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Artificial Intelligence

Sam Altman believes AI will change the world (and everything else)


Sam Altman is determinedly optimistic about the potential impact artificial intelligence will have on society. The OpenAI CEO — and Time’s CEO of the Year for 2023 — sees the technology as potentially “the biggest, the best, and the most important” of the technology revolutions, he said in a May 2 discussion with MIT President Sally Kornbluth.

“AI will continue to get way more capable” and will become ubiquitous as time goes on, he said. “People are using it to create amazing things. If we could see what each of us can do 10 or 20 years in the future, it would astonish us today.”

Altman’s optimism comes as those in the industry float the odds that AI will cause a doomsday scenario, though he admitted that his probability of doom score “is not zero” and acknowledged that “society always holds space for doomsayers.”

“There’s value to that,” he said. “I’m happy that they exist. I think it makes us think harder about what we’re doing. But I think the better question is, what needs to happen to navigate [AI] safety sufficiently well?”

Altman also addressed criticism of the carbon impact of AI, given the vast computing power needed to run predictive models with millions of variables. “If we have to spend even 1% of the world’s electricity training powerful AI, and that AI helps us figure out how to get to non-carbon-based energy or to do carbon capture better, that would be a massive win,” he said.

Additional highlights from the conversation include Altman’s takes on the following topics:

  • Business opportunities. Altman ranked scientific discovery as the AI use case most interesting to him. Health care and education are the industries most ripe for innovation, and education is poised to benefit from personalized learning experiences, he said.
  • Regulations. Different types of AI systems will require different levels of regulation, Altman said. He compared it to the context-specific regulations needed for food grown in garden boxes (no regulatory burden) versus food grown for sale in grocery stores nationwide (many regulations). “It’s useful to have voices in the industry saying, ‘Let’s not act out of fear, but proceed with some reasonable caution,’” he said.
  • Bias in AI. Altman said OpenAI’s GPT-4, the fourth version of its multimodal large language model, “behaves the way you want it to, and reasonably well.” He acknowledged that the system is biased but said that AI can be less biased than humans and doesn’t share the “same psychological flaws,” adding, “Humans are clearly very biased creatures and often unaware of it.”
  • The future of work. Here, Altman was blunt: “AI is going to eliminate a lot of current jobs, and there will be classes of jobs that totally go away. AI is also going to change the way a lot of current jobs function, and it’s going to create entirely new jobs.”
  • The impact on daily life. Automation is bound to lead to more leisure time in people’s personal and professional lives. Again, Altman was optimistic about what this would mean: “We’ll find that humans are wired to care about other humans. As long as you believe humans want to create and be useful, we’re not going to run out of things to do.”

Read next: Accelerated research about generative AI from MIT Sloan

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