Sam Altman on AI and the Future of Technology in Human Society

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President of silicon valley start-up incubator ‘Y Combination’, Sam Altman has a spoken out on the increasing rise of technology and its potential impact on society. Taking a different approach to the likes of Bill Gates, and working alongside notable names such as the notoriously AI-wary Elon Musk, Altman stated last week that he foresees an eventual merging of humanity and technology, leading to a situation where both people and machines work towards the same goals, rather than compete for them.

At a time where many feel threatened by robots and AI taking over their jobs and the possibility of a future where humanity and artificial life conflict over resources, Altman has presented a vision of a possible harmonic existence; robots taking over menial labour where displaced workers are retrained for more fulfilling tasks – leading to better prospects in the long run.

This also can be applied to the fear that many industries feel towards new technologies such as blockchain, AI and IoT. Whereas many worry that new developments may make their businesses obsolete – and in some cases they may – it does not necessarily mean that they will suffer. If businesses embrace new technology and seek to work alongside it or incorporate it to their work, they are more likely to discover the huge benefits it can bring, rather than possible threats they can imagine. Companies that stagnate are unlikely to do well. If, like the displaced factory worker, they adapt and evolve, they stand to enjoy the rewards the technology promises.  

On the idea of man vs machine, Altman thought that a deeper relationship with technology would lead to it being used in tandem with our interests. Being able to interface with machines via neural networks or upload brain data to computers would eventually be possible and even advisable. Altman is of the opinion that, if left unregulated and solely in the hands of a select few, AI – or machine intelligence as he prefers to call it, could be a threat. By bringing it to the masses at an early stage and promoting regulation around the subject, he believes the risks will be mitigated and ultimately, everyone will benefit from it.

Y Combinator has a history of involvement with disruptive innovation, with companies such as Airbnb, Reddit and Dropbox being among its previous investments. It funds and mentors a set of start-ups bi-annually.

At the ae time, Altman was asked to comment on the subject of incubator and television crossovers; on this however, Altman was less enthusiastic, describing the experience as cringe-worthy and a step in the wrong direction. Specifically calling out e-Sports reality television, Altman stated his company would not make that leap.  

Altman, who spoke at the event hosted by Mosaic Ventures in East London.