The faster the fall. Sam Altman, the boss of OpenAI and the "father" of the generative artificial intelligence platform ChatGPT, was removed from his position with immediate effect on Friday, with no real reasons yet known. His dismissal came as a surprise to Silicon Valley, as the 38-year-old entrepreneur was considered a pioneer and one of the leading figures in a sector with considerable stakes, that of artificial intelligence (AI).
Sam Altman created OpenAI in 2015 — initially a non-profit foundation — with the idea of developing AI that would be "safe and benefit humanity," in the words of Elon Musk in an interview with the New York Times. AI has been in the spotlight since millions of people adopted ChatGPT, which is able to converse with humans in natural language and generate all kinds of text on a simple query.
"We'll all have superpowers on demand"
"As (artificial) intelligence is integrated everywhere, we will all have superpowers on demand," Altman promised at a conference on Thursday, the day before he was fired from OpenAI.
And faced with the strong concerns raised, particularly about democracy and employment, the entrepreneur assured AFP: "I have a lot of empathy for people's feelings, whatever their feelings." "Unless we merge with AI, it either enslaves us or we enslave it," he told a New Yorker reporter in 2016. "Humans need to move up a level."
A Mac at 8 years old
Born in April 1985, the entrepreneur grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. His life changed when he received a Mac for his eighth birthday, and the Internet helped him live out his homosexuality when he still had "no one to talk to about it," he told Esquire in 2014. He studied computer science at the prestigious Stanford, but soon left university to create the social network Loopt in 2005, valued at more than $43 million when he sold it in 2012.
In 2014, he became head of Y Combinator, which invests in start-ups and advises entrepreneurs, in exchange for shares. The organization has helped Airbnb, Stripe, and Reddit, among others. Under his leadership, the incubator is expanding far beyond software to include start-ups from many other sectors, such as Industrial Microbes, a biotech start-up.
"He thinks and talks fast"
Its president, Derek Greenfield, remembers someone who was very "intense." "He thinks and speaks fast, he asks the tough questions, but always in an encouraging way," he says. "He pushed the boundaries. I don't know where we'd be if he hadn't transformed (Y Combinator). "He's a (deeply thoughtful) thinker who is hell-bent on getting it right," said Jeremy Goldman of Insider Intelligence.
A fan of shorts and T-shirts, a sports car enthusiast and an airplane pilot in his spare time, Sam Altman often gives the impression of being an introvert. He says he's an optimist, but he's also a survivalist, according to the New Yorker: he stores weapons, gold, water and antibiotics at his property in Big Sur, California.
Donald Trump? A 'threat to national security'
The prolific entrepreneur has personally invested in different companies, including $375 million in Helion, a nuclear fusion start-up. "My vision for the future and the reason I love (Helion and OpenAI) is that if we can really bring down the cost of intelligence and the cost of energy, the quality of life for everyone is going to increase dramatically," he told CNBC in May.
In July, it officially launched Worldcoin, a new cryptocurrency with an identity verification system based on the human iris. The stated objective: to reduce the risk of fraud and scams in an industry where the use of pseudonyms is common.
On the political side, he called Donald Trump a "threat to national security" and in 2016 designed an app to encourage young people to vote. At the end of 2019, he organized a fundraiser for Democratic candidate Andrew Yang, who advocates a universal basic income, i.e. a minimum allowance for all, that would compensate for the loss of jobs due to automation.
- By the Web
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Silicon Valley