Elon Musk used to say he put $100M in OpenAI, however now it is $50M: Listed here are the receipts


It’s no secret that Elon Musk has been deeply pissed off with OpenAI since stepping down from its board in February 2018, culminating in an open letter calling for the group to pause work on extra highly effective techniques.

“It does appear bizarre that one thing is usually a nonprofit, open supply, and in some way rework itself right into a for revenue, closed supply,” Musk stated in a CNBC interview Wednesday, following a Tesla shareholder’s assembly. “This may be like, let’s say you funded a corporation to avoid wasting the Amazon rainforest, and as an alternative they turned a lumber firm, and chopped down the forest and bought it for cash.”

The facility of his criticism hinges on the truth that Musk helped to launch the AI analysis group. However precisely how a lot help he gave, even Musk appears uncertain about.

“I’m nonetheless confused as to how a non-profit to which I donated ~$100M in some way turned a $30B market cap for-profit. If that is authorized, why doesn’t everybody do it?” he tweeted in mid-March. Every week later he complained on Twitter once more: “I donated the primary $100M to OpenAI when it was a non-profit, however don’t have any possession or management.”

The $100 million determine has been extensively reported as truth. However in the identical CNBC interview yesterday, Musk abruptly shrank his declare. When requested how a lot he had donated to OpenAI, he replied: “I’m unsure the precise quantity nevertheless it’s some quantity on the order of $50 million.”

So what modified within the final eight weeks?

Following his authentic tweets in March, TechCrunch started an investigation into the funding behind the unique OpenAI non-profit, together with Musk’s contributions. Our evaluation of paperwork filed with the IRS and a state regulator present that Musk couldn’t have given the non-profit the $100 million he initially claimed.

Actually, whereas the supply of a lot of OpenAI’s funding stays unclear, filings include solely round $15 million of donations that may be traced definitively again to Musk.

TechCrunch didn’t obtain a response from Musk’s lawyer when introduced with our evaluation and requested for particulars of his monetary help.

The tax filings additionally reveal beforehand unreported particulars about some of the useful and well-known know-how ventures working immediately, together with the extent of funding by Reid Hoffman, free Teslas for early OpenAI engineers, and the sky-rocketing computing invoice which will have prompted it to take a $1 billion funding from Microsoft.

Nowhere close to a billion-dollar effort

The monetary facet of OpenAI has been murky ever because the group was introduced by AI researchers Greg Brockman and Ilya Sutskever in December 2015. They wrote that OpenAI’s purpose was to “advance digital intelligence in the best way that’s most certainly to learn humanity as an entire, unconstrained by a have to generate monetary return.” The non-profit can be co-chaired by Musk and Sam Altman, co-founder of Y Combinator.

The weblog claimed that Altman, Musk and Brockman would donate to the brand new 501(c)3, together with Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel, Amazon, Infosys, Y Combinator accomplice Jessica Livingston and YC Analysis, one other non-profit spun out of the startup accelerator. “In complete, these funders have dedicated $1 billion,” they wrote. The following yr, Wired duly reported OpenAI as a “billion greenback effort,” and that determine was subsequently extensively shared.

However “dedicated” isn’t the identical as “really donated.” In line with federal tax filings, at the least one of many named donors, YC Analysis, by no means gave a single greenback, and the overall quantity donated to OpenAI’s non-profit from its inception by 2021 was solely $133.2 million. The overwhelming majority of these funds arrived earlier than the launch of OpenAI’s for-profit arm in 2019, and the non-profit itself is now largely defunct. It acquired simply $3,066 of donations in 2021.

Musk’s share

So how a lot of OpenAI’s $133 million did Musk donate? An excellent place to start out is along with his personal 501(c)3 group, the Musk Basis.

In 2016, the Musk Basis made a $10 million donation to yet one more non-profit related to Altman, referred to as YC.org. YC.org, in flip, made a $10 million donation to OpenAI. The explanation for this roundabout route, defined an OpenAI spokesperson in 2019, was a delay in establishing OpenAI’s tax-exempt standing with the IRS.

That $10 million donation stays the one publicly disclosed money contribution from Musk to OpenAI. Nonetheless, an audited monetary assertion filed by YC.org with California charity regulators in 2020 reveals that $15 million of the group’s 2016 income got here from a single contributor. On condition that YC’s income for the entire yr totaled $16.6 million, Musk could be very prone to have been that contributor. YC subsequently gave OpenAI one other $16 million in 2017, of which at the least $5 million was possible Musk’s.

The one different donation that may be tied to Musk is a beforehand unreported present to OpenAI in 2017 of $248,295 price of Tesla autos, and a subsequent donation in 2018 for $14,105 in automobile upgrades. An audited monetary statement notes that the autos had been offered to workers as compensation.

Nonetheless, there are additionally methods to present cash to a non-profit anonymously. Wealthy people can cloak their items by funneling cash by so-called donor suggested funds (DAFs). The Musk Basis donated $12.4 million in 2017, and $6.3 million in 2018, to a DAF referred to as Constancy Investments Charitable Present Fund. That fund then donated $7.8 million to OpenAI between 2018 and 2020. There isn’t any solution to inform whether or not any of that cash was Musk’s – the Fund has many donors and tens of billions of {dollars} in belongings – however it’s unimaginable to rule out.

Corporations and people can donate to non-profits instantly with out their identities being made public. Musk possible did this with the extra $5 million present to YC.org in 2016. Maybe he merely topped up his OpenAI donations to $50 or $100 million the identical means?

A number of weeks in the past, Musk’s consultant was introduced with TechCrunch’s reporting however didn’t reply to requests for remark. The one solution to put a restrict on Musk’s contributions was to depend up the items to OpenAI from different donors and see how a lot was left over.

The opposite founders’ share

Sam Altman, now OpenAI’s CEO, made a contribution, the group’s 2016 IRS submitting reveals. He loaned the younger group $3.75 million to get it began — after which forgave the complete quantity, with curiosity, for a complete present of $3,784,637.

Hoffman used his personal basis, Aphorism, to present $1 million to YC in 2016, which the group appears to have handed on to OpenAI in 2017. Aphorism then adopted up with a $5 million donation direct to OpenAI in 2017 and 2018.

Amazon and Microsoft donated at the least $800,000 in cloud computing providers, and Infosys confirmed to TechCrunch that it had made a donation. Not one of the corporations would put a greenback quantity on their contributions. There have been different company items in-kind, together with a $129,000 excessive efficiency laptop from Nvidia, in addition to software program and providers from over a dozen different corporations.

OpenAI wouldn’t share particulars of contributions made by Brockman or Livingston. Likewise, there is no such thing as a report of Peter Thiel offering any funds to OpenAI, nor did his VC agency reply to a request for info. Nonetheless, there was a modest $100,000 donation in 2018 from Donor’s Belief, a DAF favored by conservatives and libertarians, amongst whom Thiel has been counted.
In 2017, Open Philanthropy introduced a $30 million donation to OpenAI, which was delivered in three $10 million items in 2017, 2018 and 2019, by a non-profit managed by Fb co-founder Dustin Moskovitz. Open Philanthropy’s CEO, Holden Karnofsky, was given a seat on OpenAI’s board.

“We see some dangers, each from unintended penalties of AI use, and from deliberate misuse), and imagine that we — as a philanthropic group, separate from academia, trade, and authorities — could also be well-placed to help work to cut back these dangers,” the group wrote on the time.

The price of computing

As OpenAI scaled, its prices started rising quick. On high of using super-star AI researchers with multi-million greenback salaries, OpenAI’s computing invoice had elevated exponentially and in-kind computing donations had been only a drop within the bucket. In line with its tax filings, OpenAI spent $2.3 million on cloud computing in 2016, $7.9 million in 2017, and $30.6 million in 2018.

In February 2018, OpenAI switched cloud suppliers from Amazon to Google, signing an settlement to spend at the least $63 million with the tech big over the following two years. Musk left OpenAI’s board the identical month. The occasions could also be unconnected, though Semafor reported not too long ago that Musk thought OpenAI was slipping behind Google, and walked away after the opposite founders rejected his provide to run the nonprofit.

In line with insiders at OpenAI contacted by Semafor, Musk stopped making donations at that time, precipitating the spin-out of a for-profit OpenAI LP that will welcome exterior buyers. By the summer time of 2019, OpenAI had already spent its Google computing cash and was searching for one other deal.

In July, Microsoft invested round $1 billion within the new for-profit entity — with about half the funds within the type of credit scores for its personal Azure cloud computing service.

Musk has publicly decried OpenAI’s transition to a for-profit enterprise.

Its different huge donor, Moskovitz, additionally appears to have soured on the hassle. In a dialog on a philanthropy discussion board in March, he posted: “My hope is we really slowed acceleration by taking part however I’m fairly skeptical of the view that we added to it.”

Not each founding donor felt the identical. Reid Hoffman’s Aphorism basis invested a beforehand unreported $50 million in OpenAI’s for-profit enterprise in 2018. Aphorism justified the charitable funding by writing that the brand new enterprise aimed to offer AI “know-how to the general public by open supply licensing the place applicable to learn the general public.”

Not one of the latest variations of OpenAI’s Chat-GPT chatbot have been open supply.

With Musk’s departure, OpenAI welcomed six new board members, every of whom additionally turned a donor, in line with the group. Neither they nor OpenAI would share how a lot they gave, however the subsequent yr, OpenAI acquired its final main public present: $30 million from a DAF referred to as the Silicon Valley Group Basis. There isn’t any report of Musk or his basis ever donating to that DAF.

The underside line

Including up all of the non-Musk contributions to OpenAI (together with the Silicon Valley Group Basis cash) provides a complete of $75.8 million, out of $133.2 million. Meaning essentially the most Musk might have donated to OpenAI would possible have been $57.4 million — a far cry from the $100 million he initially claimed, however near the determine he talked about Wednesday.

Nonetheless, this quantity assumes that three founding donors (together with Thiel), six newer donors, and a number of company supporters like Infosys, gave nothing in any respect.

Within the greater scheme of Musk’s funds, a discrepancy of $35 million, $50 million and even $85 million is little greater than a rounding error. With Musk not too long ago valuing Twitter at simply $20 billion, the world’s second richest particular person has misplaced nicely over $100 million every single day since shopping for the corporate final fall.


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