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The Sam Altman effect: ‘His superpower is getting people onside’

Earlier this month, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman announced live on stage in San Francisco that ChatGPT, the startup that launched a new era of artificial intelligence a year ago, now has 100 million weekly users.

 

In an effort to encourage the widespread adoption of the ground-breaking technology, he also said that the company would introduce an AI app store and cut the cost of its software in half. Every time he spoke, Altman paused to allow the cheers to subside.

The Sam Altman effect: ‘His superpower is getting people onside’

Weeks later, following his dramatic dismissal by OpenAI’s board, his capacity for inspiration would also be demonstrated. Only an internal uprising led by the majority of employees demanded Altman’s rapid reinstatement following the defenestration.

 

Tech titans like Vinod Khosla and Eric Schmidt have hurried to his support. Altman was given the opportunity to take charge of Microsoft’s AI research branch in a new job, which came with a guarantee that the company would provide “the resources needed for their success” by CEO Satya Nadella.

 

The 38-year-old businessman, who was instrumental in creating the multibillion-dollar generative AI sector, may now decide the direction of the industry as his own life is in jeopardy.

 

One person with intimate knowledge of Altman’s conversations with the OpenAI board described his superpower as “getting people on board, shaping narratives, pushing situations into the shape that works for him.” It makes it hard for him to supervise.

 

The ambassador of artificial intelligence

Over the last two years, Altman’s profile has grown as a result of OpenAI’s advancements in generative AI, a field of study that produces high-quality prose, graphics, and code that is nearly identical to human output.

 

OpenAI introduced ChatGPT, an advanced question-and-answer chatbot, in November of last year. Due to the product’s success, numerous digital start-ups and industry giants like Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce introduced chatbots and AI-infused software products. A large portion of these products were developed using OpenAI’s underlying AI technology.

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In just eight years, OpenAI has, under Altman’s leadership, evolved from a nonprofit research organisation to a business that reputedly brings in $1 billion annually. Morgan Stanley, Estée Lauder, Carlyle, and PwC are just a few of the clients.

 

Despite lacking a scientific education, Altman’s success has made him the industry’s de facto spokesperson for artificial intelligence. He started a global tour earlier this year and met regulators, start-ups, and international leaders in several nations. Just one day before he was fired, Altman gave a speech at the Apec Asia-Pacific regional summit in San Francisco.

 

Schmidt, the former Google CEO, wrote on X, saying, “I think Sam Altman is a hero.” He transformed a corporation from nothing to a $90 billion enterprise and permanently altered our global landscape. His future effort will benefit me and billions of others; it’s going to be amazing.

 

Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Altman dropped out of Stanford University. Loopt, a location-based social networking platform, was his first venture that failed to gain traction. However, it was sufficient to catch the attention of Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, who hired the then-28-year-old from relative obscurity to head the tech incubator.

 

With Airbnb and payment startup Stripe among Y Combinator’s triumphs, Altman gained firsthand knowledge of some of the newest and trendiest trends in investing as well as a love for funding ambitious, imaginative initiatives.

 

According to Alexandr Wang of Scale AI, a business that was initially supported by Y Combinator, “there were only a handful of people investing in these technologies” earlier this year.” He’s open to placing large wagers. He became a great investor because of it, among other things. He’s ready to place a long-term wager.

 

Those who have worked with Altman attest that his fierce ambition and capacity for rallying others are his most notable traits.

 

He’s been called a “mastermind” and “deeply, deeply competitive,” and according to one acquaintance, no one knows how to gather power like him.

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Making AI profitable

According to Altman, AI should be used to develop a potent general technology that can be employed in a secure manner to benefit humanity.

 

He said in an interview with the FT earlier this month, “I think it doesn’t make sense to try to shoehorn us into a company from the last generation of tech, because this is just like a different thing, right?” “Super-capable intelligence is what we offer as a service: intelligence. the ability to diagnose an illness and proceed to treat it.

But Altman wasn’t merely betting on AI. He has invested $375 million of his own funds in the nuclear fusion start-up Helion and is getting close to raising $100 million for his cryptocurrency start-up Worldcoin, which scans iris fingerprints.

 

According to someone with knowledge of the matter, Altman had also been trying to raise as much as $100 billion from Middle Eastern investors and SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son to launch a new microchip development business that could rival Nvidia and TSMC in the training of potent AI models. This guy said that before he was fired, his efforts had raised concerns on the board.

 

The aim of Altman’s endeavours was to develop machine intelligence at a low cost and high capacity and to make it widely available. “I believe there is a loose network of businesses coming together, and they will all sort of cooperate to point in the same direction.” Microsoft’s OpenAI is one such instance. Over time, I know others who do,” he remarked.

Over the last 24 months, Altman has been grappling with how to strike the right balance between OpenAI’s initial goal of ensuring that AI helps humanity as a whole and the technology’s enormous potential for financial gain.

Despite the organisation’s original non-profit status, Altman later restructured it to get a $1 billion investment from Microsoft. Its new strategy directed any excess revenues into a not-for-profit fund and limited the rewards that outside investors could receive from a new commercial subsidiary.

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According to someone with knowledge of the OpenAI board’s workings, “it has this strange structure where the for-profit company runs most of the day to day, but it’s governed by a non-profit, and the non-profit’s responsibility is to uphold the mission of ensuring AGI is for the benefit of humanity.”

Remarkably, Altman stated that he did not acquire any personal interest in OpenAI, presumably to maintain his alignment with the company’s mission and charter. As the “ultimate power move,” according to one, the arrangement let the independently rich Altman persuade others of his sincerity.

Altman has established himself as a highly regarded leader who can unite the top researchers in the world around his ideas. Staff members claimed that he had a cult-like following at OpenAI.

This was demonstrated by a letter that almost all 770 of the company’s employees signed on Monday morning, according to persons with knowledge of the situation, threatening to resign if the board did not step down and Altman was allowed to return.

Even though the board expressed concerns about Altman’s leadership style, saying he was “not consistently candid in his communications” with them, notable investors still believe he is essential to the company’s future.

One put their company’s stance succinctly: “We want Sam back.” Early investor Khosla called Altman “a once-in-a-generation CEO.”

Co-founder of Y Combinator Jessica Livingston wrote on X, saying, “I believed in Sam, not AI, which is why I was a founding donor to OpenAI in 2015.”

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