Elon Musk is following through on his plan to take on OpenAI—a company he co-founded in 2015 but later left—with an announcement today that his competing technology company, xAI, will let a limited number of users try its chatbot on Saturday.
“Tomorrow, [xAI] will release its first AI to a select group,” Musk wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “In some important respects, it is the best that currently exists.”
The Musk-backed xAI project comes after AI has surged into the mainstream after OpenAI publicly launched ChatGPT last fall, a milestone that has led to billions of dollars of investment across tech giants like Microsoft and Google and soaking up a growing share of global investment and venture funding.
Musk announced the launch of xAI in July, explaining that the company is separate from X Corp but will work closely with Twitter, which Musk purchased for $44 billion in April 2022. In a Twitter Spaces session, Musk laid out the plan for the new AI start-up, including a focus on transparency and the value of honesty over biases.
“The overarching goal of xAI is to build a good [artificial general intelligence] with the overarching purpose of understanding the universe,” Musk said at the time. “The safest way to build an AI is to make one that is maximally curious and truth-seeking.”
Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) refers to a kind of AI that can learn and perform any intellectual task a human can. Unlike specialized AI, which excels at one task, AGI has a broader understanding, much like a human brain. However, achieving AGI is a challenging and unfulfilled goal as of now.
Very exciting! Would love to give it a test drive 🤖
— Bilawal Sidhu (@bilawalsidhu) November 3, 2023
Generative AI has taken the world by storm, with its ability to generate images, text, and audio with a few prompts has changed the way people engage with content with more and more AI chatbots coming online every day, many using APIs linked to OpenAI’s suite of AI tools.
Musk has been critical of the AI industry, particularly OpenAI, the company he co-founded with Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, John Schulman, and Wojciech Zaremba in December 2015. Musk resigned from OpenAI’s board in 2018 but reportedly invested $100 million in the company.
“I spent many years thinking about AI safety and worrying about AI safety. And I’ve been one of the strongest voices calling for AI regulation or oversight just to have some kind of oversight, some kind of referee,” Musk said. “So it’s not just up to companies to decide what they want to do. I think there’s also a lot to be done with AI safety.”
Though Musk said he was previously interested in studying physics and what he called the “fundamental truths of the universe,” he instead focused on computer science because he did not want to get stuck working on a collider project.
In March, Musk joined other tech industry luminaries in calling for a pause in OpenAI’s development of new AI models after the company released the latest interaction of ChatGPT, GPT-4. Other co-signers of the letter included Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Stuart Russell, director of the Center for Intelligent Systems, and Stability AI CEO Emad Mostaque.
Not wanting to slip into the shadow of Musk-led projects, OpenAI invested $24 million in robotics startup 1X, which beat Musk’s Tesla to market with a humanoid robot designed to carry out tasks like security, nursing, and bartending. 1X launched its first robot, Eve, in April.
In May, Musk hit out at OpenAI, voicing concerns about what he sees as OpenAI’s shift to a closed-source, for-profit model.
“It does seem weird that something can be a nonprofit, open-source, and somehow transform itself into a for-profit, closed source,” he said, likening it to an environmental organization created to save the Amazon rainforest that transforms into a lumber company.
Despite his criticism of OpenAI, Musk, Altman, and others agree that regulation is necessary for responsible AI development. Appearing before a congressional hearing on AI, Altman suggested the creation of a government agency that would oversee AI development in the United States.
While Musk believes regulation is necessary, he also believes that regulation requires knowledge and consensus.
“I think that the right way for regulations to be done is to start with insight,” Musk said. “So first, if you’ve any kind of regulatory authority, whether public or private, first try to understand, make sure there’s a broad understanding. Then there’s proposed rulemaking and if that proposed rulemaking is agreed upon by most parties, then it gets implemented.”