Sam Altman: AI force for economic empowerment, wealth

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For years Elon Musk has been warning us that artificial intelligence will one day render humans obsolete. That day may come sooner than we think thanks to Sam Altman’s ChatGPT. After an extraordinary surge in mass interest—sending some stocks like C3.ai doubling in value this year and others tumblingthe A.I. developed by Altman’s company is slated to become the single most disruptive technology of the decade, putting entire professions at risk of being replaced by robots.

Amid an intense debate over who in society will be left behind, the CEO attempted to soothe fears by claiming that his company’s revolutionary chatbot and others like it will set you free—and make at least some wealthy in the process. “I think A.I. is going to be the greatest force for economic empowerment,” Altman wrote on Monday, and the greatest force for “a lot of people getting rich.”

The optimistic public message, posted to his 1.3 million followers on Twitter, is notably far less nuanced than those he made last month, when he told venture capitalists it would be “lights out” in a worst-case scenario.

In just the first few weeks since ChatGPT was launched, the A.I. chatbot has already passed entrance and exit exams for the medical, legal and business professions, while writing prose and poetry in the style of Shakespeare

By training with large data sets, its ability to mimic human intelligence will likely only get better over time. Knowledge-based occupations often believed to be the least at risk of being replaced could soon be on the chopping block.

Voices of dissent argue the optimism is eerily like past hype

Not everyone was therefore willing to buy the narrative that Altman had to sell, not even those in Silicon Valley. 

“A.I. could also be the greatest force for global disenfranchisement in our lifetimes,” responded Olivier Blanchard, a published author on technology who is now principal analyst at San Jose-based research firm Creative Strategies. “Massive and sudden human obsolescence, for example. It could go either way.”

Globalization has arguably lifted living standards worldwide by and large. Yet it has also decimated communities left behind by the offshoring of well-paying manufacturing jobs that contributed to the current protectionist backlash.

The election of Donald Trump would not have been possible had he not flipped the Rust Belt around America’s manufacturing heartland from blue to red with promises to slap 25% tariffs on Mexico-built cars, wrote pro-market libertarian publication Reason. (Wooing the working class back to the Democrats by courting labor unions has since been a key policy of President Biden’s administration).

Altman’s optimism moreover sounded eerily familiar to the WAGMI crypto mantra that ‘We’re All Going to Make It’. A hallmark of the mania during the 2021 crypto bubble, it proved to be nothing more than a chimera when a bear market obliterated $2 trillion of capital last year.

“Maybe this will turn out true. More likely it will not.” replied Dhruva Jaishankar, executive director of the Observer Research Foundation America. “Either way, the crypto bro vibes are unflattering.”

Musk thinks our species needs to upgrade our wetware

Interestingly, Altman’s OpenAI company has been in part funded by the Musk, one of the biggest Cassandras when it comes to warning mankind of the threat posed by A.I.. Not even Barack Obama would listen, the Tesla CEO claimed.

“I tried to convince people to slow down A.I., to regulate A.I.,” he said in 2017. “This was futile.”

A year before he made that statement, Musk co-founded a brain-computer interface company in part because he believes A.I. is an “existential threat” that will render our god-given abilities. 

By using one of his Neuralink microchip implanted into the cerebral cortex, mankind can augment its biological tissue, its wetware, with a machine upgrade. 

Only then will we as a species be able to compete in the future, in the opinion of the visionary entrepreneur. (Ironically, Altman for his part praised the Tesla CEO on Monday for “raising the collective ambition level” at a time when optimism for the future was receding in his words) 

When Musk was asked as a self-described A.I. Cassandra how the development of a humanoid robot fits into Tesla’s core mission of accelerating the advent of sustainable transport, he admitted it didn’t. 

Tesla simply had the knowhow and wherewithal, which was reason enough for the entrepreneur. 

“So I guess we probably should make it,” Musk replied in August 2021. “And if we don’t, someone else would.” 

In other words, you can take the man out of Silicon Valley, but you cannot take the Silicon Valley out of the man. 

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