Elon Musk Trolls His Way Into the OpenAI Drama

Elon Musk cofounded OpenAI but left after his own failed coup. Now he has shared an unsigned letter containing unverified accusations against the recently fired CEO, Sam Altman.
Elon Musk walking through a hallway while someone points a microphone at his face
Elon MuskPhotograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Elon Musk needed fewer than 100 characters to add new chaos to the ongoing crisis swirling around OpenAI after the shock firing of CEO Sam Altman last week.

In a post on X on Tuesday, Musk drew attention to an anonymous letter accusing Altman of various examples of underhanded behavior as CEO of OpenAI.

The link shared by Musk was to a copy of the letter uploaded to GitHub, a resource for sharing code. That copy of the letter was removed less than an hour after Musk posted it. Sources with knowledge of Altman's tenure at OpenAI told WIRED they were not familiar with the accusations. Altman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The GitHub profile that posted the letter contained an email address, and a person who responded to an email sent to that address told WIRED they first saw it via a discussion on Hacker News. They copied and reposted the text from the original, found on Board.net, which allows anonymous posts. The person said they later removed their copy of the letter to preserve their privacy, adding, “I have no idea as to the veracity of any of the contents.”

An email sent to an address included in the letter did not immediately receive a response.

“These seem like concerns worth investigating,” Musk wrote in his post linking to the unsigned letter, which is addressed to OpenAI’s board and purports to have been written by concerned former employees of the company. WIRED has not been able to verify the authenticity of any of the claims.

Since Altman’s exit last week, for reasons not yet made clear by the board that fired him, OpenAI’s current employees have shown striking loyalty. On Monday, more than 95 percent of the company's staff signed an open letter saying they were willing to leave the company if Altman wasn’t restored.

The anonymous letter boosted by Musk makes allegations against Altman and also Greg Brockman, an OpenAI cofounder who was removed as board chair last week and then quit over Altman’s treatment. “Throughout our time at OpenAI, we witnessed a disturbing pattern of deceit and manipulation by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, driven by their insatiable pursuit of achieving artificial general intelligence (AGI),” the letter alleges.

Musk has himself been accused of similar behavior at several of his own ventures, which include automaker Tesla, rocket maker SpaceX, and brain interface developer Neuralink.

The letter also calls for OpenAI’s board of directors, which fired Altman on Friday, to expand the scope of its investigation into Altman’s alleged impropriety. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that the board was negotiating with the fired CEO about a potential return to the company. The New York Times reported that Altman fell out with board members in part over a critical research paper written by one of them.

Substantial questions around the letter’s authenticity notwithstanding, Musk’s drawing attention to its accusations adds to existing tensions between him and Altman. Although the pair were the most prominent of OpenAI’s original cofounders, they have since reportedly fallen out and this year became more direct rivals when Musk launched a new AI company, xAI, to compete with ChatGPT.

When Altman began talking to people about the idea of starting a new AI lab, Musk was one of the people he sought out. Musk became a cofounder of OpenAI, which launched as a nonprofit in 2015. He put in $100 million of funding and helped woo the company’s future cofounder and chief scientist Ilya Sutskever away from Google.

Musk’s relationship with Altman and the project later soured, as reported in WIRED's October cover story about OpenAI. In early 2018, as OpenAI’s work on the text-generation technology that would lead to ChatGPT was gaining momentum, Musk suggested that he take a majority stake in the company. Altman and others disagreed, and Musk left the board, departing the project with farewell remarks at a company all-hands in which he predicted the company would fail.