Mircrosoft announced on Monday the hiring of Sam Altman, the co-founder and former number one of the start-up OpenAI, which launched ChatGPT, whose board of directors abruptly fired him at the end of last week .
Immediately sacked, immediately recruited. Sam Altman, the public face of OpenAI, who launched the generative artificial intelligence platform ChatGPT, joined the teams of IT giant Microsoft on Monday, November 20, a few days after his surprise dismissal.
The dismissal on Friday, for reasons that are still unclear, of the man who became a Silicon Valley superstar in one year came as a surprise, as the 38-year-old entrepreneur was considered a pioneer and one of the leading figures of a sector with considerable challenges, that of artificial intelligence (AI).
Three days later, Satya Nadella, boss of Microsoft who invested billions of dollars in the IT infrastructure used by OpenAI, announced that he was hiring him, along with other managers who had resigned after his dismissal, “to lead a new AI research team.
“The mission continues”, reacted the person concerned on X (ex-Twitter).
Sam Altman created OpenAI (initially a non-profit foundation) in 2015, with the idea of developing AI that would be “safe and benefit humanity”, in the words of Elon Musk, one of the co-founders dismissed in 2019, in an interview with the New York Times.
AI has been in the spotlight since millions of people adopted ChatGPT, OpenAI’s interface capable of conversing with humans in natural language and generating all kinds of text on a simple request.
“As (artificial) intelligence is integrated everywhere, we will all have superpowers on demand,” Sam Altman promised at a conference Thursday, the day before his dismissal.
Faced with the strong concerns raised, particularly regarding democracy and employment, the entrepreneur assured AFP: “I have a lot of empathy for people’s feelings, whatever their feelings.”
Push the limits
Born in April 1985, the entrepreneur grew up in St Louis (Missouri). His life changes when he receives a Mac for his eighth birthday. The Internet helps him live out his homosexuality when he still has “no one to talk to about it,” he told Esquire in 2014.
He studied computer science at Stanford but quickly left university to create, in 2005, the social network Loopt, valued at more than $43 million when he sold it in 2012. In 2014, he took the helm of Y Combinator, which invests in start-ups and advises entrepreneurs, in exchange for shares. The organization has notably helped Airbnb, Stripe and Reddit.-
Under his leadership, the incubator is expanding well beyond software, to include startups in many other sectors, such as Industrial Microbes, a biotechnology startup.-
Its president, Derek Greenfield, remembers someone very “intense”. “He thinks and speaks quickly, he asks the difficult questions but always in an encouraging way,” he describes. “He pushed the boundaries. I don’t know where we would be if he hadn’t transformed (Y Combinator).”
“He is a (deeply thoughtful) thinker who seeks at all costs to do things correctly,” also comments 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 calls himself an optimist but is also a survivalist, according to the New Yorker: he stores weapons, gold, water and antibiotics on his property in Big Sur, on the California coast.
Favorable to universal income
The prolific entrepreneur has personally invested in various companies, including $375 million in Helion, a nuclear fusion startup.
“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 a human iris-based identity verification system. The stated objective: to reduce the risk of fraud and scams in a sector where the use of pseudonyms is common.
On the political side, he called Donald Trump a “threat to national security” and organized a fundraiser for Democratic candidate Andrew Yang, who advocates universal income, that is to say a minimum allowance for all, which would compensate the loss of jobs due to automation.
“It’s not complicated: we need technology to create more wealth and a policy that distributes it equitably,” Sam Altman wrote on his blog.
“The technological progress that we (achieve) in the next hundred years will be far greater than anything accomplished since we first harnessed fire and invented the wheel,” he predicted in a post from blog in 2021.