he sees as a contradiction to the original mission and values he supported with his contributions.

💡Digital Super Intelligence

Digital Super Intelligence refers to an AI system that surpasses human intelligence in virtually every field, potentially including creativity, problem-solving, and understanding. In the conversation, Musk raises concerns about who would control such an intelligence if it were to be created and the implications it would have for humanity, emphasizing the importance of governance and ethical considerations in AI development.


Microsoft is a multinational technology company that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of software products and services. In the context of the video, Musk discusses the relationship between OpenAI and Microsoft, expressing concerns that Microsoft's investment and control over OpenAI's software and models could lead to a concentration of power and potential misalignment with the original goals of OpenAI.


Elon Musk is a major reason for OpenAI's existence.

Musk contributed approximately $50 million to OpenAI.

Elon Musk's friendship with Ilya Sutskever and their discussions on AI safety.

Google's acquisition of DeepMind and its dominance in AI talent.

Musk's pro-human consciousness stance and Larry's species comment.

OpenAI's founding principle as an open-source, non-profit entity.

Musk's role in recruiting key scientists and engineers for OpenAI.

The pivotal moment when a key individual decided to join OpenAI.

Musk's disappointment with OpenAI's transition to a for-profit model.

The legal and ethical questions surrounding OpenAI's transformation.

Musk's concerns about the control of a potential digital super intelligence.

The relationship between OpenAI and Microsoft, and its implications.

Musk's initial doubts about competing with Google and DeepMind.

The irony of a non-profit turning into a for-profit entity.

Musk's reflection on the governance and control he should have had over his investment.

The potential risks of a for-profit model in the context of AI development.

Musk's vision for OpenAI as the opposite of Google's closed-source model.

The importance of understanding who controls AI in the event of creating a super intelligence.

Musk's concern about the impact of Microsoft's investment on OpenAI's control.