On 12th July, Elon Musk announced the debut of a new artificial intelligence (AI) company called xAI. He stated that the company’s goal is to understand ‘the true nature of the universe’.
However, Musk’s stated aim may differ from his actual one. After all, the Tesla and Twitter (now ‘X’) chief has already begun to position xAI as a competitor to companies like OpenAI, Google and Anthropic, which are behind leading chatbots such as ChatGPT, Bard and Claude.
Elon Musk and AI: What’s the story?
Musk co-founded OpenAI in 2015. However, he left the company in 2018 following a series of clashes with management over issues relating to AI safety. He also criticised the company for adding safeguards that aimed to prevent the viral chatbot from spewing biased or sexist responses. He’s since tweeted that ‘The danger of training AI to be woke – in other words, lie – is deadly’.
Since he left OpenAI, the company has launched a series of increasingly sophisticated models that have placed AI into the hands of customers and increased its market capitalisation to almost five billion.
That said, Musk has remained active in the space. Earlier this year, he was the most prominent signatory of an open letter calling for OpenAI and other companies leading AI research to ‘immediately pause for at least six months’. In the same month, Musk also shared details of his plans for a new AI tool called ‘TruthGPT’ during a taped interview on Fox News.
What is xAI?
xAI will be led by Musk. But crucially, it will also be staffed by a team hired from other leading AI research labs, including Igor Babuschkin from DeepMind and researchers from Microsoft and OpenAI. Many of those involved will have worked on projects such as DeepMind’s AlphaCode and OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 chatbots.
In addition, Musk has also secured thousands of GPU processors from Nvidia. These are required to build large language models that consume vast amounts of content.
However, exactly how or whether Musk will seek to commercialise his own AI research efforts remains to be seen. This is because, at present, Musk has provided very little detail about the project. So far, he has simply indicated that xAI will be ‘pro humanity’ and will seek to build a system that is ‘maximally curious’ about humanity rather than having moral guidelines programmed into it.
Scepticism abounds about Musk’s true intentions
Many within the AI space are sceptical about Musk’s aims and ambitions, particularly as he signed a letter stating that training a tool more powerful than the Chat GPT-4 chatbot could exacerbate the already ‘profound risks to society and humanity’ posed by AI.
Others have also pointed to the fact that two weeks before the aforementioned letter was published, Musk and Jared Birchall, the ex-Morgan Stanley banker who manages his wealth, incorporated a company called X.AI in Nevada, according to business records.
For his part, Musk said on a Twitter Space announcing the project that ‘If I could press pause on AI or really advanced AI digital superintelligence I would. It doesn’t seem like that is realistic so xAI is essentially going to build an AI… in a good way, sort of hopefully.’ He added that ‘it’s actually important for us to worry about a Terminator future in order to avoid a Terminator future.’
Why does this matter?
xAI is undoubtedly Elon Musk’s formal entry into the artificial intelligence race. Can he catch OpenAI and its rivals like Google? That remains to be seen.
However, in the next 12 months it will be interesting to see how or whether the Tesla and Twitter (X) chief chooses to monetise xAI. One thing’s for certain though, ChatGPT’s arrival in mainstream culture and OpenAI’s ballooning market valuation have seemingly made the AI space too lucrative for Musk to ignore.
But, it’s also worth adding that this xAI announcement comes while Musk is at a crossroads. Over the past year, he’s struggled to generate a return on his $44bn purchase of Twitter. Now, with Meta’s Threads app attracting 100 million sign-ups in less than a week and multiple reports emerging that Twitter’s usage is declining, xAI could potentially capture more of his attention – we’re fascinated to see how it all plays out.