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The plan is “to build a good AGI with the overarching purpose of just trying to understand the universe,” Musk sa Image Credit: REUTERS

California: Elon Musk’s new startup is “definitely in competition” with OpenAI, the billionaire said on Friday during a discussion on Twitter Spaces. Musk’s artificial intelligence company, xAI, is his latest salvo against OpenAI, currently the buzziest and best-funded player in the fast-growing industry.

During the discussion, Musk and staffers of his new startup spoke in lofty terms about the mission of xAI. Though it does not yet have any products, the startup unveiled a new website this week, and has the goal of safely developing artificial general intelligence, or AGI.

The plan is “to build a good AGI with the overarching purpose of just trying to understand the universe,” Musk said. Later, he added, “I guess you could reform the xAI mission statement as: ‘What the hell is really going on?’ That’s our goal.”

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The concept of AGI, technology able to understand or learn tasks that humans can, has delighted and terrified scientists - even though it’s still only theoretical. On Friday, Musk’s new employees were bullish on the technology. Greg Yang, a former Microsoft Corp. engineer, compared the current state of AI development to the invention of quantum physics and general relativity.

At times during the conversation, some of Musk’s statements bordered on the outlandish. “Why is there not massive evidence of aliens?” he asked at one point.

Musk has had a famously hot-and-cold relationship with artificial intelligence. In 2015, he co-founded OpenAI, then a few years later left its board, and has criticized the company. In March, the billionaire added his name to a call for a six-month pause on some AI development “- then less than six month later, he officially launched xAI.

The 12 early staffers of xAI, including Musk, are all men and all have a background in the industry. A majority previously worked at Alphabet’s Google and DeepMind in some capacity.

One concern in the industry has been the relative concentration of AI research. One xAI staffer - Kyle Kosic, formerly of OpenAI - said he was looking forward to more competition in the field. “The reason I’m particularly excited about xAI is that I think the biggest danger of AI is monopolization by a couple of entities,” Kosic said.