Elon Musk to raise Tesla AI staff salaries to curb OpenAI poaching

In an escalation of the artificial intelligence (AI) talent war, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a post on X that OpenAI has been “aggressively recruiting Tesla engineers with massive compensation offers” and as a result, Tesla will be increasing the compensation it gives its AI engineering team.

The 52-year-old billionaire seemed to confirm that it is an issue focused on compensation rather than staff being dissatisfied with the company’s work environment, in a further post on the social network he owns. A user asked “Is Tesla matching these compensation offers? Or is it more than [sic] these employees just want to switch things up, so matching wouldn’t matter?” and Musk responded that “Tesla is increasing comp (contingent on progress milestones) of our AI engineering team.”

This came after a story reported by The Information that a prominent machine learning expert from Tesla was moving to join xAI, Musk’s AI company. Musk responded to the story that the engineer had been planning to leave for OpenAI as a result of the talent poaching.

Ethan was going to join OpenAI, so it was either xAI or them.

They have been aggressively recruiting Tesla engineers with massive compensation offers and have unfortunately been successful in a few cases.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 3, 2024

Elon Musk vs OpenAI: The AI talent war

“The talent war for AI is the craziest talent war I’ve ever seen!” said Musk in another Twitter post. And he’s not wrong about that – many big tech companies are falling over themselves to expand their AI capabilities while the bubble is still growing. Earlier this year Mark Zuckerberg announced that Meta wants to begin to create an artificial general intelligence and acknowledged the fierce competition between companies for top talent.

In a report from 2023, it was revealed that OpenAI provides the highest salaries for new PhD graduates at $865k. Tesla comes in at fourth on the list with a still eye-watering $780k.

Tensions between Musk and OpenAI’s Sam Altman have been high for some time. Earlier this year Musk announced his intentions to sue OpenAI and Altman for violation of commitments made when they established the company together. OpenAI countered him in court with claims that some of his allegations were “incoherent”. They also expressed concerns that the discovery phase of the lawsuit could be exploited by Musk to access proprietary information and urged caution.

Musk then decided to open-source xAI’s chatbot Grok in response to decisions made by OpenAI that he disagreed with.

Featured image credit: generated by MidJourney

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Ali Rees