The artificial intelligence company that Elon Musk helped found is now selling the text-generation software it previously said was too dangerous to launch

OpenAI Elon Musk

  • OpenAI, the AI company and research lab that Elon Musk helped cofound, is commercializing a sophisticated text-generation tool it previously said was too dangerous to release widely over fears of misuse.
  • The company is launching the tool in a private beta, which will enable it to more easily monitor for misuse of the product.
  • OpenAI says it will revoke access for use cases that cause “physical or mental harm.”
  • The organization gained attention when it launched in 2015 for its high-profile backers, which included Musk, Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, and Peter Thiel among others.

OpenAI, the artificial intelligence research lab that counted Elon Musk as its founding co-chair, is commercializing a tool it unveiled last February that can generate text after being fed just a single sentence.

The tool is essentially a sophisticated text editor that can build on the words and sentences it’s fed to predict what comes next. When trying the tool last year, The Guardian’s Alex Hern found that the system was able to match the style and language of the George Orwell novel “1984” as well as an article from The Guardian.

OpenAI previously said it wouldn’t open-source the software over concerns that the technology was too dangerous and would be misused.

That’s why OpenAI is releasing the tool, the company’s first commercial product, as an application programming interface (API) in a private beta rather than open-sourcing it. Reddit is among the first companies to join the private beta.

The API is based on a newer and more sophisticated version of that model from last February. The company is providing access for free over the next two months while it figures out its longer-term pricing.

OpenAI wrote in its blog post:

“The field’s pace of progress means that there are frequently surprising new applications of AI, both positive and negative. We will terminate API access for obviously harmful use-cases, such as harassment, spam, radicalization, or astroturfing. But we also know we can’t anticipate all of the possible consequences of this technology, so we are launching today in a private beta rather than general availability, building tools to help users better control the content of our API returns, and researching safety-relevant aspects of language technology (such as analyzing, mitigating, and intervening on harmful bias.)”

Even though OpenAI was founded as a non-profit, the company says it decided to launch a commercial product ensure it has enough funding to succeed in its goal of making sure that “artificial intelligence benefits everyone.”

The organization gained much attention when it debuted in 2015 thanks to its roster of high-profile founders and backers. Both Musk and Y Combinator Chairman Sam Altman, who is now OpenAI’s CEO, were founding co-chairs of the organization. Along with Musk and Altman, the organization’s founding donors included Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Amazon Web Services. Microsoft also invested $1 billion in OpenAI last July.

Musk said last February that he had not been “closely involved” with OpenAI for over a year, as he was focusing more closely on Tesla and SpaceX. He also said he “didn’t agree with some of what the OpenAI team wanted to do.”

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