Sam Altman of OpenAI on what’s wrong with Silicon Valley

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OpenAI CEO Sam Altman thinks Silicon Valley needs to give research teams more freedom. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is arguably Silicon Valley’s insider. Apart from leading the company behind AI chatbots ChatGPT and GPT-4, he also led the startup accelerator YCombinator.

But while he’s a part of Silicon Valley, he’s not content with that.

“I say that because it’s going to come across as arrogant, and I don’t mean it,” he said on Wednesday’s episode. In good company Podcast “There was a lot of great research into companies in Silicon Valley… hadn’t been in a long time.”

Podcast host Nicolai Tangen, CEO of Norwegian sovereign wealth fund Norges Bank Investment, expressed surprise at this approach.

Altman replied that good product innovation happens in Silicon Valley, but rhetorically asked, “Before OpenAI, what was the last really big scientific breakthrough that came from a Silicon Valley company?”

“I have spent a lot of time thinking about this question,” he said about why the culture behind such successes had disappeared. I don’t quite understand it.”

One reason, he suggests, is that technology companies today don’t give their research teams enough freedom. In contrast, at OpenAI, “we set a very high-level vision for the company and what we want to achieve, and beyond that researchers just have a great deal of freedom,” he said.

Researchers were allowed to explore different directions, he noted. When the most promising thing unfolded, OpenAI managed to gain “the trust of almost the entire research brain,” which eventually led to the release of ChatGPT last year, helping to fuel the current boom in artificial intelligence.

One of the problems in Silicon Valley, he said, is that “it’s become so easy to build a super valuable company, and people have become so impatient with timelines and return horizons that a lot of capital has gone into things that, you know, multiply money fairly reliably over a short period of time. ..It absorbed a lot of talent, quite understandably.”

Most big tech companies, he added, start out as a manufacturing company and end up “a research lab that doesn’t do very well.” OpenAI, in contrast, started as a research lab.

In March, Altman he said At YCombinator he “seriously questioned” the advice he gave to startups over the years, noting that OpenAI “went against all of YC’s advice”.

He said at the Stripe conference: “It took us four and a half years to launch a product. We’re about to become the most capital-intensive startup in Silicon Valley history. We were building technology without any idea who our customers were going to be or what they were going to use it for.”

Greg Brockman, president and co-founder of OpenAI, also noted the company’s contradictory approach. “You want to solve the problem, not the technology to find the solution,” he said. possible Podcast in March.

Of course, OpenAI has benefited from Microsoft investing billions of dollars in it, some luxury startups.

As for the future, Altman told Tangen that he and OpenAI are beyond the point of thinking there is a road map. “We’re just doing a lot of things that are outside of standard Silicon Valley. And so we just have to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to figure it out, and we’re going to try to do some things, and if we get it wrong, like, who cares… It’s not like we screwed something up. . It is already known.

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