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  • Marijan Hassan - Tech Journalist

Who is Sam Altman? A look at the newest tech magnate leading the AI revolution

He got his first computer at 8 and learned not just how to use it but also to create programs for it. Got admitted at Stanford to study computer science but dropped out after two years. Sounds like a story we’ve heard before, right? Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk all have similar tales. And now Sam Altman looks ready to join the elite leagues of tech moguls cementing their names in history books.

Early life

A few people will have known Sam Altman existed before the public launch of ChatGPT. However, the 38-year-old has been moving up slowly in the tech world gearing up for this exact moment.

Born and raised in St Louis Missouri, Altman has always had an affinity for computers since he was young. He says being close to his computer helped him come to terms with his sexuality and come out to his parents as a teenager.

"Growing up gay in the Midwest in the 2000s was not the most awesome thing," he recalled. "And finding AOL chatrooms was transformative. Secrets are bad when you are 11 or 12."

Altman went to Stanford for two years before leaving to pursue his first venture. A smartphone app called Loopt, which let users selectively share their real-time location with other people. He managed to raise $30 million to launch the company.

Y Combinator, a startup accelerator that has helped create companies like Airbnb and Twitch was among his early investors.

Altman would later become the president of Y Combinator in 2014 after the sale of Loopt for $44 million two years earlier. He also founded his own venture capital fund called Hydrazine Capital, attracting enough investment to be named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for venture capital.

During this period, Altman was also appointed as the head of Reddit but the role only lasted 8 days.

OpenAI is created

In 2015, Altman partnered with Elon Musk to create OpenAI, and the rest as they say is history. The company started out as a non-profit created to research and advance AI but OpenAI has since gotten into business and is now valued at $29 billion. Musk left the company once it became apparent they didn’t share the same vision for the company with Altman.

OpenAI is behind the explosive ChatGPT and a text-to-image generative AI called Dall-E. Both platforms are still free to use but also have premium subscription plans.

The launch of ChatGPT in late 2022 was a game-changer. The platform broke records by amassing tens of millions of users in just two weeks of launch and opened up the world to AI and its potential.

The Future

What remains to be seen is just how much AI led by OpenAI and Sam Altman will impact our lives. And while the concept of AI takeover remains something from a movie, the dangers of the technology have not been lost to the CEO.

We already have cases of people losing jobs to AI and cases of AI-related cyber attacks are on the rise. Altman has also expressed his concern over potential AI dangers and has been talking to world leaders including President Biden, Emmanuel Macron, and PM Rishi Sunak about how to steer the technology in the right direction.

"My worst fears are that we, the industry, cause significant harm to the world," Altman told the US Senate. The CEO believes that government regulation will be critical in mitigating the risks of AI.


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