Photo by Sam Altman, creator of ChatGPT and OpenAI

It was in an interview with the MIT Technology Review that he commented, in December 2022, on the power of his new toys. “GPT-3 was the first experience where you really felt the intelligence of the system. He can do what man can do. I think this has caused people who don’t believe in general artificial intelligence to take it seriously. Something happened that none of us could have predicted”explained Sam Altman.

With ChatGPT, the entrepreneur has achieved what no one could have predicted six months ago: surprisingly giving the general public access to one of the technologies that will change everything else. No one could have predicted that all of a sudden, everyone would start using ChatGPT, find it crazy and then integrate it naturally into their new daily life. However that is happening.

With simple, easily accessible, free and trendy technology, the debate on the morality of artificial intelligence disappeared in an instant, as well as doubts about the companies responsible for these tools. If everyone becomes a ChatGPT user, however, we all have no interest in knowing who actually founded it and its parent company.

Sam Altman, who is 37 years old and was born in Chicago in the United States, has achieved the unthinkable. Until it was overshadowed by Elon Musk and his recent antics on Twitter that annoyed more than one. Its history and way of thinking, although still very vague, are important elements to know in order to immerse yourself in the new economic and technological landscape of the coming years. Let’s take a look at him and some important points of his career and methods.

© Y Combinator

He worked for Elon Musk

This presentation by Sam Altman will not be done in chronological order. So before we introduce her, let’s talk about her relationship with Elon Musk. Inevitably, for any American entrepreneur at the hands of a company capable of changing an entire economy, it is to the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter that many will compare him. In fact, Sam Altman knows Elon Musk and has even worked with him.

If the two have made a habit, since the release of ChatGPT at the end of November, of writing to each other on Twitter, it is because they launched OpenAI together, in 2015. Along with Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Jessica Livingston, they injected $1 billion into its launch, to create “digital intelligence in a way that is likely to benefit humanity”. For this, they originally declared that they wanted to make all results, code and patents available to everyone, without rights.

At this time, in an interview with Vanity Fair, Sam Altman said he had known Elon Musk for a long time, during a visit from SpaceX. Together, they never stopped talking about artificial intelligence. He said: “Right now Elon and I are the only leaders (of OpenAI). Assuming it works, we realize that the two of us are not a perfect sample of what everyone else in the world thinks is important. That is why we plan to expand this group”.

He made the web, in the shadows

Before becoming famous for OpenAI, Sam Altman led the world’s largest accelerator for startups, Y Combinator. From 2011 to 2019, he went from partner to president, from accelerator to the entire group. In October 2015, he also signed the addition of two new units to the YC Group, the YC Continuity investment fund and the YC Research Lab, with an envelope dedicated to non-profit projects. A first step in its long-term vision, where risk capital should be invested in projects that require a lot of time before expecting to make a profit.

Under his status as president of the accelerator, he also celebrated the success of young startups, which have become an integral part of the web today. We list Airbnb, Dropbox or even Stripe. With their success in 2014, Y Combinator passed the bar of 65 billion dollars of its envelope valuation. On a personal note, Sam Altman has also invested in Pinterest, Reddit (where he will be the boss for… 8 days), as well as Instacart, and over 13 other startups.

How to invest in the future

At the YC Research Lab, intended to invest in disruptive projects, without looking for short-term profiles, Sam Altman began to see far. He put in $10 million from his relative. First, it is in the future of computing, education and urban planning. In 2015, with OpenAI, he quickly understood that he needed to focus on artificial intelligence to invest in the future he envisioned. According to him, an ethical AI. Its priorities are the following: to guarantee access to all these technologies, and to ensure that they are not a problem intelligence for society.

“There will be scary times as we approach a general artificial intelligence, as well as major disruptions, but the potential benefits are such that it’s worth facing the challenges that will get us there.”, wrote Sam Altman one day on Twitter. In response to a question from Elon Musk, he also added that he agreed “the fact of being close to a dangerously strong AI in the sense of an AI that poses for example a major cybersecurity risk. […] I think we will get to a real AGI in the next decade, so we have to take that risk seriously as well”he wrote.

creation openai first day

A file photo from the first day of work for OpenAI, in 2015 © Sam Altman / Twitter

His view on Silicon Valley and China

Many present Sam Altman as “a product of Silicon Valley”. It is true that by making rain and the good period of innovation of American startups, mainly present in California, and by the launch of OpenAI in San Francisco, no one deviates from it. As a journalist from the site commented The gallery, his optimism and “belief that technology will save humanity” are reminiscent of other Bay Area leaders. However, he has long been critical of its geographic location and business culture.

Still according to site research The gallery, Sam Altman reports from a 2017 trip to China to understand how far freedom of expression in California is from what we thought. From his feeling, he’s okay”more comfortable debating controversial ideas in Beijing than in San Francisco”, he wrote in a blog post. The lack of open-mindedness in Silicon Valley according to him dangerously slows down innovation.

OpenAI is an association

OpenAI has always remained in San Francisco, but its status between its creation and now has changed. Right now, for its launch, the project is only a non-profit organization. Very quickly, it changed its status to become a “capped profit” organization. Today, we are talking about a company that will be worth 29 billion dollars, especially with a new investment from Microsoft in the amount of 10 billion dollars. Due to the very wide field of application of the technology and the promises of its development, the capitalization should still increase significantly.

From his first startup launched in 2019 and sold for 43 million dollars, to a company to the point of creating a revolution on its own and seeing its value exceed at any time more than 100 billion dollars, Sam Altman is not about to disappear from the radar. With Google, which has declared a code red in the face of OpenAI’s advances in artificial intelligence, a response should be launched in the coming months, under the name of DeepMind. The question, now, is where to place the “O” of OpenAI in the acronym GAFAM, and Sam Altman, in the ranking of the greatest fortunes.

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