ChatGPT boss Altman in the center of attention, who is he?


OpenAI CEO Sam Altman

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have all made their mark on technological developments in recent decades. Is Sam Altman next in line? He is still relatively unknown to the general public, but what his company OpenAI makes is anything but that: ChatGPT.

The advanced text generator has come to symbolize the current hype around AI (artificial intelligence). It instantly makes Altman one of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley. His company now competes with big names such as Meta and Google, thanks to Microsoft, which has so far invested $ 13 billion in OpenAI and uses the technology in search engine Bing.

Altman has also attracted the attention of politicians. Yesterday, along with a representative from IBM and a distinguished professor, he spoke to US senators about how AI should be regulated.

Beforehand, he had engaged in a charm offensive: on Mondays he had dinner with members of the US House of Representatives and private meetings with senators, writes The New York Times. The treatment in the senate chamber itself was in stark contrast to how hearings have gone in recent years; the attitude of politicians was much more constructive.

Stanford and its own start-up

Altman has been in Silicon Valley circles for years. He started at Stanford, but dropped out to start his own company. That was not a success. In 2014 he became president of Y Combinator, a company that helps start-ups to grow, including through seed capital. As a result, he was at the forefront of the latest developments. He also invested in big names such as Airbnb and Reddit.

In 2015, he was involved in the founding of OpenAI, which started as a non-profit research lab. Together with Elon Musk and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, among others, he pledged $ 1 billion in support. At the beginning of 2019, Altman became CEO. Musk was then no longer involved due to dissatisfaction with the course.

Contrary to Silicon Valley tradition, Altman is not a shareholder in OpenAI. He fears that profit may be the wrong motivation in AI development, writes The Wall Street Journal. In addition, he says he has already made more money than he will ever need. Altman has three homes, his own staff, and a family office that manages all of his investments and non-profits.

The 38-year-old American, born in St. Louis, is not afraid of far-reaching comparisons. Talking to a reporter from The New York Times he compared his company’s ambitions to the US government’s project to develop an atomic bomb during World War II. The reporter noted that he talked about it as if he were talking about tomorrow’s weather.

Opportunities and dangers

Altman sees great opportunities in AI, but also dangers. His motivation to fund OpenAI stemmed in part from a concern that other research labs are working out of the public eye on technology that could be potentially dangerous. At the same time, OpenAI decided, for competitive reasons, not to disclose the underlying model of GPT-4.

In February of this year Altman wrote that the company’s mission is to develop AI systems that are generally smarter than humans. “If successful, this technology could help us lift humanity up by increasing abundance and boosting the global economy.” To then emphasize that this will also come with “serious risk of abuse, drastic accidents and social disruption”.

Yet Altman single-handedly decided to, as he himself says, making the “controversial unilateral decision” to unexpectedly release ChatGPT last November. That was a choice that brought him a lot of criticism, but also catapulted him to the center of attention and power.

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