Few individuals are more focused on the development of artificial intelligence and its inevitable impact on the world than Sam Altman, the Chief Executive Officer of ChatGPT maker OpenAI.
Altman, who is a well-known figure in the Silicon Valley startup scene, cofounded OpenAI with Elon Musk in 2015. At the time, their goal was to simply create a non-profit artificial intelligence company that would ensure AI wouldn't wipe out humans. From the beginning, the project generated a lot of buzz in the tech world, with billions of dollars being pledged by such prominent names as Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel. At the time, Altman was also serving as President of the Y Combinator, the acclaimed startup accelerator in Silicon Valley. But in 2019, after five years with YC, he stepped down to focus on OpenAI, guiding its transition from a nonprofit into a "capped profit" corporation.
Under Altman's tenure as CEO, OpenAI has hit some rather remarkable milestones, making it one of today's most-watched companies. In the past two years, it's released popular generative AI tools to the public, including DALL-E and ChatGPT. The interest in these tools cannot be overstated. After ChatGPT was released on November 30, 2022, Altman tweeted that it had reached over 1 million users in five days. Meanwhile, Microsoft – which previously invested $1 billion in 2019 – recently announced that it was making another substantial investment, believed to be worth $10 billion.
Altman's path to the top of Silicon Valley started 37 years ago when he was born in Chicago and raised in St. Louis. Like many tech gurus, he showed a precocious talent for computers, having learned how to program and take apart a Macintosh computer when he was only 8 years old. Altman's talents later took him to Stanford University to study computer science. But he only spent two years in college before dropping out to work full-time on a mobile app called Loopt, which shares a user’s location with friends.
Loopt was eventually sold for $43 million and Altman went on to better things: launching a venture fund called Hydrazine Capital and being selected to serve as YC president when he was only 28. The following year, he was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for venture capital.
Altman is also active in supporting the vision of other tech entrepreneurs. Some of the companies he's invested in include Airbnb, Stripe, Reddit, Pinterest, Instacart, and Soylent, to name a few. In 2014, he also spent eight days as the CEO of Reddit after CEO Yishan Wong resigned. Currently, he serves on the board of directors of Reddit.
A strong advocate of philanthropy, he has donated millions of dollars to various charities and non-profits, including Project Covalence to help develop cures for COVID-19 quickly and efficiently. In 2017, Altman was awarded the Ric Weiland Award for empowering LGBTQ+ inclusion in tech.