Elon Musk boosts Tesla pay to keep OpenAI from poaching talent

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Elon Musk acknowledged Tesla Inc. is having to make special efforts to retain artificial intelligence specialists, some of whom have left the carmaker in the past year to join his AI venture.

Tesla is increasing compensation for its AI engineering team, contingent on performance milestones, Musk wrote on X, his social media network. In responding to a report by The Information on how his xAI venture has poached four engineers from Tesla, the chief executive blamed “the craziest talent war I’ve ever seen!”

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An exodus of personnel from Musk’s most valuable company to his newest may exacerbate concerns about conflicts and governance within the billionaire’s empire. In January, Musk said that unless he’s awarded around 25 per cent voting control at Tesla, he prefers to develop AI and robotics products elsewhere. Two weeks later, a Delaware judge voided a massive stock award that Tesla’s board arranged for him in 2018.

Musk announced the formation of xAI in July of last year, after months of hinting that he wanted to build an alternative to the hit product ChatGPT. He played a pivotal role in co-founding OpenAI, the chatbot’s developer, but fell out with other leaders at the startup.

“As Tesla continues to become more focused on AI, this will eliminate a potential future conflict for Elon,” OpenAI said in a February 2018 blog post announcing his departure from the board.

After The Information reported on Wednesday that Ethan Knight, a member of Tesla’s team working on computer vision for advanced driving systems, left last month to join xAI, Musk said that OpenAI had tried to hire him.

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“Ethan was going to join OpenAI, so it was either xAI or them,” Musk wrote on X. “They have been aggressively recruiting Tesla engineers with massive compensation offers and have unfortunately been successful in a few cases.”

Months after Tesla lost Andrej Karpathy, its senior director of AI, in July 2022, he rejoined OpenAI and worked on ChatGPT’s large-language model. Karpathy left the company early this year.

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Musk launched a competitor to ChatGPT called Grok in November. He’s said that investors in X — which has lost significant value since he acquired the company formerly known as Twitter — will own 25 per cent of xAI.

“There are over 200 excellent engineers in the Tesla AI/Autonomy team,” Musk wrote Wednesday in a post downplaying Knight’s leaving for xAI. “Tesla’s pace of progress with autonomy is accelerating.”


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