OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been touring Europe for the past few days, meeting with heads of government and startup communities to discuss AI regulation, ChatGPT, and more. In his last appearance on stage at Station F in Paris, Altman answered questions from local businessmen and shared his views on artificial intelligence.
A few days ago, Altman met with Emmanuel Macron. Station F principal Roxanne Varza first asked him about the content of the conversation. Unsurprisingly, the discussion mainly revolved around regulation. “It was great, we talked about how to strike the right balance between protecting with this technology and letting it thrive,” Altman said.
He then explained why he has been traveling from one country to another at a frantic pace. “The reason for making this trip is to get out of the Bay Area tech bubble,” she said.
Altman then listed some of the reasons he’s excited about the current state of artificial intelligence. According to him, AI is having a moment because it’s pretty good at so many different things, and not just one. For example, AI can be particularly useful when it comes to education and we could be on the verge of a major change in education around the world.
Of course, he also mentioned how GPT and other AI models have been helpful in improving productivity in a wide variety of jobs, including software development.
The discussion then shifted to regulation. A couple of days ago, at a similar event at University College London, Altman warned that bypassing European regulation could lead to OpenAI leaving the continent altogether. Although he already retracted on Twitter, saying that “we are excited to continue operating here and of course we have no plans to leave,” he spent some time explaining his thinking.
“We plan to comply, we really like Europe and we want to offer our services in Europe, but we just want to make sure that we are technically capable of doing it,” Altman said.
In this question-and-answer session, Altman sounded like a radical optimist, saying that there will be some major technological breakthroughs (on nuclear fusion in particular) that will solve climate change in the near future. Similarly, he asked the audience tough questions, but still believes that the benefits of artificial intelligence far outweigh the downsides.
“The discussion has been too focused on the negatives,” Altman said. “It seems like the balance has been thrown off balance given all the value people are getting out of these tools these days.”
He called once again for a “global regulatory framework” similar to nuclear or biotech regulation. “I think he’s going to get to a good place. I think it’s important that we do this. Regulatory clarity is a good thing,” he said.
Competition and improvement of models
What’s next for OpenAI? The roadmap is quite simple. Altman says the team is working on “better, smarter, cheaper, faster, more capable models.”
The success of OpenAI and ChatGPT also created more competition. There are other AI companies and labs working on large language models and generative AI in general. But Altman sees the competition as a good thing.
“People competing with each other to make better and better models is amazing,” he said. “As long as we’re not competing in a way that puts security at risk, if we’re competing for models while raising the bar on security, I think that’s a good thing.”
In fact, there will not be one model that governs them all. Some models will become more specialized. Some models will be better at some tasks than others. “There are going to be a lot of models in the world. I think the trajectory we’re on is that it’s going to be a fundamental enablement of the technology,” Altman said.
AI as a tool to augment humans
In many ways, Altman sees AI as a tool humans can harness to create new things, unlock potential, and change the way we need to think about specific problems. For example, he doesn’t think AI poses a risk to employment.
“This idea that artificial intelligence is going to progress to a point where humans have no job to do or no purpose has never resonated with me,” Altman said. “There will be some people who will choose not to work, and I think that’s great. I think it should be a valid option and there are many other ways to find meaning in life. But I have never seen convincing evidence that what we do with better tools is work less.
For example, when talking about journalism, Altman says that AI can help journalists focus on what they do best: more research and spending more time finding new information worth sharing. “What if each of your journalists had a team of 100 people working for them in different areas?” he said.
And this is probably the most dizzying effect of the current wave of AI. In Altman’s mind, AI will adapt to human needs, and humans will adapt to what AI can do. “This technology and society will co-evolve. People will use it in different ways and for different reasons,” Altman said.
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