We are in 2017, on the scene of the TechCrunch Disrupt event, a great annual technology mass that takes place in San Francisco. To the journalist who asks him if it is very reasonable to worry about the danger posed by artificial intelligence, in the face of all the much more pressing risks that weigh on humanity, Sam Altman responds with a shrug.
” It’s not about panicking, just being careful! Even at its current level, artificial intelligence already presents risks, from bias in machine learning algorithms to autonomous weapons and misinformation. Not to mention, our species is particularly bad at predicting exponential trends. A few months before the first manned flight of an airplane, some of the best engineers in the field claimed that it would take us at least fifty years to see a first flight with a human being on board. Without a doubt, we are closer to a general artificial intelligence than we think. »
Commanding the Y Combinator
If more than five years later, artificial general intelligence, capable of competing with the human mind, has not yet appeared, the recent emergence of ChatGPT shows how technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, with its many opportunities, but also its problems, at a global level. world. at least partially proving Sam Altman right. Ironically, it is his own organization, OpenAI, founded to prevent artificial intelligence from developing in an unfavorable way for humanity, which is behind the already famous chatbot.
Like many of his Silicon Valley peers, Sam Altman, born in 1985, caught the computer bug early on. By the age of eight, he had mastered the basics of coding and knew how to take a Mac apart and put it back together. Early talents that led him to study computer science at Stanford, a university he dropped out before graduating to launch his own startup, Loopt, at 19 years old with two friends. A geolocalized social network for which he manages to raise 30 million dollars, and enter Y Combinator, a prestigious Silicon Valley startup accelerator.
As he continued to develop Loopt, he became friends with two of the accelerator’s co-founders, Paul Graham and Jessica Livingstone, and began working with them as well. Therefore, he advises several entrepreneurs, including the creators of Airbnb and Dropbox, then two young shoots members of Y Combinator. In 2012, Loopt was sold to Green Dot Corporation, a US bank, for $43 million, and Sam Altman focused full-time on Y Combinator, which he took over in 2014.
Armed with his new responsibilities, he instills several strategic changes, choosing to favor startups that operate in areas he believes will benefit humanity the most, such as energy, quantum computing, and, of course, artificial intelligence. He also launched the YC Research Fund, a non-profit organization tasked with funding research around the craziest projects, for which he handed over $10 million out of his own pocket.
His personal fortune is estimated between 200 and 250 million dollars by the American media.
Promote ethical AI
In 2015, along with his friend Elon Musk, he founded another non-profit organization, this time tasked with specifically promoting research around artificial intelligence and ensuring that it benefits all of humanity, rather than remaining the preserve of a few. few large corporations. Open AI was born. Four years later, and after Elon Musk jumped ship, Sam Altman quit his job at Y Combinator to focus entirely on OpenAI.
In the same year, the logic of society changed. From a non-profit organization tasked with spreading artificial intelligence to as many people as possible, it has become a real business, attracting big investors like Microsoft (which is spending a billion dollars on the company), that promises a juicy return on investment. If OpenAI thus keeps its humanist ideals a bit in the closet to serve its shareholders, this inflow of fresh money allows it to make spectacular progress, of which the two most recent avatars are Dall-E, the creation of images, and ChatGPT.
” There will be scary times as we get closer to an AI, as well as major disruptions, but the potential benefits are such that the challenges that will get us there are well worth tackling. “said Sam Altman on Twitter recently, adding that ChatGPT would soon appear” bored of what artificial intelligence will be able to achieve.
A product of Silicon Valley
Like his friend Peter Thiel, Sam Altman is a pure product of Silicon Valley ideology, marked by a very powerful techno-optimism, with the conviction that technical progress is the best way to work for the well-being and protection of humanity. humanity. Unlike Peter Thiel, Sam Altman opposed Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, but unlike many of his peers who simply denigrate or even demonize Trump voters, Sam Altman came out to meet him in the 2016 campaign and wrote a long article. about his interactions with them.
Like his colleague Elon Musk, he is also very attached to the defense of freedom of expression: “ I found that I was more comfortable debating controversial ideas in Beijing than in San Francisco. “, he wrote on his blog after returning from a trip to China at the end of 2017, stating that the lack of open-mindedness that Silicon Valley is gaining will limit its ability to innovate. A speech that echoes that of Peter Thiel, who left San Francisco for Los Angeles in 2018, denouncing the sectarian spirit and ideological conformism that he believes reigns in Silicon Valley.
Convinced that climate change poses a great risk to humanity, Sam Altman also dedicates part of his fortune to supporting the energies of tomorrow, as evidenced by his recent investment in Helion, a company specializing in nuclear fusion.
It will be understood that Sam Altman is also a supporter of the singularity theory, which posits that artificial intelligence will one day surpass the human mind, a prospect he seems to find both exciting and frightening. In the meantime, OpenAI could well turn out to be the golden goose, as evidenced by Microsoft’s willingness to include ChatGPT in several of its products, a desire to which OpenAI has already reacted enthusiastically. Because as a good representative of Silicon Valley, Sam Altman knows how to combine his humanistic idealism with a keen business sense.
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