In 2015, Elon Musk and Sam Altman successfully lured a distinguished Google scientist to their cause, offering an enticing package consisting of a substantial $1.9 million salary and a generous starting bonus. Their aim? To collaborate in the founding of OpenAI. Walter Isaacson’s biography of Musk, meticulously crafted after shadowing the tech magnate for three years, was unveiled on a Tuesday. It painstakingly delves into the repercussions of this audacious talent acquisition, shedding light on how Musk rationalized the poaching of talent from Google to present to the company’s then-CEO, Larry Page.
The core of their dispute stemmed from a profound divergence in their visions for the future of artificial intelligence. This discord reached its zenith when Musk endeavored, albeit unsuccessfully, to thwart Google’s acquisition of the AI firm DeepMind in 2014.
A year later, as Musk and Altman contemplated the establishment of their rival AI research institution, OpenAI, they enticed Google scientist Ilya Sutskever into becoming a co-founder and the chief scientist of their nascent enterprise. Sutskever, who had initially joined Google’s AI division, Google Brain, in 2013 alongside Geoffrey Hinton, widely acclaimed as the “godfather of AI,” found himself embroiled in this contentious saga. Musk recounted the fallout, revealing, “Larry felt betrayed and harbored a deep resentment towards me for personally recruiting Ilya, to the extent that he distanced himself from our association.”
Musk reiterated his standpoint, asserting, “Larry, had you taken a more earnest stance on AI safety, the imperative for a counterforce might never have arisen.” During the formative stages of OpenAI, both Musk and Altman concurred that fostering a multitude of competing AI systems was conducive to ensuring AI safety—a concern that had long preoccupied Musk. Consequently, they ardently advocated for the transparent sharing of their company’s source code, as expounded upon in the biography.
However, by 2018, Musk’s involvement on OpenAI’s board dwindled. In an interview conducted in April of the current year, Musk censured the company for its shift towards a profit-oriented, closed-source trajectory, deviating significantly from its initial non-profit ethos.
On the other hand, Ilya Sutskever defended OpenAI’s decision to maintain secrecy around their GPT-4 platform during a March 2023 interview with The Verge. He contended that the organization’s prior practice of openly disseminating research had been misguided.
At present, Sutskever leads a specialized team at OpenAI, dedicated to addressing the menace posed by “superintelligent” AI potentially going rogue and posing a threat to humanity. Notably, competition for AI talent has escalated substantially in the past year, with even non-AI firms offering lucrative remuneration, frequently exceeding $300,000, to attract individuals possessing AI expertise.
When Musk embarked on his latest AI venture, xAI, in July, he once again sought out AI experts from both Google and OpenAI. Notably, seven out of the twelve personnel comprising the new venture had previously been affiliated with these tech giants.
As of the time of composing this narrative, neither Musk nor Page has responded to inquiries from Insider, which were dispatched outside customary business hours. Similarly, Sutskever has refrained from providing a response to a request for comment conveyed via OpenAI during non-standard business hours.