Elon Musk’s AI start-up hires former Airbus innovation centre GC as first legal chief

Robert Keele joined xAI earlier this month, Bloomberg reported

Elon Musk Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock.com

Elon Musk’s artificial intelligence business xAI has appointed Robert Keele as its first legal head to help steer the company’s expansion efforts.

Keele revealed his move earlier this month on LinkedIn, Bloomberg reported. Keele had only just recently set up his own fractional general counsel business called Keele Law where he intended to provide GC services for tech-related start-ups.

Keele joined just before xAI announced a $6bn Series B funding round supported by venture capital funds including Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital and billionaire Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. The deal valued xAI at $24bn.

Writing on LinkedIn, Keele said: “Keele Law had a good run (~3 weeks!), but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to run legal at xAI. Beyond stoked, and insanely lucky, to help this small but mighty team build the future of synthetic intelligence.”

Prior to launching Keele Law, he had a brief spell as head of legal and compliance at autonomous aircraft-maker Elroy Air. Before that he was GC at Airbus’s Silicon Valley innovation centre Acubed, where he also spent just over a year as co-lead of its quantum sensing and computing business.

His first in-house role was at Airbus’s now defunct on-demand helicopter service Voom as GC. He started his legal career as a law clerk in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California, before moving into private practice, first at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and then at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Musk founded xAI last year and released its Grok-1 generative AI chatbot in November as a competitor to OpenAI’s ChatGPT system. Musk’s company says its mission is to “understand the true nature of the universe” and develop advanced AI systems that are “truthful, competent and maximally beneficial for all of humanity”.

Musk was founding co-chairman of OpenAI in 2015, before leaving the organisation in 2018.

In recent days Musk has been embroiled in a public spat with Meta’s chief AI scientist Yann LeCunn. On Musk’s social media platform that was formerly known as Twitter, LeCunn tweeted: “Join xAI if you can stand a boss who: – claims that what you are working on will be solved next year (no pressure)” and “claims to want a ‘maximally rigorous pursuit of the truth’ but spews crazy-ass conspiracy theories on his own social platform”.

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