inside the minds of the creators of ChatGPT

Where does OpenAI come from? Who is behind this artificial intelligence (AI) company that has become famous for its ChatGPT software, which can write texts in response to a request, and for DALL-E, which can create an image from a description? written? In recent weeks, Internet users are rushing to have them produce school homework, sketches, imaginary paintings, decoration sketches…

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The giant Microsoft would be ready to invest 10 billion dollars (9.2 billion euros) in OpenAI, already valued at 29 billion. “It’s been twenty years since we’ve seen a structure with young engineers developing a technology that turns out to be revolutionary. The last time was probably Sergey Brin and Larry Page, from Google”admires Alexei Grinbaum, physicist, philosopher and member of the national digital ethics committee of the Atomic Energy Commission.

The genesis of OpenAI dates back to a dinner in June 2015, at the Rosewood, a hotel popular with the elite of Silicon Valley, a stone’s throw from the major venture capital funds of this cradle of Californian “tech”. That evening, the table welcomes Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla and SpaceX. For several months, he has been publicly concerned about the rise of artificial intelligence, judged, in one of his tweets, “potentially more dangerous than nuclear bombs”.

With his ex-partner of Paypal, Peter Thiel, he invested in DeepMind, a nugget in the sector, since bought by the digital giant Google. Among the handful of “AI” researchers invited to the dinner is a young Google star, Ilya Sutskever, who won the ImageNet image recognition challenge, thanks to software that imitates brain neurons.

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The initiative for the interview was taken by the thirty-something Sam Altman. Boss of the powerful start-up incubator Y Combinator, he is also a friend of MM. Musk and Thiel, with whom he shares a taste for futuristic discussions, on the extension of life, universal income, survivalism or… AI. Greg Brockman, he has just resigned from his young shoot Stripe. “Online payment didn’t seem like a problem I wanted to work on for the rest of my life. Artificial intelligence, if », says the former Harvard student, now president of OpenAI.

Messianic and technophile inclination

These future co-founders have one thing in common: they are part of the small circle of people who, like the creators of DeepMind or the cosmologist Stephen Hawking, believe the emergence of a “general artificial intelligence”. “The atmosphere at dinner mixed the hope that we might be able to create machines capable of solving problems that humans are struggling with – limiting climate change, even curing all diseases or providing universal education – and risk awareness, says Mr. Brockman, about this meeting recounted in the book GeniusMakers (Dutton, 2021), by journalist Cade Metz.

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