Sam Altman and Elixir of Knowledge
The OpenAI Debacle
Over the past year, since ChatGPT's release - the fastest-growing consumer application to reach 100 million monthly active users in history - Sam Altman has emerged from the Silicon Valley elite's shadows. As the former President of Y Combinator, he's been heralded as the chosen one to lead humanity into the realm of Artificial Intelligence, fuelled by his insatiable quest for Artificial General Intelligence.
Endowed with a heavenly mandate, Sam Altman ascended from Silicon Valley's trenches, self-anointing himself the king of AI. He marshalled a legion of the brightest minds, steering them towards humanity's ultimate frontier.
He took the reins of a non-profit, initially funded by none other than history's greatest entrepreneur, Elon Musk. Musk, known for co-founding billion-dollar companies every five years for three decades, watched as Altman transformed the organization into a for-profit entity governed by a non-profit and left.
Shattering records, ChatGPT became the fastest app to surpass 100 million monthly active users, achieving this feat in just two months - a stark contrast to TikTok's nine months and Instagram's two and a half years.
Then came a $13 billion strategic partnership with Microsoft for a 49% stake in OpenAI. Following this, OpenAI unveiled GPT-4, DALLE-3, MultiModal support, and, just four weeks ago, launched their GPT store, hailed as a milestone akin to Apple's 2008 App Store debut.
Then this happened.
Anyways, you can read the rest about the rest of the saga by asking ChatGPT what happened.
My main takeaway from this debacle was that I learnt a lot about Sam Altman.
To be honest I didn’t really have a good impression of Sam Altman from when I first learnt about him running OpenAI back when it was only known for its affiliation with Elon Musk.
His interviews seemed offbeat and he didn’t seem like that interesting of a person as President of Y Combinator or CEO of OpenAI before GPT-3 in 2020. It didn’t help that his crypto project is WorldCoin.
WorldCoin, an iris biometric crypto project, aims to scan people's eyes in exchange for small amounts of WLD (WorldCoin) tokens. Its goal is to create uniquely verifiable human identities for blockchain applications, addressing the issue of individuals owning numerous addresses on conventional blockchains.
While innovative, this project veers into the realm of a science fiction dystopia, especially considering its data collection tactics in developing countries and low-income communities, where regulations are less stringent.
Despite my initial reservations, Sam Altman's rise to prominence in late 2022 with ChatGPT changed my perspective, especially as I started using ChatGPT daily and subscribed to GPT-4 and DALLE-3 services.
After Sam Altman was ousted, the outpour of support was insane. While billions had been invested in OpenAI, it seemed as though whatever Sam Altman created next would immediately receive a billions in funding to compete against OpenAI or continue his mission. The level of support from VCs, founders and investosr was unprecedented.
Twitter is great for moments like these as its the town square on the internet and its where information gets disseminated. This felt very similar to the uncovering of FTX . Probably because its another Sam getting rekt in November and an entire industry losing billions because of Effective Altruism. (Obviously circumstances are very different)
There were also a bunch of personal stories from basically everyone who has ever come into contact with Sam over the past decade from random startup founders to billionaires talking about how Sam went out of his way to help them with their issues. As President of Y Combinator, he was there for everyone and was really helpful. This wasn’t just a couple of people but literally thousands of stories of his kindness.
This 2009 Paul Graham essay also became popular again due to this debacle. It listed the five most important founders of the last 30 years. The list was Steve Jobs, TJ Rodgers, Larry & Sergey, Paul Buchheit and Sam Altman. At the point, Sam was the least accomplished out of the group.
After his ousting, support intensified, with most of the 770 OpenAI employees signing a letter threatening to quit if Sam wasn't reinstated as CEO. While the show of support through tweets of heart emojis to Sam's late-night post was touching, the impact of this news on the valuation of OpenAI probably played a big role. OpenAI's last reported valuation was $30 billion, with rumours of a potential rise to $90 billion. Sam's departure could have jeopardised the company's value and the financial futures of the employees and their families.
Being a good person pays off, and I can only dream that one day I too will have the honour of experiencing such an overwhelming display of love and support after being wrongfully dismissed as CEO of a hundred billion dollar company.