Home » Elon Musk vs. Sam Altman: Only one will win the argument

Elon Musk vs. Sam Altman: Only one will win the argument

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Elon Musk vs. Sam Altman: Only one will win the argument

Sam Altman and Elon Musk are in a public legal dispute. Patrick Pleul, Andrew Cabellero Reynolds/Getty Images; Jenny Chang-Rodriguez/BI

Elon Musk filed a lawsuit against OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman – years after he left the startup.

Musk has the upper hand when it comes to public opinion, PR experts told Business Insider.

And while the lawsuit may be weak, Musk put OpenAI in a sticky position, experts said.

This is a machine translation of an article from our US colleagues at Business Insider. It was automatically translated and checked by a real editor.

Elon Musk can’t seem to stop feuding with other billionaire tech moguls. His latest target: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

Musk is unlikely to have a successful lawsuit against the company OpenAI, which he co-founded almost a decade ago. But the outspoken mega-entrepreneur has the upper hand when it comes to taking on Altman in the court of public opinion, multiple PR experts told Business Insider.

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“Sam Altman duels the greatest of all time. “It’s like he’s getting in the ring with the Muhammad Ali of the tech world,” said Evan Nierman, the founder and CEO of global crisis PR firm Red Banyan.

Elon Musk (links) und Sam Altman.

Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

One expert believes Sam Altman has more to lose

Late last month, Elon Musk threw down the gauntlet to Sam Altman when he filed a lawsuit against him and OpenAI in a California court. He claimed the Microsoft-backed company breached a 2015 “foundation agreement.” Accordingly, artificial intelligence should be developed for the benefit of humanity and not as a profit-oriented company.

Musk has been shooting against Altman and OpenAI for years. But Altman and his company remained neutral – until recently.

In a recently filed statement of claim, OpenAI called Musk’s lawsuit “frivolous” and “incoherent.” The company argued that Musk acted out of jealousy of OpenAI’s success after parting ways with the company in 2018. OpenAI also released a series of emails that appear to show that Musk not only supported the startup’s transition to a for-profit model, but also pushed for the company to be “attached to Tesla as a cash cow.”

The lawsuit pitted two of the tech industry’s most powerful CEOs against each other. But it could be an unfair fight, public relations experts say.

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Microsoft insiders fear that the company is now just “IT for OpenAI”.

Nierman said Sam Altman and OpenAI have “more to lose” in this fight than Elon Musk. The reason is that they “were not subjected to the same controversy and criticism” that Musk and his companies such as Tesla, SpaceX and the social media site X had to endure.

Musk’s reputation has already been affected by “a series of PR missteps” in recent years. But according to Nierman, Musk’s “brand at that point was so much bigger than Sam Altman’s, for better or for worse.”

“He was involved in a lot of tough fights and always managed to come out victorious,” Nierman, the co-author of “The Cancel Culture Curse,” said of Musk.

Elon Musk.

Chesnot/Getty Images

xAI is getting a boost

Musk’s lawsuit against OpenAI brings the company that developed Chat GPT – and is now worth $86 billion – under fire. At the same time, it’s giving his own artificial intelligence startup a boost, Nierman and other PR experts told Business Insider.

“Elon Musk is the best PR stuntman I’ve ever seen,” said Kyle Arteaga, CEO of national tech PR firm The Bulleit Group. “Elon doesn’t care if he wins this lawsuit. “All he’s doing is stealing media attention from OpenAI and putting a spark of doubt in the minds of developers.”

Although legal experts say Musk’s lawsuit will likely be dismissed, Arteaga explained that through the lawsuit, Musk has positioned his own rival AI startup, xAI, high in the AI ​​market thanks to the media coverage it has received surrounding the lawsuit .

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“What Elon has done is he has essentially overtaken all the major players – Anthropic, Cohere, Mistral, Gemini and CoPilot. He’s basically trying to position himself as the No. 2 player in this area,” Arteaga said.

(Arteaga represents Impulse Space founder and CEO Tom Mueller, a co-founder of SpaceX)

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It’s not Musk’s first attack on OpenAI

According to Nierman, Musk’s lawsuit also brought OpenAI under scrutiny.

“The mere fact that Elon Musk is raising concerns will be a huge disruptor for OpenAI,” Nierman said.

Alan Dunton is managing director of SHIFT Communications, a crisis PR firm in San Francisco. He said that both Elon Musk and Sam Altman are approaching their very public legal battle in the complete opposite way he would advise his clients. Still, he believes Musk’s brand will remain largely intact.

As for Altman, who is far less known to the public, it’s too early to tell, he said.

“If you choose to be for Elon, then you will be for Elon no matter what he does,” Dunton said.

Musk has repeatedly publicly railed against OpenAI and Altman over the years. He called OpenAI a “lie” and a “closed-source, maximum-profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft.”

Last week, the Tesla CEO said in a Contribution on X in response to OpenAI that he would drop his lawsuit if the company changed its name to “ClosedAI,” revealing the seemingly petty nature of his fight.

Sam Altman.

JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

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“If you wrestle a pig, you’ll end up dirty.”

However, not all experts are of the opinion that Musk has shown a good hand so far. Ayelet Noff is the founder and CEO of global tech PR firm Sliced ​​Brand. She told Business that Musk’s outbursts benefited Altman.

“The whole saga casts a very negative light on Musk’s personality,” Noff said. “He basically stated that he founded OpenAI with Altman to benefit humanity. And I think his recent actions have shown that he’s really more concerned about Elon Musk’s utility.”

The more “respectful” way Altman handled the situation put Altman “in a good light,” Noff said.

Given Musk’s very public insults, Altman was more diplomatic in his responses.

He told podcaster Lex Fridman last year that he understood Musk was “really stressed” about AI safety. But he wished the billionaire would give greater recognition to OpenAI’s work addressing concerns about the technology.

Earlier this month, Altman told veteran tech reporter Kara Swisher that Musk was his “absolute hero” when he was younger.

During the interview, Swisher told Altman she thought Musk’s lawsuit was “nonsense.”

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“I think he’s an open wound. And we have to feel it every day,” Swisher, who has interviewed Musk several times, said of the lawsuit. “It’s not a contract. It is an open wound of past hurt because he made a mistake,” she added.

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OpenAI strikes back

OpenAI’s publication of Musk’s private emails shows that Altman and his company are prepared for a confrontation, Nierman said.

“Publishing private emails online shows a willingness to wash dirty laundry publicly and sends the message that they don’t just want to give in, they want to fight back,” Nierman said.

“There’s a saying that if you wrestle a pig, you’ll end up dirty,” Nierman said. “And I think in this case we are dealing with two people who are ready to compete in this wrestling match.”

Representatives for Musk, Altman and OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

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