SAN FRANCISCO: Sam Altman, the tech mogul behind ChatGPT, was abruptly fired on Friday by OpenAI, the company that launched the revolutionary artificial intelligence chatbot.
News of the firing took Silicon Valley by surprise as the 38-year-old actor had been hailed as a pioneer and one of the leading figures in the risky world of artificial intelligence.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he said his time at OpenAI had been “somewhat transformative for me personally, and hopefully for the world too.”
Altman, along with Tesla chief Elon Musk and others, founded OpenAI in 2015, a research company with the goal of creating generative artificial intelligence that benefits humanity.
“The technological progress we will make in the next 100 years will be far greater than anything we have made since we first controlled fire and invented the wheel,” Altman said in a 2021 blog post.
Born in 1985, Altman was born in St. Louis, according to a 2016 profile in the New Yorker. He grew up in suburban St. Louis, where he got his first computer when he was eight years old.
In an interview with Esquire, Altman said computers and access to the online community helped him survive as a gay man in a conservative part of the country.
Like many tech figures before him, Altman dropped out of Stanford University to found a company called Loopt, which allows smartphone users to selectively share their location.
Loopt was acquired in 2012 in a $43.4 million deal, securing Altman’s place in Silicon Valley.
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He took a year off, during which he “read dozens of textbooks; I learned about areas of interest,” the San Francisco resident wrote in a post.
He explained that he had knowledge about nuclear engineering, synthetic biology, investment and artificial intelligence.
“Then the seeds of things that worked deep down were planted,” he said.
t-shirt and shorts
In 2014, Altman became president of Y Combinator, an “accelerator” that provides guidance and financing to startups in exchange for stakes in young companies.
Altman expanded on Y Combinator’s strategy to invest in biotechnology, energy and other areas beyond software startups.
“He thinks fast and talks fast; intense, but in a good way,” said Industrial Microbes founder Derek Greenfield, who met Altman while receiving backing from biotech startup Y Combinator.
Greenfield recalled that Altman always dressed casually, sometimes wearing a T-shirt and shorts.
Despite the feared risks, Altman left Y Combinator, devoting his energy to artificial intelligence.
“He’s a very deep thinker who is incredibly focused on doing things right,” said Jeremy Goldman, Insider Intelligence’s senior director of marketing and business.
Altman suggested that combining artificial intelligence, robotics, and cost-free energy could essentially enable machines to do all the work and provide a “basic income” for adults in society.
“A great future is not complicated: We need technology to create more wealth and policy to distribute it fairly,” Altman wrote in a blog post.
“Everything necessary will be cheap and everyone will have enough money to afford them.”
‘Fast cars and survival’
In the New Yorker article, Altman said he was a “prepper” who had preparations and supplies ready to survive an apocalyptic disaster.
He talked about owning high-performance sports cars and renting planes to fly around California.
On the last day of each December, she writes a list of things she wants to accomplish in the coming year, Altman said in a blog post.
His personal investments include initiatives working on fusion energy and extending human life.
“I’m super optimistic,” he said in a podcast with TED curator Chris Anderson.
“It’s always easy to doomscroll and think about how bad things are,” Altman added, “but the good things are really good and getting a lot better.”
But Altman has testified before the US Congress and spoken to heads of state about AI as pressure grows to regulate the technology against risks such as its potential use in bioweapons and misinformation.
We can’t always predict the future, he told AFP on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco, just hours before he was fired on Friday.
“The dangerous thing is… all the new things will come, the known unknowns, the unknown unknowns,” he said.
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