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Sam Altman and Lex Fridman Talk Future: A Simple Guide to Their AI Conversation

March 19, 2024
OpenAI's path to AGI is not just a tech saga; it's a lesson in resilience, passion, and the unfathomable power of compute in our futures.

This blog is all about a super interesting chat between Sam Altman and Lex Fridman, who loves to talk about tech and how it changes our lives. They got together on March 18th, 2024, to share their thoughts on smart robots, artificial intelligence (AI), and how these things might affect everyone in the future. If you're curious and want to see them talking, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube right here. Let's dive into what they talked about and why it's important!


  • Sam Altman's vision of compute as the future's currency.
  • The emotional and professional rollercoaster experienced during OpenAI's critical governance shift.
  • Insights into the potential and pitfalls of AGI, as seen through the lens of OpenAI's CEO.
  • The evolving landscape of AI safety, governance, and the looming power struggle on the road to AGI.

The conversation with Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, reveals a narrative not just of technological triumphs but of personal trials, transformative leadership, and the bold assertion that compute will become the most valuable currency in the world. As we navigate the twists and turns of OpenAI's journey, we encounter a vision of the future where artificial general intelligence (AGI) not only reshapes our technological landscape but also challenges our understanding of power, safety, and governance in the AI domain.

At the heart of this narrative is the November saga — a pivotal moment in OpenAI's history marked by intense governance restructuring and emotional upheaval. Altman describes this period as the most challenging professional experience of his life, a time when the support and love from his community shone brightly against the backdrop of uncertainty and conflict. This episode underscores the intricate dance of pioneering technology while steering a company through stormy waters, all under the watchful eyes of the public and the AI community.

Diving deeper, Altman shares his reflections on AGI, a technology that holds unparalleled promise and peril. His anticipation of AGI as a dominant force within this decade sets a timeline that feels both exciting and daunting. This is not just a technological milestone; it's a turning point that necessitates a thoughtful approach to AI safety and ethics. OpenAI's commitment to navigating these challenges is evident in its efforts to build a resilient organizational structure capable of withstanding the pressures and scrutiny that accompany such groundbreaking work.

Furthermore, the conversation sheds light on the significance of compute as the future's currency. Altman's vision extends beyond the immediate applications of AI to a future where access to compute power could dictate economic and technological leadership on a global scale. This perspective invites us to reconsider our current valuations of resources and the strategic investments we need to make today to secure a place in tomorrow's digital economy.

In essence, the dialogue with Sam Altman is more than just an interview; it's a window into the soul of OpenAI and the minds shaping the future of AGI. It's a reminder that the path to innovation is fraught with challenges, both technical and human, and that the quest for AGI is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. As we stand on the brink of this new frontier, the story of OpenAI serves as both a cautionary tale and a beacon of hope for the transformative potential of artificial general intelligence.

Outline of Conversation between Lex Fridman and Sam Altman

1. Introduction to Sam Altman and OpenAI

  • Sam Altman's role and vision as the CEO of OpenAI.
  • OpenAI's achievements with GPT-4, ChatGPT, Sora, and the overarching goal of AGI development.

2. The Value of Compute in the Future

  • Altman's perspective on compute as a future currency.
  • The expectation of remarkable systems by the end of the decade.

3. The Road to AGI and Its Challenges

  • The anticipated power struggle in the journey toward AGI.
  • Ethical considerations and AI safety in the context of powerful AGI systems.

4. OpenAI Board Saga

  • Detailed recounting of the board restructuring event in November.
  • Emotional and professional impact on Altman.
  • The importance of resilience and readiness for future challenges.

5. Power Dynamics and Organizational Structure

  • Insights into the dynamics within OpenAI's board.
  • Reflections on governance, organizational challenges, and lessons learned.

6. Future of OpenAI and AGI Development

  • Discussion on future board structure and strategic decisions.
  • Altman's anticipation of more challenges as OpenAI progresses towards AGI.

7. Deliberations and Human Dynamics

  • The complexity of board decisions and the human element in critical situations.

8. OpenAI's Relationship with the Public and Future Plans

  • Addressing public expectations and the strategic release of information.
  • OpenAI's commitment to responsible AGI development and addressing societal impacts.

9. Personal Reflections and Future Aspirations

  • Altman's personal growth through challenging times.
  • Vision for the future of AI and OpenAI's role in shaping that future.

10. Broader Implications for Society and AI Governance- Discussion on AI's impact on society, employment, and the global economy.- The necessity of thoughtful governance and ethical considerations in AI advancement.

Introduction to Sam Altman and OpenAI

Who is Sam Altman?

Sam Altman is the big boss of a company called OpenAI. Imagine someone who's really into making smart robots and computers that can think like humans. That's Sam. He's not just a boss; he's also a thinker who dreams about how these smart robots can help us in the future.

What is OpenAI?

Think of OpenAI as a giant laboratory where some of the smartest people are trying to teach computers to understand and learn from the world around them, just like humans do. They've made some cool things like GPT-4 and ChatGPT. Imagine being able to chat with a computer as if it were a person, getting it to write stories, solve puzzles, or even help with homework. That's what they're working on.

The Big Dream: Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)

Sam and his team at OpenAI have a big dream. They want to create AGI, which is a fancy way of saying they want to make computers as smart as a human in every way. Not just good at one thing, like playing chess or solving math problems, but able to understand and learn anything a human can.

Why It's Important

Sam thinks this is super important because computers that can think like humans could help solve really big problems, like curing diseases, figuring out how to stop climate change, or making sure everyone has enough food. But he also knows it's a bit scary because we have to be careful about how these super-smart computers are used.

The Value of Compute in the Future

What's Compute?

First, let's talk about "compute." It sounds like a fancy term, but it's just a way of saying the ability of computers to think, calculate, and solve problems. When we say a computer or a phone has good compute, it means it can do a lot of thinking really fast.

Why Sam Thinks It's Important

Sam believes that in the future, this ability for computers to think and solve problems (compute) is going to be super important, almost like gold or oil is today. Just like you need gas to make cars go, you need compute to make smart robots and AI systems do their thing.

The Future Currency

Imagine a world where instead of paying for things with just money, we also use compute because it's that valuable. Need to solve a big problem, like figuring out the best way to grow food in a desert? You'd use some of your compute, like it's a bunch of brainpower you can spend.

Why It Will Be the Most Precious Commodity

Sam thinks compute will be the most precious thing because, as we make computers and robots that can learn and think, the more they can do, the more we can achieve. It's like having a super smart friend who can help you with everything from homework to inventing new things that can make the world better.

The Road to AGI and Its Challenges

What is AGI?

Imagine a computer or robot that can think, understand, and learn anything that a human can. That's AGI, or Artificial General Intelligence. Right now, computers are good at doing specific tasks they're programmed for, like playing chess or recommending what movie to watch next. But AGI would be able to do anything a human brain can do.

The Journey to Creating AGI

Creating AGI is like trying to climb the highest and toughest mountain in the world, but nobody has ever done it before. It's a big adventure with lots of unknowns. Sam Altman and his team at OpenAI are like explorers on this journey. They believe that reaching AGI will be a huge achievement for humankind because it could help us solve many of the world's biggest problems, like curing diseases, making new discoveries, and much more.

Why It's a Tough Road

But, just like any big adventure, there are challenges and dangers. Here are a few:

  • Power Struggle: Just like in superhero movies where everyone wants the powerful object, many people and groups around the world might want to control AGI because it's so powerful. This could lead to arguments and conflicts.
  • Making Sure AGI is Safe: Imagine if you had a super smart robot but it didn't understand human feelings or how important it is to keep people safe. OpenAI wants to make sure AGI will be safe and understand human values, so it can be a good helper, not a danger.
  • Ethical Questions: With AGI, there are big questions about right and wrong. For example, if a robot can do a job, what happens to the people who used to do that job? And who decides how to use AGI's intelligence for good?

Creating AGI is a bit like trying to invent a whole new world. It's exciting but also a bit scary because it comes with big responsibilities. Sam Altman and the folks at OpenAI are working hard to climb this mountain carefully, making sure AGI will be a friend to humanity, not something to fear.

OpenAI Board Saga

Imagine you're part of a team working on a super important project, like building a robot that could change the world. Sam Altman and his team at OpenAI were on such a mission. But even superhero teams face tough times, and so did they.

What Happened?

One day, something big and stressful happened at OpenAI. It was about who gets to make the big decisions, kind of like choosing the captain of a ship. This was a big deal because it wasn't just any ship; it was one sailing towards creating super smart robots.

The Toughest Time

Sam said this period was the hardest he's ever had to face at work. Imagine you're running a race, and suddenly there are hurdles you didn't see before, and everyone is watching you. That's how tough it was for him.

Support from Friends

During this hard time, something good happened too. People who worked with Sam, and even some he hadn't talked to in a long time, showed him a lot of support. They sent messages and helped him feel better. It was like getting a bunch of letters from friends when you're feeling down.

Back to Work

Even though it was a rough patch, Sam and his team didn't give up. They worked through the chaos and came out stronger. They learned a lot about how to work together and make sure they could face tough times even better in the future.

This part of the story shows that even when working on amazing things like AI, people can face big challenges. But with the right team and support from friends, they can get through it and keep working towards their goals.

Power Dynamics and Organizational Structure

What Happened at OpenAI?

Think of a time when your family or friends couldn't decide on a game to play or a movie to watch. Everyone had different opinions, and it was hard to agree. Something like this happened at OpenAI, but with much bigger stakes. They had a big disagreement about who should make decisions and how they should move forward with their projects, especially about creating super-smart computers.

The Big Shake-Up:

OpenAI had a moment when things got really shaky. Sam Altman, the leader, and some other important people at OpenAI didn't see eye to eye. It was like being on a boat in a storm. This wasn't just a small argument; it was about the future of OpenAI and how they should build technology that could change the world.

Why It's Important:

In any group or team, deciding who gets to make the big decisions is very important. It's like choosing the captain of a ship. The captain needs to make sure the ship goes in the right direction, avoids dangers, and keeps everyone safe and working together. OpenAI's disagreement was about finding the best captain and crew for their journey towards AGI.

Lessons Learned:

From this tough time, OpenAI learned a lot about how to be stronger. It's like after you fall off your bike and get back on, you know a bit more about how to stay balanced. They figured out they need clear rules about who makes decisions and how to solve disagreements so they can keep working on their important projects without getting knocked off course.

Moving Forward:

After the storm calmed down, OpenAI got back to work. They made some changes to how they decide things and who gets to be in charge of what. This way, they hope to avoid big arguments in the future and stay focused on their goal of making helpful and safe AI technology.

Future of OpenAI and AGI Development

Looking Ahead with OpenAI:

Imagine you're playing a video game, and you're planning your strategy to win in the long run. That's kind of what OpenAI is doing with their big project: trying to create AGI, a super-smart computer that can think like a human in every way.

Building a Better OpenAI:

After going through some tough times with disagreements and learning a lot, OpenAI is working on getting even better at making decisions and planning their future. It's like when a sports team learns from a tough game. They figure out how to play better together, make clearer plans, and get ready for the next big match.

What's Next for AGI?

AGI is still a bit like a science fiction dream, but Sam Altman and his team are working hard to make it real. They know it's a huge challenge, but they believe it's possible. They're like explorers mapping out an unknown land, trying to find the best path forward.

The Big Challenges Ahead:

Making AGI isn't just about building super-smart computers. It's also about making sure these computers understand and respect human values and can be trusted to make decisions that are good for everyone. It's a bit like teaching a really powerful robot to be a good citizen.

OpenAI's Commitment:

OpenAI isn't just rushing ahead. They're thinking carefully about how to move forward with AGI in a way that's safe and benefits everyone. It's like they're building a powerful new car, but they want to make sure it has good brakes and can follow the road rules before they drive it fast.

Deliberations and Human Dynamics

What’s the Big Deal with Decisions at OpenAI?

Imagine you're part of a group project where everyone has different ideas about how to tackle it. It's crucial to chat, argue a bit, and finally agree on a plan. At OpenAI, they do something similar but on a much bigger scale, discussing how to create smart AI safely. These chats and decisions are super important because they're dealing with technology that could change the world.

Why Are These Discussions So Tricky?

Discussions get complicated because they're not just talking about small stuff; they're deciding on big, world-changing ideas. It's like deciding not just what game to play with friends, but building a new game that everyone in the world will play. They need to consider how it affects people, what could go wrong, and how to make sure it does more good than harm.

Human Dynamics:

'Human dynamics' sounds fancy, but it's just a way of talking about how people interact when they're working together. In situations like what OpenAI faced, people might get stressed or argue because they care a lot and feel pressured to make the right choice. It's like when your family is trying to decide where to go on holiday, and everyone has strong opinions because they all want the holiday to be great.

The Importance of Getting Along and Making Good Choices:

For OpenAI, getting along and making smart choices is super important. If they argue too much or can't decide, it could slow down their work on AI. They need to work together smoothly because they're in a race to build AI in a way that's safe and helpful for everyone. It's a bit like a sports team – if the players don't get along and can't agree on a strategy, they won't win the game.

The Bigger Picture:

These discussions and the way people work together at OpenAI aren't just about building cool tech. They're about making sure this tech helps people and doesn't cause problems. It's a big responsibility, and that's why they take their deliberations so seriously. They're trying to ensure that as they build AI, they're thinking about everyone's safety and well-being, not just making something cool.

OpenAI's Relationship with the Public and Future Plans

OpenAI and Everyone Else:

Imagine you're working on a super-secret project in your backyard that could change how everyone in your neighborhood lives. Everyone's curious and a bit worried about what you're up to. That's kind of like OpenAI's situation. They're working on AI, which is exciting but also makes people wonder how it will affect their lives. OpenAI knows it's important to talk to people about what they're doing, so everyone understands and feels okay about it.

Why Talking Matters:

Just like when you're planning a big surprise party, you need to drop some hints so it doesn't shock everyone. OpenAI wants to make sure that when they make something new, it doesn't catch everyone off guard. They're trying to be open about their work so people can get ready for the changes AI might bring, like new kinds of jobs or different ways to learn.

Looking Ahead:

OpenAI has big dreams for the future. They want to make AI that can help with all kinds of problems, from fixing the climate to finding new medicines. But they also know they need to plan carefully. It's like planning a trip to the moon; you have to think about all the things you'll need and what could go wrong. They're working hard to make sure AI is safe and benefits everyone.

Balancing Act:

Making sure AI is good for everyone is a bit like walking a tightrope. Lean too much one way, and people might get scared or upset. Lean too much the other, and you might not make as much progress as you could. OpenAI is trying to find the perfect balance, listening to what people think and feel while pushing ahead with their technology.

The Promise of AI:

At the end of the day, OpenAI wants to make sure that the AI they're creating will be like a good friend to humanity. They imagine a future where AI can help us solve big problems and make life better for everyone. But they also know they've got to build that future carefully, making sure everyone's on board and ready for what's to come.

Personal Reflections and Future Aspirations

Dealing with Challenges:

Imagine facing a huge storm, not in the weather, but in your life or work, where everything seems to be falling apart. This is what Sam Altman experienced during a tough period at OpenAI. It was like carrying a heavy backpack while climbing a steep hill. Despite feeling down and wanting to escape, perhaps to a quiet cave, he chose to face the music and keep moving forward with OpenAI's mission.

The Importance of Bouncing Back:

Bouncing back from hard times isn't just about shaking off the dust; it's about learning and growing stronger. Sam realized that even in the darkest moments, there's a chance to find a silver lining. It's like after tripping over a rock, you learn to watch your step more carefully, making you a better hiker. This tough period taught him resilience and reinforced his commitment to OpenAI's goals.

Reflections on Leadership and Growth:

Leading a groundbreaking organization like OpenAI is no small feat. Imagine being the captain of a ship navigating uncharted waters. Sam's journey has been about more than just steering the ship; it's been about learning how to sail better, understanding the sea, and preparing for storms. His experience has shaped him into a more thoughtful leader, aware of the responsibilities and challenges that come with pioneering in AI.

Looking to the Future:

The road ahead for OpenAI and the field of AI is filled with both excitement and unknowns, much like setting off on a great adventure into new lands. Sam envisions a future where AI can solve some of humanity's biggest problems, from curing diseases to combating climate change. But reaching this future requires not just technical brilliance but ethical consideration and a focus on safety.

The Role of AI in Shaping the Future:

Sam believes in the transformative potential of AI to make the world a better place. It's not just about creating smart machines; it's about how these machines can help us understand the universe, make new discoveries, and improve lives. The journey of OpenAI is more than a story of technological innovation; it's a quest to harness the power of AI for the greater good, ensuring it benefits all of humanity.

Broader Implications for Society and AI Governance

Why Everyone's Talking About AI:

Imagine a world where robots and computers can do almost anything a person can do. This isn't just about cool gadgets or playing video games; it's about how we live, work, and take care of our planet. AI is getting really good, really fast, and it's starting to be a big part of our lives. That's why people like Sam Altman and his team are thinking hard about how to make AI safe and helpful for everyone.

AI's Impact on Jobs and the Economy:

You know how sometimes machines can do jobs faster or cheaper than people? Well, AI is like that but on a whole new level. It could change the kind of jobs people do, how we make things, and even how we buy and sell stuff. This could be really great, making lots of things easier and cheaper, but it could also mean some people might need to learn new skills or find different kinds of work.

Governing AI – Making the Rules:

With something as powerful as AI, we need to think about the rules of the game. Who gets to decide what AI is allowed to do? How do we make sure it's fair? And what do we do if something goes wrong? It's a bit like how we have rules for driving cars or building houses – we need rules to make sure AI is safe and works well for everyone.

The Need for Everyone to Get Along:

Here's the thing: making good AI isn't just a job for scientists or tech companies. It's something that affects all of us, so everyone should have a say. That means governments, businesses, and regular people need to talk about what they want AI to do (and what they don't want it to do). It's like how towns have meetings to decide on new rules or projects – everyone's voice matters.

The Big Picture – AI for Good:

The goal isn't just to make super smart machines; it's to use these machines to solve big problems. Think about fighting diseases, stopping climate change, or making sure everyone has enough food. AI could be a superhero for the planet, but only if we're smart about how we use it.


As we race towards a future filled with AI, it's super important to think about how it will change our world. This isn't just about making cool tech; it's about making sure the future is a good place for everyone. By working together and thinking carefully about the rules, we can use AI to build a better world.

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