A 2015 email from Sam Altman to Elon Musk gives us a glimpse into the origins of OpenAI



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In an email to Elon Musk prior to founding OpenAI, Sam Altman outlined his vision for the organization and promised to create the first AGI that would benefit everyone.

As part of Elon Musk’s lawsuit against Sam Altman and OpenAI, Musk’s lawyers are citing an email from the summer of 2015 as evidence that provides an interesting glimpse into the period before OpenAI was founded in December 2015.

“The mission would be to create the first general AI and use it for individual empowerment,” Altman wrote. OpenAI’s recent move to develop individual AI agents seems to pick up on that promise.

Altman recommended starting with a small, elite team of up to ten people housed in a spare building in Mountain View. He also proposed a five-person leadership structure, including himself and Musk, to steer the foundation’s proprietary AI technology for global benefit.

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It is also clear from the email that Altman was keen for Musk to be involved, albeit in a small capacity, to attract top talent. In addition, Musk was to meet with employees once a month to discuss progress.

“Even if you can’t really spend time on it but can be publicly supportive, that would still probably be really helpful for recruiting,” Altman wrote.

He outlined a compensation model for researchers that separates income from work to avoid conflicts of interest. In the current model of OpenAI’s for-profit unit, which was founded in 2019, employees earn money through equity holdings. Altman says he owns no shares in OpenAI.

In addition, Altman suggested postponing the release of a regulatory letter on security to align it with OpenAI’s progress. He could then publish the letter with a message like, “now that we are doing this, I’ve been thinking a lot about what sort of constraints the world needs for safety,” Altman proposed.

Elon Musk agreed with Altman on all points.

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