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Why OpenAI Should Become Open-Sourceby@joey
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Why OpenAI Should Become Open-Source

by Joey BertschlerMay 2nd, 2024
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OpenAI is in a high-stakes legal battle with Elon Musk. Musk is suing the company to open source its groundbreaking AI models. Making frontier models like GPT-4 open source would accelerate innovation across the field. Open-sourcing its models would also keep OpenAI honest and accountable.
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OpenAI is in a high-stakes legal battle with Elon Musk, who is suing the company to open source its groundbreaking AI models like GPT-4. While OpenAI may have the law on its side, I believe the ethical path forward is clear—it's time for the company to fully embrace the open-source ethos it was founded upon.


As a former AI Specialist at OpenAI, I know OpenAI's stated mission has always been to ensure that artificial intelligence benefits all of humanity. The company's charter explicitly prioritizes this goal above generating financial returns. With the rapid rise of AI and the very real prospect of widespread job displacement, now is the time for OpenAI to double down on this mission through radical collaboration and transparency.


Elon Musk helped found OpenAI precisely to keep advanced AI out of the exclusive control of a few tech giants or governments. The fear was that highly centralized, opaque AI development could lead to biased systems that disempower people and exacerbate inequality. Making frontier models like GPT-4 open source would accelerate innovation across the field and give everyone a stake in steering this transformative technology in a positive direction.


Instead, OpenAI and its partner Microsoft now boast that “we are waiting for the competition to arrive. It will arrive, I’m sure, but the fact [is] that we have the … leading LLM out there.” Their most powerful models, including GPT-4, DALL-E, and now Sora, are all closed-source and gated. Entire countries like China and Russia are restricted from using OpenAI’s technologies.

Accountability Through Openness

Open-sourcing its models would also keep OpenAI honest and accountable. External researchers could audit the systems for hidden biases, safety issues, and potential misuse. The global AI ethics community could collaborate to make the models more inclusive and aligned with diverse human values.


Perhaps even more importantly, the immense economic benefits of AI could be more evenly distributed if the core infrastructure is treated as a public good rather than the intellectual property of a few tech giants.


While OpenAI has published research papers and shared some tools, it has stopped short of fully open-sourcing its most powerful models. Meanwhile, other prominent AI labs like H2O.ai have embraced a more open approach from the start.


For instance, H2O recently released an open-source LLM called Danube-2, which can be downloaded in full from HuggingFace. Sri Ambati, CEO and founder of H2O.ai, said at H2O.ai’s GenAI World keynote that "AGI should be open source and in the public domain, at the service of humanity and the planet.”


Even big tech players like Meta are exploring open-source AGI and giving outside researchers and the public more visibility into and agency over their AI work. OpenAI risks falling behind this trend and betraying its founding principles if it continues to treat its state-of-the-art models as proprietary secrets.

The Business Case for Collaboration

From a business standpoint, I understand the temptation for OpenAI to maintain exclusive control over its technology. But the history of the software industry shows that open source tends to win out in the long run through faster collaborative innovation and community support.


Linux and the open-source movement conquered the once-dominant proprietary operating systems. Wikipedia displaced the traditional encyclopedia industry by crowdsourcing knowledge. With highly capable open source competitors to GPT-4 emerging, OpenAI's best path forward may be to focus on its expertise in scaling and commercializing a community-driven ecosystem rather than clinging to secrecy.

Taking the High Road

The transition to an open-source model would undoubtedly be challenging, but it's the right thing to do. OpenAI's leaders should return to their charter, reflect deeply on the kind of world they want to create, and take the bold path of openness and collaboration. Making advanced AI serve everyone is a historic challenge and opportunity. In the face of this technology's epochal impact on society, anything less than full transparency would be a dereliction of OpenAI's founding duty.


I urge the company's leaders to resolve any legal disputes swiftly, open source their most important models, and help catalyze a global effort to develop AI as a public good. Democratizing access to AI is how we'll create the best outcomes for humanity. It's time for OpenAI to walk the walk of its open-source mission.