Why did Elon by Twitter? What did AI have to do with it?

by Tony Palladino

It has been 19 months since Elon Musk purchased Twitter for $44B back in October, 2022. Back then, we all asked ourselves, “Why?” The quick answer was, “Why not? He’s got the money.” I remember pondering the question at that time. That thought was rekindled during my ongoing research on the subject of AI, which I enjoy keeping current on. The AI space is moving at the speed of light and I noticed that Elon’s Generative AI solution, called Grok, had a distinct advantage in the AI space. . . .

So, why did Elon by Twitter? I asked myself again. Was it for the 3 reasons that I had originally thought about? Up until now, I had thought that Elon had purchased Twitter for these 3 main reasons:

1. Elon recognized how powerful Social Media had become, and Twitter had become a top tier platform as the favored news source for millions of people – in real-time, all the time. As such, Elon recognized the opportunity that Twitter could provide in reaching and influencing a large part of the population. Just look at Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram (Meta) and Google’s acquisition of YouTube. Twitter had already acquired 238M users at that time. It his almost doubled since then; Twitter now has over 500M users today.

2. This I found to be the most interesting reason. Elon was aware of the Government’s clandestine partnership with Twitter and had serious concerns about the censorship that had been taking place, in particular around US politics and health issues related to COVID “vaccines”, along with other social issues.  Elon believed, as do many Americans, that Twitter had been violating the people’s right to free speech under the 1st Amendment of our US Constitution. Elon wanted to put an end to this nonsense, strongly believing that it was “the right thing to do”. He felt that he could provide a great impact by exposing and ending the censorship corruption. He wanted Twitter to be the most trusted source of information, in realtime, all the time.

3. And yes, of course, Elon felt that the price was right, at $44B. He was aware of the millions of bot accounts on Twitter and he called it out in the negotiations, to end the bidding. He was willing to invest $44B because he knew there would be an opportunity for a huge return not far down the road, based upon Twitter’s growing user base.

So, these were my top-3 reasons back then. Now, fast forward to today….

Well, I was wrong. It turns out that Twitter’s long-term ROI opportunity is happening sooner and it appears to be accelerating at a higher rate every day. It’s being driven by the hot, quickly evolving segment of Generative AI technology employing Large Language Models (LLMs). OpenAI’s ChatGPT entered the market a year ago and has grown threw the roof since then. Elon’s X.ai has it’s own version of Gen AI, called Grok, and it’s being trained by X’s social media data (again in real time, all the time). The real value of X is in the power of this massive realtime data being captured by X, posted by its audience of 500M+ users. The combo of the scalability of users, or rather user data, along with the velocity of that data (again in realtime, all the time) around the user interaction, positions Twitter, now X, in the elite top tier of global media influencers. Elon’s ability to leverage Grok as a means to provide a greater experience for X users will fuel the fire for even higher growth going forward.

Not only that, but Elon is now “doubling down” and shaking up the AI technology world. Recently, in March, he announced the Open Source release of Grok-1, making the LLM code (314B parameter model) available to all developers to contribute. Elon is being ultra competitive with this move, and I like it. When Elon had cofounded OpenAI, it was in their charter to be truly open source technology. According to Elon’s lawsuit against OpenAI, Elon claims that Open AI’s ChatGPT is not open source. There has been a massive amount of drama around OpenAI involving many issues — their partnership with Microsoft, their CEO’s behavior and intentions, employee loyalty questions, and most importantly, their direction with respect to evolving their AI capabilities, while controlling or harnessing the power of AI, and the ethics around this issue. After all, the worse case scenario is that AI causes human extinction. Whether AI can or cannot be controlled is a big question that we should be asking. While it remains yet to be seen in public, I would bet that Sam Altman and Elon know the answer.

The Real Opportunity

Elon is seizing the opportunity now for Grok to become the new defacto standard for open source Generative AI. With all the Twitter/X social media data training the model in realtime, along with a huge influx of new coders from the open source community to join the party, Grok should surpass ChatGPT in the race for the next generational stage of AI, called Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), which is expected to be released within a year.

So the 4th reason is Twitter’s ability to enable Elon to become a top leader in the AI space. By leveraging Twitter/X realtime data to train Grok’s LLM, that and the infusion of human capital from the open source developer community, increases the speed of Grok’s evolution to practically light speed. And then the product and use-cases that are developed by the highly evolved AI technology will continue to give Elon the edge. What is obvious is that Elon saw this bigger opportunity back in 2022 when he purchased Twitter, and the real reason why he purchased Twitter.

After the purchase, Elon quickly shut-down most of Twitter’s API connectors to keep Twitter’s social media data to themselves. (There’s am interesting privacy convo here, as well.) In doing so, he increased the value of his most important asset, Twitter’s data, now X’s data, which is training X.ai’s Grok.

Now that Grok is available as open source code, we are all eager to see what the broader community will create to enhance Grok’s capabilities. With all of this new energy behind it, Grok may very well be the first to reach the next gen stage, AGI, for public consumption. And if that happens, Elon will have won the AI race, and that in itself is priceless. Well worth a $44B investment to Elon.

Funny, that somehow ties back to my reason #3 above.  ;>)