Preparing for doomsday, the AI genius Sam Altman whose sacking sparked a Silicon Valley war
Technology whiz Sam Altman openly admits that artificial intelligence will take over people’s jobs, but he certainly didn’t expect to be one of the first to disappear.
A super-intelligent computer would have failed to predict the chaos that has engulfed Silicon Valley in recent days after Altman was fired as leader of the world’s most advanced AI company – and subsequently acquired by Microsoft.
On Friday, the entrepreneur was ousted as CEO of OpenAI, a nonprofit best known for ChatGPT — the popular program that can write essays and even computer code — after the board said he had not been “sufficiently forthcoming” about it. .
Investors and many OpenAI employees were outraged by the firing of the 38-year-old Altman, and software giant Microsoft, by far the company’s largest investor, announced Sunday evening that it had hired him to lead its new internal AI team.
Yesterday, Altman’s supporters focused their anger on the administration that ousted him.
Technology whiz Sam Altman (pictured) openly admits that artificial intelligence will take over people’s jobs, but he certainly didn’t expect to be one of the first to disappear
A super-intelligent computer would have failed to predict the chaos that has engulfed Silicon Valley in recent days after Altman was fired as leader of the world’s most advanced AI company – and then snapped up by Microsoft (Stock Image)
More than 500 of OpenAI’s 700 employees signed an open letter threatening to leave unless the board resigned and reinstated Altman as CEO and Greg Brockman, who was also ousted, as president.
It is now claimed that some senior colleagues were concerned that Altman was moving too quickly to commercialize OpenAI’s breakthroughs.
He admitted he was eager to beat rivals to develop “artificial general intelligence,” a computer capable of performing every intellectual task a human can perform, which some scientists say poses an existential risk to our species.
Altman – with an estimated fortune of $500m (£400m) – founded OpenAI in 2015 with Elon Musk as a research organization (rather than a full-fledged company) that aims to “advance digital intelligence… for the benefit of humanity”.
Along with some of AI’s founders, Musk – the Tesla electric car pioneer and the world’s richest person – has expressed fears that the technology could trigger a global catastrophe as super-intelligent machines take over and even wipe out humans.
Musk left OpenAI after a falling out with Altman – who claims to be fully aware of the risks of AI – in 2018.
Musk recently complained that OpenAI had become a “maximum profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft,” a development that was “not good karma.” OpenAI is now valued at almost £69 billion.
Insiders say some OpenAI executives felt the same way as Musk and that Ilya Sutskever, the company’s co-founder and chief scientist, was particularly instrumental in ousting Altman.
But to add to the confusion, Sutskever said yesterday that he “deeply regretted” his involvement in the board’s decision.
As Silicon Valley battles over whether AI is primarily a multi-trillion dollar commercial opportunity or a hugely dangerous technology that requires constant monitoring, who is the man at the center of the digital storm?
In many ways, Altman is the classic Silicon Valley nerd, but supercharged. He is slim, boyish looking and is a very smart and confident workaholic who is notoriously impatient with people he thinks are not as intelligent as him.
More than 500 of OpenAI’s 700 employees signed an open letter threatening to quit unless the board resigned and reinstated Altman as CEO, and Greg Brockman, who was also ousted, as president (Stock Image)
In many ways, Altman (pictured) is the classic Silicon Valley nerd, but supercharged. He looks slim and boyish, but is a very smart and confident workaholic who is notoriously impatient with people he thinks are not as intelligent as him.
As a child growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, he could program and take apart a Mac computer by the age of eight.
He claims he wants to save the planet, citing curing cancer, achieving nuclear fusion and supersonic aircraft as personal priorities.
“I think his goal is to make the whole future,” says a former colleague. It is also widely believed – although he denies it – that he, like many who run Silicon Valley, is somewhere on the autism spectrum. The man seen as the public face of efforts to protect humanity from machines admits he’s hardly a people person.
“I have no patience for things I’m not interested in: parties, most people,” he said in 2016.
He is also a ‘Doomsday prepper’ and admits that super-intelligent computers are a potential cause of the collapse of global civilization he fears.
‘I have weapons, gold, potassium iodide [used to treat radiation injuries]antibiotics, batteries, water, gas masks from the Israeli army and a large plot of land in Big Sur [in California] I can fly there.’
He told his parents he was gay when he was 16, and later announced the news publicly at his private school after a Christian group boycotted a meeting on sexuality.
Earlier this year, Altman began a relationship with Oliver Mulherin, an Australian software engineer. They live in San Francisco.
For all his preparation for Doomsday, Altman is an AI optimist, predicting that it will “solve some of our most pressing problems, really raise living standards, and also devise far better applications for human will and creativity.”
Many in Silicon Valley believe he is the person doing this, but they were similarly blown away by another Sam: cryptocurrency guru Sam Bankman-Fried.
While no one is suggesting Altman is a criminal, Bankman-Fried faces decades in prison after being convicted of massive fraud.