Meet Sam Altman, the OpenAI CEO who learned to code at 8 and is a doomsday prepper with a stash of guns and gold – DIGIWIZ CENTRAL

Meet Sam Altman, the OpenAI CEO who learned to code at 8 and is a doomsday prepper with a stash of guns and gold

Sam Altman is well known in the startup scene in Silicon Valley.

Courtesy of Sam Altman

OpenAI just launched its text-to-video program called Sora.
Before that, he was well known in Silicon Valley as president of startup accelerator Y-Combinator.
Here’s how the serial entrepreneur got his start — and ended up helming one of today’s most-watched companies.

OpenAI launched its text-to-video model Sora.
Sora is still being tested, but OpenAI and Sam Altman are showing off what it can do.

OpenAI

Last week, Sam Altman-led OpenAI unveiled Sora to the public. The program — named after the Japanese word for “sky” — creates up to 0ne-minute long videos from text prompts. 

“We’re teaching AI to understand and simulate the physical world in motion, with the goal of training models that help people solve problems that require real-world interaction,” OpenAI wrote in Sora’s announcement.

Sora is still in the midst of risk and harm assessments by red teamers, but Altman is already showing off its capabilities on social media.

Here’s what Altman’s life and career have been like up until now.

 

Sam Altman, 38, grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. He learned how to program and take apart a Macintosh computer when he was 8 years old.

f11photo/Shutterstock

Source: The New Yorker

 

He told The New Yorker that having a Mac helped him with his sexuality. Altman came out to his parents when he was 16.

Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

“Growing up gay in the Midwest in the two-thousands was not the most awesome thing,” he told The New Yorker. “And finding AOL chat rooms was transformative. Secrets are bad when you’re eleven or twelve.”

Source: The New Yorker

He attended John Burroughs School, a private, non-sectarian college-preparatory school in St. Louis.

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock

Altman came out as gay to the whole community after a Christian group boycotted an assembly at his school that was about sexuality.

“What Sam did changed the school,” his college counselor, Madelyn Gray, told The New Yorker. “It felt like someone had opened up a great big box full of all kinds of kids and let them out into the world.”

Source: The New Yorker

Altman studied computer science at Stanford University for two years before he and two of his classmates dropped out to work full time on their mobile app, Loopt, that shared a user’s location with their friends.

turtix/Shutterstock

Source: The New Yorker

Loopt was part of the first group of eight companies at startup accelerator Y Combinator. Each startup got $6,000 per founder, and Loopt was in the same batch as Reddit.

Getty Images

Loopt eventually reached a $175 million valuation, but it didn’t garner enough interest, so the founders sold it for $43 million in 2012.

Drew Angerer/Getty

The $43 million sale price was close to how much it had raised from investors. The company was acquired by Green Dot, a banking company known for prepaid cards.

One of Loopt’s cofounders, Nick Sivo, and Altman dated for nine years, but they broke up after they sold the company.

It’s unclear what Altman’s current net worth is.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, All Things Digital, Y Combinator, The New Yorker

After Loopt, Altman founded a venture fund called Hydrazine Capital, and raised $21 million. That included a large part of the $5 million he got from Loopt, and an investment from billionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel.
Peter Thiel holding hundred dollar bills while speaking at the Bitcoin 2022 Conference.

Marco Bello/Getty Images

Altman invested 75% of that money into YC companies, and led Reddit’s Series B fundraising round.

He told The New Yorker, “you want to invest in messy, somewhat broken companies. You can treat the warts on top, and because of the warts the company will be hugely underpriced.”

In 2014, at the age of 28, Altman was chosen by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham to succeed him as president of the startup accelerator.
Sam Altman, chief executive officer of Y Combinator, speaks to reporters on the first day of the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 11, 2017 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Source: YC, CNN

While he was YC president, Altman taught a lecture series at Stanford called “How to Start a Startup,” in the fall of 2014.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

In 2015, Altman was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for venture capital at age 29.
Sam Altman.

Courtesy of Sam Altman

Source: Forbes

After he became YC president, he wanted to let more science and engineering startups into each batch. He chose a fission and a fusion startup for YC because he wanted to start a nuclear-energy company of his own. He invested his own money in both companies and served on their boards.
Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator and co-chairman of OpenAI, attends the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 8, 2016 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Drew Angerer/Getty

Mark Andreessen, cofounder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, said, “Under Sam, the level of YC’s ambition has gone up 10x.”

Source: The New Yorker

Altman once told two YC founders that he likes racing cars and had five, including two McLarens and an old Tesla. He also said he likes renting planes and flying them all over California.
The McLaren 720S.

McLaren

Source: The New Yorker

Altman told the founders of the startup Shypmate that, “I prep for survival,” and warned of either a “lethal synthetic virus,” AI attacking humans, or nuclear war.

Drew Angerer/Getty

“I try not to think about it too much,” Altman told the founders in 2016. “But I have guns, gold, potassium iodide, antibiotics, batteries, water, gas masks from the Israeli Defense Force, and a big patch of land in Big Sur I can fly to.”

Source: The New Yorker

Altman’s mom is a dermatologist and told The New Yorker, “Sam does keep an awful lot tied up inside. He’ll call and say he has a headache—and he’ll have Googled it, so there’s some cyber-chondria in there, too. I have to reassure him that he doesn’t have meningitis or lymphoma, that it’s just stress.”

Getty Images

Source: The New Yorker

Altman has a brother, Jack, who is a cofounder and CEO at Lattice, an employee management platform. Along with their brother Max, the Altmans launched a fund in 2020 called Apollo that is focused on funding “moonshot” companies.
Julia and Jack Altman walk near their home in the Mission District of San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 7, 2019.

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/Contributor

“Moonshot” companies are startups that are financially risky but could potentially pay off with a breakthrough development.

Source: Insider

In 2015, Altman cofounded OpenAI with Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX at the time. Their goal for the non-profit artificial intelligence company was to make sure AI doesn’t wipe out humans.
Elon Musk and Sam Altman speak onstage during the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on October 6, 2015 in San Francisco, California.

Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

“We discussed what is the best thing we can do to ensure the future is good?” Elon Musk told The New York Times in 2015. “We could sit on the sidelines or we can encourage regulatory oversight, or we could participate with the right structure with people who care deeply about developing A.I. in a way that is safe and is beneficial to humanity.”

Source: Insider, The New York Times

Some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent names pledged $1 billion to OpenAI along with Altman and Musk, including Reid Hoffman, the cofounder of LinkedIn, and Peter Thiel.
LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman is a financial backer of OpenAI.

Tony Avelar/AP

Source: Insider

After the 2016 election, Altman, who tweeted that he voted against Donald Trump, said he decided to talk to 100 Trump supporters around the US to understand what they did and didn’t like about the president. He also wanted to know “what would convince them not to vote for him in the future.”
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Drew Angerer/Getty Image

In a thread on Twitter, Altman said he was “voting against Trump because I believe the principles he stands for represent an unacceptable threat to America.”

He also said Peter Thiel, who was still working with YC at the time, “is a high profile supporter of Trump,” and that, “I disagree with this.”

But, he said, “YC is not going to fire someone for supporting a major party nominee.”

YC and Thiel stopped working together a year later in 2017 for unspecified reasons.

During his interviews, Altman said he “did not expect to talk to so many Muslims, Mexicans, Black people, and women in the course of this project.”

He said almost everyone he approached was willing to talk to him, but they also didn’t want to share their names in fear of being “targeted by those people in Silicon Valley if they knew I voted for him.” Altman said one of the people he talked to in Silicon Valley made him sign a confidentiality agreement before talking because she was scared of losing her job for supporting Trump.

Source: Twitter, Sam Altman, Insider

Altman stepped down as YC president in March 2019 to focus on OpenAI. He stayed in a chairman role at the accelerator.
Sam Altman, CEO of Y Combinator

@sama

Source: Insider

At a StrictlyVC event in 2019, Altman was asked how OpenAI planned to make a profit, and he said the “honest answer is we have no idea.”
Former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and Elon Musk

Getty

Altman said OpenAI had “never made any revenue,” and that it had “no current plans to make revenue.” 

“We have no idea how we may one day generate revenue,” he said at the time.

Source: TechCrunch

Altman became CEO of OpenAI in May 2019 after it turned away from being a nonprofit company into a “capped profit” corporation.
Sam Altman finished a global tour in June to sell AI as a force for good to leaders.

Skye Gould/Business Insider

“We want to increase our ability to raise capital while still serving our mission, and no pre-existing legal structure we know of strikes the right balance,” OpenAI said on its blog. “Our solution is to create OpenAI LP as a hybrid of a for-profit and nonprofit — which we are calling a ‘capped-profit’ company.”

Source: Insider, Fortune

Altman flew to Seattle to meet with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, where he demonstrated OpenAI’s AI models for him, WSJ reported. After that, OpenAI received a $1 billion investment from Microsoft in 2019.
President of Y Combinator, Sam Altman speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014 – Day 1 on May 5, 2014 in New York City.

Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Current and former insiders at OpenAI told Fortune that after Altman took over as CEO, and after the investment from Microsoft, the company started focusing more on developing natural language processing.

Brian Ach/Getty

Altman and OpenAI’s chief scientist, Ilya Sutskever, said the move to focus on large language models is the best way for the company to reach artificial general intelligence, or AGI, a system that has broad human-level cognitive abilities. 

Source: Fortune

On October 21, 2021, Altman and his cofounders, Alex Blania and Max Novendstern, launched a global cryptocurrency project called Worldcoin, which wanted to give everyone in the world access to crypto by scanning their iris with an orb.
Worldcoin founders Alex Blania and Sam Altman

Marc Olivier Le Blanc/Worldcoin

The company was started in 2020, but stopped operating in a few countries in 2022 due to logistics issues. In January, the company recently tweeted that it has reached 1 million people and has onboarded over 150,000 first-time crypto users.

Source: Bloomberg, Insider, Twitter

 

Under Altman’s tenure as CEO, OpenAI released popular generative AI tools to the public, including DALL-E and ChatGPT.
Screenshot of Dall-E webpage

OpenAI

Both DALL-E and ChatGPT are known as “generative” AI, meaning the bot creates its own artwork and text based off information it has been fed.

After ChatGPT was released on November 30, Altman tweeted that it had reached over 1 million users in five days.

Source: Insider, Insider, Twitter

ChatGPT was made public so OpenAI could use feedback from users to improve the bot. A few days after its launch, Altman tweeted that it “is incredibly limited, but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness.”

Getty Images

Altman tweeted that ChatGPT was “great” for “fun creative inspiration,” but “not such a good idea” to look up facts.

ChatGPT recently began testing a paid version of ChatGPT called “ChatGPT Professional” that is supposed to give better access to the bot. In December, Altman tweeted that OpenAI “will have to monetize it somehow at some point; the compute costs are eye-watering.”

Source: Insider, Insider, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter

In January 2023, Microsoft again announced it was making a “multibillion dollar” investment into OpenAI. Although specifics of the investment were not shared, it is believed Microsoft’s investment is worth $10 billion.
Y Combinator President Sam Altman

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Before Microsoft’s investment, other venture capitalists wanted to buy shares from OpenAI employees in a tender offer that valued the company at around $29 billion.

Source: Insider, Fortune

Altman is still interested in nuclear fusion and invested $375 million in Helion Energy in 2022.
Sam Altman, former CEO of OpenAI, walks from lunch during the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 06, 2022 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

“Helion is more than an investment to me,” Altman told TechCrunch. “It’s the other thing beside OpenAI that I spend a lot of time on. I’m just super excited about what’s going to happen there.”

He told TechCrunch that he’s “happy there’s a fusion race,” to build a low-cost fusion energy system that can eventually power the Earth.

Source: TechCrunch, CNBC

Last year, OpenAI launched its pilot subscription plan for ChatGPT Plus, which costs $20 a month.
Illustration: ChatGPT

Future Publishing/

People who pay $20 a month for ChatGPT Plus get benefits such as access to the site even when traffic is high, faster responses from the bot, and first access to new features and ChatGPT improvements.

The subscription is only available for people in the US, and OpenAI said it will soon start inviting people on the waitlist to join.

Source: OpenAI

Altman wrote that OpenAI’s mission is to make sure AGI “benefits all of humanity. He laid out the company’s short term and long term expectations for AGI development in a blog post.

JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

“If AGI is successfully created, this technology could help us elevate humanity by increasing abundance, turbocharging the global economy, and aiding in the discovery of new scientific knowledge that changes the limits of possibility,” Altman wrote on OpenAI’s blog.

Despite its potential, Altman said AGI, or artificial general intelligence, comes with “serious risk of misuse, drastic accidents, and societal disruption.” But instead of stopping its development, Altman said “society and the developers of AGI have to figure out how to get it right.”

Altman went on to share the principles OpenAI “care about most,” including that “the benefits of, access to, and governance of AGI to be widely and fairly shared.”

Source: OpenAI

 

Altman said he and OpenAI are “a little bit scared” of AI’s potential as it continues to develop.
GPT-4 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 4) is the latest multimodal large language model from Open AI, a successor to Chat-GPT. It was released to a limited audience on March 14, 2023.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In an interview with ABC News, Altman said he thinks “people should be happy that we’re a little bit scared” of generative AI systems as they develop.

Altman said he doesn’t think AI systems should only be developed in a lab.

“You’ve got to get these products out into the world and make contact with reality, make our mistakes while the stakes are low,” he said.

Source: Insider, ABC News

 

 

 

In April 2023, OpenAI announced the option to turn off chat history in ChatGPT so the data can’t be used to train and improve its models.

Getty

In a blog post, the company said it hopes the option to turn off chat history “provides an easier way to manage your data than our existing opt-out process.”

When a user turns off their chat history, new conversations will be kept for 30 days for OpenAI to review them for abuse, then are permanently deleted.

Source: OpenAI, Insider

In his first appearance before Congress, Altman told a Senate panel there should be a government agency to grant licenses to companies working on advanced AI.
Sam Altman testifies before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law in mid-May.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Altman told lawmakers there should be an agency that grants licenses for companies that are working on AI models “above a certain scale of capabilities.” He also said the agency should be able to revoke licenses from companies that don’t follow safety rules.

“I think if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong,” Altman said. “And we want to be vocal about that, we want to work with the government to prevent that from happening.” 

Source: Insider

OpenAI launched a ChatGPT app for iPhones and Android users.
OpenAI released its official ChatGPT app to iPhone users this week.

Insider

The app, which is free, can answer text-based and spoken questions using Whisper, another OpenAI product that is a speech-recognition model. Users who have a subscription to ChatGPT Plus can also access it through the app.

Source: Insider, Insider

 

 

Altman met with leaders in Europe to discuss AI regulations and said OpenAI has “no plans to leave” the EU, despite his earlier concerns over the EU’s proposed AI Act.
OpenAI’s former CEO Sam Altman believes AI could surpass humanity in most domains in the next 10 years.

Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters.

At the start of his trip, Altman told reporters in London that he was concerned about the EU’s proposed AI Act that focuses on regulating AI and protecting Europeans from AI risks.

“The details really matter,” Altman said, according to the Financial Times. “We will try to comply, but if we can’t comply, we will cease operating.”

However, he shared on Twitter later in the week that OpenAI is “excited to continue to operate here and of course have no plans to leave.”

Source: Insider, Financial Times, Insider, Twitter

In an October interview, Altman expressed “deep misgivings” about people befriending AI.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Altman made it clear that he doesn’t believe humans should try to be friends with AI in an interview during Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live event.

“I personally really have deep misgivings about this vision of the future where everyone is super close to AI friends, and not more so with their human friends,” Altman said.

 

On November 17, 2023, OpenAI announced that Altman would be no longer be the company’s CEO.
Mira Murati joined OpenAI in 2018 when it was only a nonprofit research lab.

PATRICK T. FALLON/Getty Images

In November, the OpenAI board of directors announced that Altman would be stepping down from his role as CEO and leaving the board “effective immediately.”

In a blog post, the board said it “no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI,” and added that Altman was “not consistently candid in his communications.”

“We are grateful for Sam’s many contributions to the founding and growth of OpenAI,” a statement from OpenAI’s board says. “At the same time, we believe new leadership is necessary as we move forward.”

Altman issued his own statement via a post on X.

“i loved my time at openai. it was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. most of all i loved working with such talented people,” Altman wrote.

He added: “will have more to say about what’s next later.”

Days after the ouster, Sam Altman returned to the helm of OpenAI.
Altman returned to OpenAI days after his dismissal was announced.

Markus Schreiber/AP

After a chaotic weekend over his firing, Altman and OpenAI announced that he would return to the tech company as CEO.

“We have reached an agreement in principle for Sam Altman to return to OpenAI as CEO with a new initial board of Bret Taylor (Chair), Larry Summers, and Adam D’Angelo,” the company wrote on X.

Correction: February 2, 2023 — An earlier version of this story defined AGI incorrectly and listed the incorrect age at which Altman was named president of Y Combinator. AGI in this context stands for artificial general intelligence. Altman became president of Y Combinator at 28, not 31.

In January, Altman confirmed he married his partner Oliver Mulherin.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (R) with his husband Oliver TK (L) at a White House dinner in late June.

JULIA NIKHINSON/Getty

Altman is married. The OpenAI CEO married his partner Oliver Mulherin, and photos from the wedding began circulating social media in January.

An attendee of the wedding confirmed to Business Insider that the pictures weren’t AI-generated. His husband is an Australian software engineer who previously worked at Meta, according to his LinkedIn profile.

 

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