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There's one signature on OpenAI's clapback against Elon Musk that people are buzzing about

Camilo Fonseca   

There's one signature on OpenAI's clapback against Elon Musk that people are buzzing about
  • Ilya Sutskever, chief scientist at OpenAI, signed the company's response to a lawsuit brought by Elon Musk.
  • Sutskever previously held a board position, which he lost after Sam Altman's firing and return.

OpenAI's response to Elon Musk's lawsuit is turning heads — in part because of one of the names attached to it.

The ChatGPT developer fired back at Musk's allegations that OpenAI's partnership with Microsoft violates the company's original mission as an open-source nonprofit. A blistering blog post published Tuesday disputed Musk's accusations, and included some snapshots of emails between the Tesla CEO and OpenAI executives suggesting Musk actually supported OpenAI's commercialization.

The post was signed by five people along with "OpenAI" itself — but Ilya Sutskever is the name that is generating buzz online.

It's the first public glimpse of Sutskever's involvement in OpenAI in months. Last year, Sutskever, the company's chief data scientist, was one of the board members who voted to fire OpenAI cofounder Sam Altman; he was reportedly the one who delivered the news to Altman over a Google Meet call.

Sutskever quickly reversed his position on the ouster, even adding his name to a letter calling for Altman's return and the resignation of the board. That was after the company's employees threatened to quit en masse.

"I deeply regret my participation in the board's actions," he said at the time. "I never intended to harm OpenAI."

After Altman's return, Sutskever was removed from OpenAI's board, with his future at the company uncertain.

At the time, Altman said he harbored "zero ill will" toward the man who fired him, describing Sutskever as a "a guiding light of the field and a gem of a human being."

"While Ilya will no longer serve on the board, we hope to continue our working relationship and are discussing how he can continue his work at OpenAI," Altman said in the message to the company's staff.

Sutskever has not posted on X, formerly Twitter, since shortly after Altman's return last year. His LinkedIn profile reflects his status as the company's cofounder and chief scientist, but does not mention his former board position.

OpenAI did not return a request for comment on Sutskever's role at the company before publication.

In light of Sutskever's seemingly-nebulous position, Musk offered for the former board member to come work at his own artificial intelligence startup, xAI. Musk, a cofounder of OpenAI who left in 2018, had previously described Sutskever as the "linchpin" of the company's success.

After OpenAI's board fired Altman, Musk defended Sutskever on X, writing, "Ilya has a good moral compass and does not seek power. He would not take such drastic action unless he felt it was absolutely necessary."

Sutskever figures prominently in OpenAI's response to the Musk lawsuit, which includes several email exchanges between Musk, Sutskever, Altman, and Greg Brockman, another OpenAI cofounder.

Tuesday's response notes that Sutskever had told Musk in a 2018 email that OpenAI was not committed to a open-source model, a statement that Musk apparently acknowledged at the time. "Elon understood the mission did not imply open-sourcing," says the response.

Given Sutskever's role in drafting OpenAI's response to the lawsuit, it is unlikely that Musk's offer of employment still stands.

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