Looking into the future as Sam Altman sees it • TechCrunch

Last weekend, in a rare sit-down before a small audienceThis editor spent an hour with Sam Altman, former president of Y Combinator and since 2019, CEO of Y Combinator. openAIfamous company that he co-founded with Elon Musk and many others in 2015 to develop artificial intelligence for the “good of mankind”.

The crowd wanted to learn more about his plans for OpenAI, which have taken the world by storm over the past six weeks thanks to the public release of the ChatGPT language model, a chatbot that has inspired educators and others are all amazed and delighted. alarm. (OpenAI’s DALL-E technology, which allows users to create digital images by simply describing what they envision, generated only a little less buzz when it was released to the public in the beginning.) last year.)

Because Altman is also an active investor — the biggest profit to date has come from payments startup Stripe, he said at the event — we spent the first half of our time together training. focuses on some of his most ambitious investments.

To learn about these, including supersonic jets The company and a startup that aims to help Create a baby from human skin cells, you can check out the 20-minute video below. (You’ll also hear Altman’s thoughts on Twitter under Elon Musk and why Altman is “not very interested” in crypto or the web3. “I love the spirit of web3 people,” Altman shrugged and said, “But I don’t intuitively feel why we need it.)

We’ll be rolling out more features from that fuller conversation soon, including OpenAI. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from our discussion of one of Altman’s biggest bets: a nuclear fusion company called Helicopter energy that, like OpenAI, is aiming to make a long elusive promise — the promise of abundant energy — a reality. Snippets have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What makes a Sam Altman deal?

I try to only do things that interest me at this point. One of the things I’ve come to realize is, all of the companies that I think I’ve brought a lot of value to are companies that I like to think about in my spare time hiking or whatever. something, then text the founders and say, ‘Hey, I have this idea for you.’ Every founder deserves an investor who will think of them as they go hiking. And so I’ve been trying to keep myself to things that I really love, usually hard tech, [involving] years of research and development, [is] capital intensive, or risk type of research. But if it works, it really works.

One particularly interesting investment is Helion Energy. You’ve been funding this company since 2015, but when the company announced a $500 million funding round last year, including 375 million USD check from you, I think people surprised. Not many people can write a check for $375 million.

Or, like, many people will [invest it] in a risky merger.

What are your most successful investments to date?

I mean, maybe on a multiple basis, definitely on a multiple basis: Stripe. Also, I think it’s my second investment ever, so it just seems a lot easier. This is also the time when valuations differ; It’s great. But, you know, I’ve been doing this for about 17 years, so there’s been a lot of really good work and I’m incredibly grateful to have come to Silicon Valley at such a magical time.

Helion is more than just an investment for me. It’s something else besides OpenAI that I spend a lot of time on. I’m just super excited about what’s going to happen there.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had a nuclear fusion breakthrough last month. (Using a method involving giant lasers, its scientists announced the first fusion reaction in a laboratory environment that produces more energy than was used to initiate the reaction.) I wonder what you think of its approach, it’s very different from Helion’s approach (building a thermonuclear machine) report long and narrow, and will use aluminum tycoons to compress the fuel, then expand to extract electricity).

I’m super happy for them. I think that’s a very cool scientific result. As they themselves said, I don’t think it will be commercial related. And that’s what I’m excited about — not using fusion to work in the lab, although that’s cool, but building a system that will work at extremely low cost.

If you look at the energy transition in the past, if you can reduce the cost of a new form of energy, it could take over everything else in a few decades. And then also a system where we can generate enough power and reliably enough power, both mechanically without failure and also without the interruption or the need to store solar energy. or wind or something like that. If we can make enough of the Earth in 10 years – and I think that’s really the hardest challenge that Helion faces as we outline what it takes to make that happen, to change that. replace all the current generating capacity on Earth with fusion and to do it really fast and think about what it really means to build a factory that is capable of producing two of these machines per day. days in a decade – that’s really hard but it’s also a hugely interesting problem.

So I’m happy to have a merge race, I think that’s great. I’m also glad that solar and batteries are getting cheaper and cheaper. But I think the important thing is who can provide the cheapest and enough energy.

Why is Helion’s approach superior to that of dozens of countries in the South of France?

Yes, well, that, repeat, I think would probably work, but given what I just said earlier, I don’t think it’s going to be commercially relevant. They also [themselves] thought it would not be commercial related.

What is interesting to me about the Helion is that it is a simple machine at an affordable cost and a reasonable size. There are many different elements of it besides giants [experimental machine being developed by these nations], but it’s very interesting that what comes out of the reaction is charged particles, not heat. Almost all other [alternatives], like a coal plant or a natural gas plant or whatever, generates heat to run steam turbines. Helion creates charged particles that repel the magnet and transmit an electric current down the conductor. There is no thermal cycle at all. And so it can be a much simpler, more efficient system.

I thought I missed the whole discussion about fusion but [is] really amazing. It also means we don’t have to deal with a lot of nuclear material. We never had hazardous waste or even a dangerous system. You can touch it as soon as it turns off.

It is building a big base right away. Has it proven its point?

We’ll have more to share there shortly.

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