The Contradictions of Sam Altman, AI Crusader

The CEO behind ChatGPT navigates the line between developing artificial intelligence on the cutting edge and pushing technology to dystopia

Sunday - 02/04/2023 07:59 Author: Editors Desk Source: WSJ:
Sam Altman imagines a future where people ‘feel a little bit less ourselves’ without AI.
Sam Altman imagines a future where people ‘feel a little bit less ourselves’ without AI.

Sam Altman, the 37-year-old startup-minting guru at the forefront of the artificial intelligence boom, has long dreamed of a future in which computers could converse and learn like humans.

One of his clearest childhood memories is sitting up late in his bedroom in suburban St. Louis, playing with the Macintosh LC II he had gotten for his eighth birthday when he had the sudden realization: “Someday, the computer was going to learn to think,” he said.

In recent months, Mr. Altman has done more than anyone else to usher in this future—and commercialize it. OpenAI, the company he leads, in November released ChatGPT, the chatbot with an uncanny ability to produce humanlike writing that has become one of the most viral products in the history of technology. In the process, OpenAI went from a small nonprofit into a multibillion-dollar company, at near record speed, thanks in part to the launch of a for-profit arm that enabled it to raise $13 billion from Microsoft Corp., according to investor documents. 

This success has come as part of a delicate balancing act. Mr. Altman said he fears what could happen if AI is rolled out into society recklessly. He co-founded OpenAI eight years ago as a research nonprofit, arguing that it’s uniquely dangerous to have profits be the main driver of developing powerful AI models.

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