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In the early 2010s, Elon Musk was the talk of the town. A billionaire who invested into self-driving cars, brain-computer interfaces and space travel was bound to be a huge part of the public conversation. However, since then, it seems that Musk has fallen off his high pedestal of respect, crashing down to earth anchored by his $44 billion buyout of Twitter.
Today, a different billionaire runs the show, and he’s not far off from Elon. Having started OpenAI alongside Musk in 2015, Sam Altman has now become the darling of Silicon Valley. With investments into clean energy and life extension under his belt and a doomsday backpack on his back, it seems Sam Altman has replaced Musk as the de-facto celebrity billionaire.
Silicon Valley roots
Musk and Altman first crossed paths as members of Y Combinator, where they decided to start OpenAI. This startup, founded out of Musk’s fear that an omnicompetent AGI would wipe humanity out, has now blossomed into one of Silicon Valley’s hottest properties. Altman, who first came into the mainstream as the chairman of Y Combinator, has since become an enigmatic figure in the Valley.
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Musk has publicly voiced his distaste towards OpenAI’s current direction, especially the company’s partnership with Microsoft. In a tweet, he stated, “OpenAI was created as an open source (which is why I named it “Open” AI), a non-profit company to serve as a counterweight to Google, but now it has become a closed source, maximum-profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft.”
Altman, on the other hand, has shown nothing but respect for Musk. After the Twitter acquisition debacle, Musk quickly became one of the most-hated people on the Internet, mainly due to his decisions regarding the platform. Amidst mass layoffs, the Twitter Blue fiasco, and general mismanagement, Altman had this to say about Musk,
“I would be making some different decisions but also I have unbelievable respect for Elon. I wouldn’t bet against him and I think it’s most likely going to be fine.”
Regardless of one’s views on the man himself, Musk has cemented a place into pop culture, which is further strengthened by his investments. From being one of the founders of PayPal, to creating a company that would dig tunnels to ‘solve traffic’, Musk has entered multiple tech-first fields and taken them head-on. However, the crown jewels of his management career stand above and beyond his investments—Tesla, Neuralink, and SpaceX.
Within the conjunction of these three technologies, Musk has become a tech guru of the futuristic sort—a real-life Iron Man. With his goals to establish civilisation on Mars and to connect the human brain to computers beyond just our thumbs, Musk has garnered a techno-cult of unprecedented proportions.
However, as Musk looks to the stars for humanity’s future, it seems that Altman has a more despondent outcome. A known doomsday prepper, Altman’s investments seem to be a failsafe against a possible apocalypse.
Prepper at heart
In an interview, Altman revealed that he ‘preps for survival’, mainly from global threats like a ‘lethal synthetic virus’ or an AI attacking humans. To this end, he also has a prepper stash hidden away, consisting of ‘guns, gold, potassium iodide, antibiotics, batteries, water, gas masks from the Israeli Defense Force, and a big patch of land in Big Sur’.
It seems that Altman’s survivalist capabilities are very deep-rooted, backed up by this statement by his mother: “Sam does keep an awful lot tied up inside. . . an optimist yet a survivalist, with a sense that things can always go deeply wrong.”
This survivalist mentality also extends to OpenAI’s current and future products. Jokes even emerged around OpenAI creating a job position for a ‘killswitch engineer’, who would stand by and be ready to unplug ChatGPT if it went rogue. However, it seems that Altman is taking an extremely measured approach to releasing any future AI products from OpenAI’s arsenal, stating that the company would ‘release technology much more slowly than people would like’.
Altman also recently authored a blog on the possible rise of AGI, which was universally panned by AI experts. However, a deeper look into this blog shows the CEO’s extremely safe approach towards creating more powerful AI systems apart from AGI. He even stated that a ‘misaligned super intelligence AGI could cause grievous harm to the world’—a statement straight from a prepper’s heart.
To Altman, it seems that taking control of the AI world through OpenAI isn’t enough to ensure his continued safety. Hence, his investments into clean energy and delaying death. Reports recently emerged that Altman had invested $180 million in a company called Retro Biosciences—a startup that wants to add ten years to the average human lifespan. His other significant investment in recent years is Helion Energy, a startup looking to crack the code to limitless clean energy through nuclear fusion.
In a post-apocalyptic society which has been taken over by a super-powerful AI, these are the most important facets to continued survival. Free from the grid or solar power, nuclear fusion can sustain Altman’s purported bunker in Big Sur for many years. Add to this the capacity to extend human lifespan and it seems that Altman has a plan to be the last human alive.
Just as Musk is looking to create an interplanetary empire run by humans with chips in their brains, Altman is looking to pour his time and money into companies that can ensure his survival on a post-Doomsday earth. With the rise of OpenAI’s technology in mainstream applications, it seems that the tipping point for AGI is somewhere on the horizon but the only person who’ll be ready for it will be billionaire prepper Sam Altman.