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Sam Altman is the CEO of the company that has developed the fastest growing product in history, ChatGPT. Despite being an incredible achievement, that’s not the main goal of OpenAI, his company. His aspiration is the so-called “artificial general intelligence”, a system that by itself reproduces and improves the capabilities of a human brain. At 38, Altman no longer has the youth of the classic tech founder, but he is an ideal product of Silicon Valley. His belief in the limitless power of technology is persistent: “We have lost our collective sense of optimism about the future. We should all act as if getting it back is a duty. The only way I know of to return to that optimism is to use technology to create abundance,” he said in May in Toronto. Without that wealth created by technology there will be no democracy, he assures him.
Altman is so reliant on technology that he’s a poor salesman for his current flagship product. He seems little to her and highlights his deficiencies as well as his virtues. ChatGPT, a program developed with artificial intelligence (AI) that gives plausible answers to most questions, is for Altman an “impressive, but not robust” technology, as he stressed at a recent conference. “In the first test you have the reaction of ‘this is awesome and it’s ready,’ but if you use it a hundred times, you see its weaknesses,” he explained. It is like a Quixote, but whose windmills already have some solid wall, they are not just dreams. The entrepreneur equates his plan to achieve general AI to the “Manhattan project”, which Robert Oppenheimer led to build the atomic bomb. As Altman likes to point out, he was born on the same day as Oppenheimer, April 22.
He has an exaggerated confidence in that general artificial intelligence, which is something we don’t even know if it’s possible. And he is confident that it will happen in both his hopes and fears: “The positive case is so unbelievably good that you sound like a madman talking about it. The worst possible event is that we all kick it,” he wrote on Twitter. Altman talks about these apocalyptic prophecies with the calm of someone who has a beer with friends, in fact he has been doing so for years. In 2015 he wrote: “Popular discussion topic among my friends: will the end of the world be due to synthetic biology, AI or energy shortages/war?”
popular debate topic among my friends: will the end of the world be synthetic biology, AI, or energy shortage/war?
—Sam Altman (@sama) March 17, 2015
Years before the pandemic, Altman had already embraced the community preppera group of people who are prepared to survive an apocalypse on Earth: “My problem is that when my friends get drunk they talk about how the world will end,” he expressed in a profile published in the magazine New Yorker in 2016. “I try not to think about it too much, but I have guns, gold, potassium iodide, antibiotics, batteries, water, IDF gas masks and a ranch in southern California that I can fly to,” he adds. After the pandemic, he continues to believe that we have not seen anything: “This is unlikely to be the worst new pandemic we will see in our lifetimes,” wrote.
A couple of McLarens in the garage
Flying to his ranch is not a metaphor: one of his two great hobbies recognized is to charter planes to fly around California. The other is racing cars: he has a couple of McLarens and a vintage Tesla, five cars in all. He also makes annual lists that he reviews with physical and business objectives. Follow a vegetarian diet and eat intermittent fasting.
Altman grew up in Saint Louis, Missouri, in deep America. At eight years old he was already tinkering with computers, as is de rigueur in these successful profiles in Silicon Valley. In various interviews he has said that it was not easy being a teenager and gay in that region in the early 2000s. His first Mac and his online forums helped him share those secrets. In 2015, at a dinner with Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and other Silicon Valley godfathers, they decided to found OpenAI. Their goal was to compete with Google and DeepMind so that they wouldn’t be the only ones to dominate the AI explosion of the future. Altman’s relationship with Musk has ended so-so. Musk wanted to take full power in OpenAI, but they wouldn’t let him and, since then, he’s been trying to torpedo its activity.
Thiel, the founder of PayPal and Facebook, is one of his close friends. Before the pandemic, Altman said he would go into seclusion at Thiel’s home in New Zealand. Thiel, a defender of Trump and founder of Palantir, a company with access to sensitive data and involved in military technology, gives him a reputation as a dark character. Before the 2016 election, Altman had to explain that he did not support Trump, but that he would continue to work with Thiel.
3) Thiel is a high profile supporter of Trump. I disagree with this. YC is not going to fire someone for supporting a major party nominee.
—Sam Altman (@sama) October 17, 2016
OpenAI is the second startup which Altman co-founded. The first was at the age of 19, Loopt, and to develop it he dropped out of computer science at Stanford. He received seed funding from YCombinator, a platform that quickly became famous for helping other technology companies like Reddit, Dropbox and Airbnb to be born. He managed to sell Loopt (which allowed selective location sharing with other people) for $43 million, though he expected much more. At the age of 28, the founders of YCombinator offered him to run their platform: “He has a natural ability to convince people,” says Paul Graham, founder of that company and a leading figure in Silicon Valley. “If it’s not innate, I had it fully developed before I was 20. I met Sam when he was 19 and I remember thinking then, ‘So this is what Bill Gates should have been like,'” he explained.
why do i want more money
Money does not seem to be one of his priorities: “I have earned more than I will ever need,” he has assured. A year ago he went shopping for his grandmother and later he admitted to his mother that he hadn’t been in a supermarket for four or five years. Power interests him more, according to Graham, and he has investments in a lot of startups with which he has earned a lot of money. From OpenAI, he assures, he only charges social security; He’s not in it for the profits. In 2016 he said that he did not want too much: his house in San Francisco, his cars, his ranch in southern California and a reserve of 10 million dollars, whose annual interest would cover the expenses, was enough. of the. The rest, always according to Altman, would be to improve humanity.
Now that global success has come to him, legends from his past emerge. Altman is the typical young man who is told by his brothers that he should run for president and he doesn’t see it as a joke. Altman speaks in a guttural voice and slowly, as if he likes to hear what his voice is going to say. The comparisons he receives are already naturally exorbitant: Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s chief technology officer, whose company has invested $10 billion in OpenAI this year, told the New York Times that Altman will end on the same plane as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
Although Altman is obviously not famous as a singer or sportsman, his impact is greater. This week he was in Madrid for 24 hours, as part of a global tour that he has organized to listen and be heard. At the moment he has met with the presidents of Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Germany. After the talk at IE University in Madrid, he spent half an hour chatting with the students. They took pictures of him and people wanted to tell him their stories (something Altman himself specifically requested). The conversation flowed as if someone was attracting more attention at a cocktail party, but in a polite manner.
how to succeed
With his position at YCombinator, Altman also became a guru of startups. In 2014 she taught a course at Stanford titled ”How to start a startup”. There he provided this mathematical formula: “The result (of a startup) is something like idea (multiplied) by product by execution by team by luck, where luck is a random number between zero and ten thousand. Literally. But if you do really well in all four areas that you can control, you have a good chance of at least some amount of success.” This experience in the business world has led him to write posts with titles such as ”How to be successful”, where there are phrases that illustrate his way of seeing the world: “A great secret is that you can bend the world to your will a surprising percentage of the time” or “Self-confidence is immensely powerful. The most successful people I know believe in themselves almost to the point of delusion.”
His first startup, Loopt, was an app to share your location with friends and family of your choice, one of those ideas that seems good until it collides with the reality of complex human lives. Altman is today co-founder of Worldcoin, a company that aims to gather the irises of all human eyes to certify their identity. One of his alleged purposes is that if the general AI brings immense wealth to the world, that money can be distributed and humans are already identified. It always promises as much privacy as possible, but these are approaches that seem to have little thought about their possible misuse. Work, for example, is just one of the problems of the future that it intends to solve: your investment in Helion, startup nuclear Fusion, it is one of his greatest interests today.
The confusion between humans and machines may seem like a fantasy today, but it’s something Altman has joked about for years. The journalist of New Yorker who wrote his profile in 2016 joked that he went to the bathroom less often: “I’ll practice going to the bathroom more often so humans don’t realize I’m an AI,” he replied.
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