Altman, who didn’t appear phased at all, gave a good interview, in spite of a series of somewhat lacklustre
opening questions from the two Mosaic partners. Send a VC to do a journalist’s job!
Early on in the Q&A he put to bed the idea that failure should always be celebrated. ‘I think failure is still bad and people should try to avoid it,’ said Altman, which was met with laughter all around the hall.
'I think one of the odder things about Silicon Valley is that people brag about failure. Failure sucks! Like anybody else, I’ve done things that have worked really well and plenty of things that haven’t, and it’s much more fun when things work.’
But where the conversation got a little meatier was when it turned to the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and humanity’s future, a subject Altman has likely given more thought to than most and is heavily invested in.
The Silicon Valley investor said he sees the future of the human race as a 'merge’ with machines, not a conflict with them, Business Insider’s James Cook reports
'If you have the AIs and the humans and they’re both trying to enslave the other, and they both want the same thing … that’s a recipe for conflict every time. I think we should try to avoid that,’ Altman said, somewhat understated.
One possible solution is for humans to plug a device into our brains and more directly augment our own intelligence with AI.
’I think we’re going to need something like that so that we’re one thing and it’s not us versus AI,’ he said, matter-of-factly.
More immediately, however, machine learning is reaching every vertical and Altman reckons that 75 per cent of the most repetitive tasks carried out by humans could now be automated, citing things like legal work to radiographers
. This will also see robots replacing almost every factory job within ten years, too.
'There are mega consequences to this. Huge job disruption and job elimination in a way that is scary,’ he said.
The answer in the short term was re-training people and making better use of their talents, whilst in the longer term governments will need to do a lot more in terms of taxation and redistribution.
Altman’s point, which sounded extremely interventionist compared to Silicon Valley-styled libertarian groupthink, was that the AI revolution will make society wealthier as a whole but that wealth will be highly concentrated, and the mythical trickle down effect ain’t gonna cut it.
Instead, we will require something akin to a basic wage, underpinned by other 'rights’, such as universal healthcare. This, he conceded, will make some people feel 'very uncomfortable’ because even though it won’t be socialism it will feel a lot like it.
Bonus: Which co-founder of a British 'unicorn’ – that is, a startup valued at a billion dollars or more – was spotted sat in the balcony of Shoreditch Town Hall enjoying the Altman Q&A?