Synopsis It was an evening of scintillating conversations as the brightest of minds picked Sam Altman’s brain on all things AI and human. The chief executive of OpenAI called it a tremendously exciting time for businesses, dismissing the all-gloom-and-doom narrative. ETtech OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.
It was an evening of scintillating conversations as the brightest of minds picked Sam Altman ’s brain on all things AI and human. The chief executive of OpenAI called it a tremendously exciting time for businesses, dismissing the all-gloom-and-doom narrative. In a discussion moderated by ET’s Samidha Sharma, Altman took a range of questions from a highly engaged audience.
Edited excerpts: ET: When you proposed regulating the industry, it makes it look like the smaller startups and companies may not have a chance to ever become big. Sam Altman : To be very clear, we’ve explicitly said there should be no regulation on smaller companies, on the current open source models, that it’s important to let that flourish. The only regulation we’ve called for is on people ourselves or bigger.
It will be us and Google right now, I think. But really, just us. I totally get why people are skeptical of hearing someone running one of the companies in the industry call for regulation.
But the governments haven’t been, and we think this is important. So we have a moral duty to do it. But we feel strongly about doing it.
ET: Has there been any progress at all? Discover the stories of your interest Blockchain 5 Stories Cyber-safety 7 Stories Fintech 9 Stories E-comm 9 Stories ML 8 Stories Edtech 6 Stories Altman : Yeah, a lot. We’ve met with heads of state in many, many countries on this trip. And I have been really pleasantly surprised every single time about the nuance of not slowing down innovation, all the positive economic benefits and everything else and realising that if this keeps going, it can get somewhere that does require global action.
Gaurav Munjal : Five years ago, you wrote a blog post which said the next opportunity that you should pick should make everything else you have done look like a footnote. For entrepreneurs starting out, what are some such opportunities? Altman : I think this is the most exciting time to start a company since the dawn of the internet. I think this is going to be bigger than mobile, it might turn out to be bigger than the internet.
I hope it does. But it’s at least that big. And that means that anything you do, can be huge.
It’s been, I think, hard to figure out what to work on these last 10 years, because there has not been a big new technology trend that’s going to shake the ground. And now we have one. I would definitely do something in AI.
But what to do? I’d pick what you like, what you believe in and make sure that the business idea has some basic defensibility to it. But it’s open season, and this is a tremendously exciting time. (L to R) Samidha Sharma, editor, ETtech, Sam Altman, CEO, OpenAI, Sandhini Agarwal, policy team, OpenAI ET: Is there too much of a frenzy around AI? Altman : There is too much of a frenzy around AI in the short term.
So it’s wildly overhyped in the short term, people saying, there’s crazy stuff happening in Silicon Valley right now. But I think it’s still probably underhyped in the long term. We might be wrong, we might hit a wall anytime.
But if we really do make the progress that we think we’re going to make, and we have this magical system that can just do anything you ask. No one knows how to think about that. No one knows how to value that.
But whatever they’re thinking is too low. So, short term — overhyped; long term — underhyped. We were talking earlier about ‘oh what’s going to happen to the jobs’.
But maybe the problem is, we don’t have nearly enough people to do all of the jobs that we want. We’re in this massive crunch. And if you can make way more ‘job-doing-ability’ available, the world would consume 100 times more, I think we may really see that.
Ajai Chowdhry: Ray Kurzweil and others have been talking about achieving singularity in, let’s say, the year 2045. With the kind of exponential growth that your products are going to do, what’s your estimate? Altman : I think we’re getting close enough that the definition of the term really matters a lot. And people do have very different definitions.
What I would say is we need to plan for a world in which 10 years from now, we have something that is a very meaningful contribution to all of the cognitive ability of human civilization, maybe as much, maybe more, maybe less, but an important fraction. Singularity or not, that is a very different world. Prasoon Joshi: There is a something called creative satisfaction to the individual… the tactile sense of it.
And if the distance and degree of separation starts increasing, and the tool becomes so overpowering, the one who’s doing the job sees himself or herself very distanced from it. So what happens to individual satisfaction, which is related to jobs, or creation, or any of these things? Altman : I think what happens when you give people better tools is they do better things, they do more impressive things. The floor lifts up, the expectations lift up.
And, if I feel very lucky and very grateful to all of humanity, all of the humans who have come before me, everyone’s built the things that I use, but I would not be able to do what I do. And neither would anybody else in this room without a gigantic tech tree of technology, and better and better tools. And so we build better and better tools and then abstract more and more, but we still find quite a lot of fulfillment, and we operate at higher and higher levels.
And I think that’s just going to keep going. I think human creativity, the desire for status, fulfillment from work, wanting to contribute useful things back to the world so other people someday get to build on our stuff. That’s not going anywhere.
The sort of expectations are just going to go up. Kunal Shah: After doing AI for so long, what have you learned about humans and what do you think is your understanding of humans after doing AI? And if you could be in the trenches and build four more companies, what would these companies look like? Altman : One, is I grew up implicitly thinking that intelligence was this really special human thing and kind of somewhat magical. And I now think that it’s sort of a fundamental property of matter.
And that’s definitely a change to my worldview. I think the history of scientific discovery is that humans are less and less at the centre. I feel like I have learned something deep but I’m having a hard time putting it into words.
But it’s like something about it, even if humans aren’t special in terms of intelligence, we are incredibly important. I think I would just pick the verticals that I felt I knew the best and think about how AI could revolutionise them. So maybe the meta answer is, I should be thinking about how you use AI to make a better, faster AI company.
Alessandro Giuliani: So what do you think are the skills that we should be teaching for the future managers to nicely manage these AI tools? Sandhini Agarwal : I think many of the skills you mentioned, why they are unique is because I think they play into this fundamental aspect of people skills, EQ, and like long-term planning and long-term strategy. These are three things that I’d say right now, AI models, unclear where the growth is, and unclear how and when they’re going to get there. So those three things I think are perhaps the key things to focus on right now.
These aspects which feel fundamentally human, because they rely on these things around EQ, human connection, sort of understanding people. ET: What’s your stance on Elon Musk and a bunch of others wanting a halt on AI? Altman : I think a better framework is external audits, red teaming safety tests. When we finished GPT-4, it took us more than six months until we were ready to release it.
The team did a lot of work on it to get ready to be confident that we could put something out that was safe, but six months would not have been a magic number. And we weren’t going to put it out until we were ready. Future systems may take longer, they may take less long.
What I think matters is a set of safety standards and a process to ensure compliance with those. Swati Bhargava: I would love to know a little bit more about the company culture that you’ve built as an entrepreneur at OpenAI. How did you inspire others as well in your team? Altman : Something that’s really good about the company is how all teams can come together and really work together on big ideas together.
That requires collaboration, that requires sharing ideas, that requires not being territorial about work, and kind of collaborating in this manner. Something else that’s really good about the company is that no idea is a bad idea. No matter how crazy your idea might be or how far out or how ridiculous, it may sound in the beginning, people will hear you out, people always engage.
We really care about talent density. I think a lot of companies have talented people. But if you have like even a few mediocre people mixed in through there, they kind of act like the neutron absorbers and stuff just goes wrong.
So we really try to have extreme talent density. And the trade-off of that is we don’t have that many people relative to what we do. And so we really tried to be focussed, like GPT-4 was a whole company effort.
We could not have gone and done three other things at the same time. Rohit Kumar Singh: What are your views on lightweight AI? You talked about nuclear fusion, is energy consumption at the back of your mind for LLMs (large language models)? Altman : I think this energy conversation about LLM has become a real sideshow. These current models are just not consuming a material amount of energy compared to anything else.
I think it is important in the long term, if we really keep scaling these models up, they will start to consume lots of energy, but will need to be on fusion or renewables or something like that anyway, by that point, just get enough energy. I don’t think it is a material factor. I think you can certainly use small models for some tasks.
But on the whole, I think you kind of want to use the best intelligence you can unless there’s a good reason not to. We always want to make AI way cheaper and way more available and way smarter and fusion will certainly help us do that. So that’s why we’re excited about it.
ET: You said it could either go completely big or go wrong. What is your biggest fear about AI? Altman: I guess the thing that I lose the most sleep over is that we already have done something really bad. I don’t think we have but the hypothetical that we by launching ChatGPT into the world shot the industry out of a gun.
And we now don’t get to have much impact anymore. And there’s going to be an acceleration towards making these systems, which again, I think will be used for tremendous good, and I think we’re going to address all the problems. But maybe there’s something in there that was really hard and complicated in a way we didn’t understand.
And you know, we’ve now already kicked us off. Nitin Sharma: A while back, people were saying that AI is a force for centralisation, and that Web 3. 0 will take it the other way.
As someone involved on both sides, I’d love to get your take. Altman : I think AI will be a force for decentralisation in a very powerful way. I think whenever you can give people pretty democratic access to very powerful tools.
It is a force for decentralisation. And we’re seeing this already with the APIs of ChatGPT. I also had a sort of fear that AI was going to be a big force for centralisation.
I think without even being explicit about this, my model was, there was going to be one super intelligence in the sky that we better hope was good and liked us. And now what I think is it’s much more like we all have like a bunch of systems that help us be more productive. You use AI for one thing, I use it for another, you and I are both way more capable than we were in the old world, but sort of still like doing our thing and amplifying our own will.
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