President Joe Biden with Big Tech executives in the White House.  US pledges to work intensively with other governments to build a shared understanding of long-term AI risks and how to mitigate them

Sam Altman’s vision for artificial intelligence puts him on a collision course with the government

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This week Sam Altman launched a new blueprint to distinguish humans from increasingly intelligent robots, highlighting the OpenAI founders’ belief that breakthroughs in artificial intelligence will soon create new challenges for society and his belief that he can solve them.

The launch of the Worldcoin cryptocurrency project is the latest in a series of advances at companies backed or led by Altman. That includes OpenAI’s release of ChatGPT in November last year and the announcement this month that Oklo, a nuclear fission start-up chaired by Altman, is going public in a deal that values ​​the company at $850 million.

These are independent parts of a specific vision of the future that I believe in, Altman said in an interview with the Financial Times. But they are all doing their own thing and are all working independently.

Collectively, Altman’s projects could reshape society, and their success would place him at the center of a powerful corporate network. Those efforts have propelled the 38-year-old into global prominence, while also putting him on a collision course with regulators.

Altman insisted he had no intention of disintermediating governments, but suggested the public sector had a lack of willingness to lead innovation.

People ask me periodically, don’t you think this should be done by the government? Isn’t it awful that you’re doing this as a private tech company? she said. Why don’t you ask the government why they aren’t doing these things, isn’t that the awful part?

OpenAI, backed by Microsoft, is working to develop advanced artificial general intelligence computer systems capable of performing at or above humans in a variety of tasks, a goal Altman says could be achieved within a decade.

Plans for Worldcoin include creating a global identification system by scanning users’ eyeballs to help distinguish them from robots, and providing the infrastructure to distribute a whole range of financial services and social aid, including universal basic income.

Altman has also invested in Retro Biosciences, a start-up that aims to extend human life, and Neuralink, a company co-founded by Elon Musk that is developing a computer that can be implanted in the brain.

He chafed at the notion that he’s jockeying to be at the center of a universe dominated by artificial intelligence or that he’s acting for a financial reward.

Altman said he has no direct equity stake in OpenAI and only an intangible stake in the company via Y Combinator, the startup incubator he ran from 2014 to 2019. He is independently wealthy, holding stakes in some of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups, including payments company Stripe and social network Reddit.

In a 2021 paper titled Moores Law for Everything, Altman argued that the advent of AGI would create enormous wealth by reducing labor costs to nearly zero and pushing the boundaries of science by making original discoveries. This could facilitate breakthroughs for other companies he has invested in like Oklo and Helion, which is working on nuclear fusion, or Neuralink.

Altman said it was playing such an important role in pushing new technologies forward, in part because governments had shied away from leading the latest wave of innovation.

Brandishing part of a Concorde that he keeps in his office, Altman said the government’s capacity for innovation has diminished since the UK and France teamed up to create the supersonic plane and the US launched the Apollo space missions.

In a well-functioning society, governments would do the AGI project and [nuclear] fusion and a lot of things and yet they are not.

So either we sit back and watch the state’s capacity gradually decline and say it’s a shame and we simply wouldn’t have any more technical advances… or you do the next best thing and just build great companies, he said.

Altman, who describes himself as an extremely, extremely proud American citizen, has been spending more and more time in Washington this year, presenting his case to Congress and the White House as he tries to build trust and explain the ramifications of AGI.

After the response to ChatGPT and people taking AGI seriously, we absolutely owed them the time to answer any questions they had, he said.

Last week, OpenAI and other companies in the space agreed to let their systems be externally tested before being rolled out to the public, in a move the White House said would help move toward safe, secure and transparent development of AI technology.

Earlier this month, the US Federal Trade Commission told OpenAI that it was investigating whether individuals have been harmed by ChatGPT’s creation of false information about them, as well as whether the company has engaged in unfair or deceptive privacy and data security practices.

OpenAI has also clashed with EU regulators, who are crafting some of the most comprehensive sets of rules currently available for the technology. In May of this year, Altman appeared to have fired a warning shot in Brussels, suggesting his company could withdraw its services from the EU if regulation was too strict.

We will try to comply, but if we cannot comply we will cease to operate, warned Altman, who later rowed on the comments.

Worldcoin has also run afoul of US regulators. The company chose not to issue tokens in the US amid a crackdown on digital assets in the country, led by the Securities and Exchange Commission. In recent months, the leading observer of financial markets has taken counteraction against the biggest names in cryptocurrencies, including the Nasdaq-listed exchange Coinbase and Binance, the largest exchange in the world.

It’s really sad, Altman said. Of course we will follow the law. I hope over time there is more clarity in the US and a friendlier environment, but that’s what we need to do for now.

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