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.
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.
Matt Weinberger/Business Insider
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
It’s unclear what Altman’s current net worth is.
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.”
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Source: How to Start a Startup
Courtesy of Sam Altman
“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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch
Marc Olivier Le Blanc/Worldcoin
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.”
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.