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

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Sam Altman HeadshotSam Altman is well known in the startup scene in Silicon Valley, and his latest company’s product, ChatGPT, is the talk of the AI industry.

Courtesy of Sam Altman

  • Sam Altman is the CEO of OpenAI, the buzzy AI firm he cofounded with Elon Musk.
  • 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.
Sam Altman, 37, grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. He learned how to program and take apart a Macintosh computer when he was 8 years old.A view of st Louis with buildings and archway

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.macintosh microsoft visitor center

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.St. Louis, Missouri

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.Stanford University

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.Sam Altman Y Combinator

Getty Images

Source: The New Yorker, The Business of Business

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

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, co-founder of PayPal, Palantir Technologies, and Founders Fund, holds hundred dollar bills as he speaks during the Bitcoin 2022 Conference at Miami Beach Convention Center on April 7, 2022 in Miami, Florida.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.”

At 31, Altman was chosen by Paul Graham, who founded Y Combinator in 2005, to succeed him as president in 2014.Sam AltmanSam 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

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

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Source: How to Start a Startup

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

Courtesy of Sam Altman

Source: Forbes

After he became YC president, he wanted to let more science and engineering startups into each batch, and 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 altmanSam 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.An orange McLaren 720S on a wooded road.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.sam altman

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.”Sam Altman

Getty Images

Source: The New Yorker

Altman has a brother, Jack, who is also 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.jack altman and his wife, julia, standing in front of a blurred palm tree in a parkJulia 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.L-R) Tesla Motors CEO and Product Architect Elon Musk and Y Combinator President Sam Altman speak onstage during "What Will They Think of Next? Talking About Innovation" at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 6, 2015 in San Francisco, California.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.Reid HoffmanLinkedIn 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 Hillary ClintonDonald 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 altmanSam 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.”OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and Elon MuskOpenAI 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

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 demonstrated OpenAI’s AI models for him, WSJ reported. After that, OpenAI received a $1 billion investment from Microsoft in 2019.Sam AltmanPresident 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

Source: The Wall Street Journal, LinkedIn, Insider

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.Sam Altman sitting in a chair at a conference.Sam Altman, founder of OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT.

Steve Jennings/Getty Images

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 AGI, or adjusted gross income. 

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 Sam Altman and Alex BlaniaWorldcoin 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. 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 has released popular generative AI tools to the public, including DALL-E and ChatGPT.Screenshot of Dall-E webpageScreenshot 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.”An image of a phone with ChatGPT and OpenAI's logo visible.

Getty Images

Altman tweeted in December 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. Back 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

This month, 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 AltmanY 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 gave Helion Energy $375 million last year.sam altman wearing a black t shirt, black jacket, grey pants and sunglassesSam Altman, 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

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

Future Publishing/

People who pay $20 a month for ChatGPT Plus get benefits such as using 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 start inviting people on the waitlist to join in the next few weeks. 

Source: OpenAI

Read the original article on Business Insider

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