A glimpse into Sam Altman’s 2-hour-long bid to look like the saner, less chaotic foil to Elon Musk

Sam Altman is warring with Elon Musk. It’s unclear how their legal battle will pan out just yet, but if his recent interview with podcaster Lex Fridman is anything to go by, Altman may just be winning the PR game.

The OpenAI chief gave a close to two-hour-long interview on Fridman’s podcast, which aired on Monday. During the interview, Altman spoke to Fridman about various topics, including artificial general intelligence, his sudden ouster in 2023, comparisons between OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google, and Musk’s lawsuit against him.

During the interview, Altman made sure to pay Musk a fair share of compliments, calling him “amazing” and one of the “great builders of our time” — at least where tech’s concerned.

“The stuff about Elon is amazing and I super respect him. I think we need him,” Altman said. “All of us should be rooting for him and need him to step up as a leader through this next phase.”

But it wasn’t just what Altman said, but how he said it. Throughout his conversation with Fridman, Altman spoke in an even tone, was rarely animated, and dropped random factoids about himself. He talked about his interest in aliens, and explained his quirky habit of typing social media posts in small caps only.

“If I’m writing a long, more formal message, I always use capitalization there, too. So I still remember how to do it,” Altman joked.

Timing is everything

The stark differences between Altman and Musk’s public personas seemed particularly pronounced on Monday, in part due to the timing of the podcast episode’s release.

Musk earlier sat for an hourlong interview with former CNN host Don Lemon. That episode of “The Don Lemon Show” dropped on Monday, too.

Musk’s interview was dogged by controversy even before it aired. Lemon said his show’s partnership with Musk’s social media platform X was abruptly canceled hours after it was filmed because Musk was “apparently so upset” after the taping.

During the interview, Musk offered an odd explanation to Lemon about his ketamine use. Musk told Lemon he takes a small amount of ketamine “once every other week” and that he uses the drug “when my brain chemistry sometimes goes super negative.”

But his ketamine use, Musk said, shouldn’t alarm investors because his electric vehicle company Tesla “had the best-selling car on Earth last year.”

“So from investors’ standpoint, if there is something I’m taking, I should keep taking it,” Musk told Lemon.

Musk also defended his controversial views on racism and corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. The billionaire told Lemon that he thinks people shouldn’t make racism “a constant subject” and that they should “move on” from the topic altogether.

Close to the interview’s end, Musk appeared to be visibly displeased. When Lemon asked him about it, Musk admitted that he was getting upset.

“You’re upsetting me because the way you phrase your questions is not cogent,” Musk told Lemon.

That isn’t to say that Altman hasn’t been in his share of tense interviews. At a Davos panel in January Bloomberg’s Brad Stone asked OpenAI’s vice president of global affairs Anna Makanju about Altman’s firing and swift reinstatement.

In response, Altman cut in and questioned why Stone seemed to want to dwell on the matter, calling the ouster a “soap opera.”

Altman and Musk’s dueling self-presentations come at an interesting time for the two men. They’re the leaders of two competing AI organizations and are also embroiled in a legal tussle.

On February 29, Musk filed a lawsuit against OpenAI and Altman, where he accused OpenAI of violating its nonprofit mission when it partnered with Microsoft.

In a March 6 X post, Musk said he would drop the lawsuit if the company changed its name to “ClosedAI.”

OpenAI responded in March with a blog post refuting Musk’s claims.

“I think that speaks to the seriousness with which Elon means the lawsuit, and that’s like an astonishing thing to say, I think,” Altman said of Musk’s remarks on Fridman’s podcast.

Altman said as well that he found the lawsuit and the memes and drama surrounding it “unbecoming” of a man like Musk. But he added that he misses “the old Elon” — a conciliatory stance to take considering the state of their relationship.

“I know he knows what it’s like to have haters attack him, And it makes me extra sad he’s doing it to us,” Altman said.

Altman’s representatives at OpenAI and representatives for Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Business Insider sent outside regular business hours.

Axel Springer, Business Insider’s parent company, has a global deal to allow OpenAI to train its models on its media brands’ reporting.

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