Elon Musk is coming for OpenAI with the launch of xAI

13 Jul 2023

Image: © sdx15/Stock.adobe.com

After several months of hushed discussions, Musk has revealed little about xAI at its launch other than showcasing its team of AI experts.

Elon Musk is now overseeing six different companies with the launch of his latest endeavour, xAI, a company born out of his intention to take on OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

Formally announced on its new website yesterday (12 July), xAI has been in the works for several months now and was first revealed in a state filing in March when Musk incorporated the company in Nevada.

Information available on the start-up, however, is scant and vague. According to the website, the goal of xAI is to “understand the true nature of the universe”. Musk added in a tweet announcing the company that the aim is to “understand reality”.

What we know for sure, though, is that xAI is backed by a solid team of experts (though all men). People on board the ChatGPT competitor so far include scientists and executives who have variously worked for Google’s DeepMind, OpenAI, Microsoft Research, Google Research, Tesla and academic institutions such as the University of Toronto.

“Collectively we contributed some of the most widely used methods in the field, in particular the Adam optimiser, batch normalisation, layer normalisation and the discovery of adversarial examples,” the team section of x.ai reads.

“We further introduced innovative techniques and analyses such as Transformer-XL, autoformalisation, the memorising transformer, batch size scaling and μTransfer.”

It also claims that the team of experts at xAI, which is separate from Twitter parent X Corp, includes members who have led the development of “some of the largest breakthroughs in the field” including AlphaStar, AlphaCode, Inception, Minerva, GPT-3.5 and GPT-4.

A Financial Times report from earlier this year suggested Musk had been assembling a team of AI researchers and engineers and was in talks with SpaceX and Tesla investors to pump money into xAI. “A bunch of people are investing in it … it’s real and they are excited about it,” the outlet quoted a person as saying.

One of the new venture’s advisors is Dan Hendrycks, director of the Center for AI Safety and a prominent voice in the world of AI. The San Francisco-based nonprofit published a letter in May, suggesting that mitigating the risk of extinction from AI “should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war”.

Musk was one of the signatories of the letter, as were the chief executives of some of the world’s leading AI companies: Google’s DeepMind, Anthropic, and of course, ChatGPT developer OpenAI.

Barry O’Sullivan, a leading AI expert in Ireland and professor at the School of Computer Science in University College Cork, told SiliconRepublic.com at the time that this so-called existential threat narrative was “at best, irresponsible” and “distracts from the important and real issues”.

Other than an apparent concern for AI safety, Musk’s intention to take on OpenAI – a company he helped found – can be traced back to his disagreements with its leadership in 2018, when he left the board. He has previously said he believes it to be “effectively controlled by Microsoft”.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic