Elon Musk’s new AI company is staffed entirely by men There's not much information about xAI, but diversity is already an issue


Elon Musk is finally starting to talk about the artificial intelligence company he founded to compete with ChatGPT-maker OpenAI.

The startup, xAI, formally launched on Wednesday and its goal “is to understand the true nature of the universe.” It hasn’t said much more than that.

Led by Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX who also owns Twitter, the new startup centered in the San Francisco Bay Area has hired a group of top AI researchers who formerly worked at OpenAI, Google, Microsoft, and Tesla.

It will be independent of Twitter’s new parent company, X Corp., but will work closely with that company, as well as Tesla, “to make progress towards our mission,” according to a statement.

Musk was a co-founder and early funder of OpenAI who parted ways with the San Francisco-based research lab several years ago. He’s grown increasingly critical of OpenAI as it’s gained global prominence and commercial success with last year’s release of ChatGPT and solidified its financial ties to Microsoft.

The public unveiling of xAI follows comments Musk made about it in April to then-Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Musk told Carlson that OpenAI’s popular chatbot had a liberal bias and that he planned an alternative that would be a “maximum truth-seeking AI that tries to understand the nature of the universe.”

The startup reflected Musk’s long-voiced concerns about a future in which AI systems could present an existential risk to humanity.

The idea, Musk told Carlson, is that an AI that wants to understand humanity is less likely to destroy it.

Musk was one of the tech leaders who earlier this year called for AI developers to agree to a six-month pause before building systems more powerful than OpenAI’s latest model, GPT-4. Around the same time, he had already been working to start his own AI company, according to Nevada business records.

Musk, one of the world’s wealthiest people, tweeted on Wednesday (July 12) that he started the company to “understand reality.” The company’s bare-bones website doesn’t go any further into detail, writing that its goal is to “understand the true nature of the universe.”

But Musk did reveal the people who are working on xAI—and they’re all men.

xAI has 12 employees and all are men

The website for xAI lists a team of 12 men, including Musk, with links to their Twitter accounts. The site brags about their storied accomplishments and full résumés:

Our team is led by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. We have previously worked at DeepMind, OpenAI, Google Research, Microsoft Research, Tesla, and the University of Toronto. Collectively we contributed some of the most widely used methods in the field, in particular the Adam optimizer, Batch Normalization, Layer Normalization, and the discovery of adversarial examples. We further introduced innovative techniques and analyses such as Transformer-XL, Autoformalization, the Memorizing Transformer, Batch Size Scaling, and μTransfer. We have worked on and led the development of some of the largest breakthroughs in the field including AlphaStar, AlphaCode, Inception, Minerva, GPT-3.5, and GPT-4.

If there’s any diversity in their backgrounds, that’s about it. Each one appears to be a white or Asian man. The company also lists an advisor—Dan Hendrycks, the director of the Center for AI Safety—who is also a white man.

AI’s longstanding diversity problem

While the latest hype cycle of AI might be new, spurred by the development of OpenAI’s GPT large language models and its chatbot ChatGPT, AI’s diversity problem is nothing new.

Sexism and racism can be hard-coded into systems: AI-based software has disproportionately flagged Black people as likely to commit future crimes, discriminated against nonwhite and nonmale job applicants, and struggled to identify darker skin tones. Of course, smart assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa have been given female personas, which tech ethicists have criticized for reinforcing gender bias.

In assembling his team, it seems that Musk has made no effort to address AI’s diversity problem. The company listed a sign-up form for interested job applicants, but whether it’s using AI software to hire candidates or not, seasoned bettors should put their money on the company’s staff composition staying painfully homogenous.

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