Late last week, in a rare sitting before a small audienceThis editor spent an hour with Sam Altman, former president of Y Combinator and, since 2019, CEO of Open AIthe company he famously co-founded with Elon Musk and several others in 2015 to develop artificial intelligence “for the benefit of humanity.”
The public wanted to know more about his plans for OpenAI, which has taken the world by storm in the past six weeks due to the public release of the ChatGPT language model, a chatbot that has teachers and others alike impressed and impressed. annoyed. (OpenAI’s DALL-E technology, which enables users to create digital images by simply describing what they imagine, generated only slightly less fanfare when it was released to the public earlier last year.)
Since Altman is also an activist investor — one of his biggest returns to date comes from payments startup Stripe, he said at the event — we spent the first half of our time together focusing on some of his more ambitious investments.
Learn more about these, including the hypersonic jet company And a startup that aims to help Creating babies from human skin cellsYou can set the 20-minute video below. (You’ll also hear Altman’s thoughts on Twitter under the direction of Elon Musk, and why Altman isn’t very interested in cryptocurrency or web3. “I like the soul of web3 users,” Altman said with a shrug. “But I don’t intuitively feel why we need it.)
We’ll be showing more of that full conversation, including OpenAI, soon. In the meantime, below is an excerpt from our discussion of one of Altman’s biggest bets: a nuclear fusion company called Helion Energy This, like OpenAI, aims to turn another elusive promise—this one of plenty of energy—into reality. The excerpt has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What makes a Sam Altman deal?
I’m just trying to do the things I’m interested in at this point. One of the things I’ve realized is all the companies that I think I’ve added a lot of value to are the ones that I like to think of in my spare time going on a picnic or whatever, and then text the founders and say, “Hey, I’ve got this idea for you.” ” Every founder deserves an investor who will think of them as they go the distance. And so I tried to catch myself with the things that I really like, which tends to be the hard technical, [involving] years of research and development, [is] Capital-intensive, or risky type of research. But if it works, it really works.
One particularly interesting investment is Helion Energy. I’ve funded this company since 2015, but when it announced a $500 million round last year, including 375 million dollars Check you out, I think this surprised people. There aren’t many people who can write a $375 million check.
Or, like many people want to [invest it] In a risky merger company.
What are your most successful investments to date?
I mean, maybe on a multiples basis, definitely on a multiples basis: Stripe. I also think this was, like, my second investment ever, so it seemed a lot easier. This was also a time when ratings were different; It was great. But, you know, I’ve been doing this for 17 years, so there’s been a lot of really good stuff, and I’m so grateful to be in Silicon Valley at this magical time.
Helion is more than an investment to me. It’s the other thing besides OpenAI that I’ve spent a lot of time on. I’m so excited about what’s going to happen there.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory made a breakthrough in nuclear fusion last month. (Using an approach involving giant lasers, her scientists announce the first fusion reaction ever produced in a laboratory environment More energy which was used to initiate the reaction.) I wonder what you think of their approach, which is very different from Helion’s (which is building a fusion machine It said long and narrow and you’ll use the aluminum electrode to compress the fuel, then expand it to get the electricity out of it).
I am so happy for them. I think it’s a very cool scientific result. As they said themselves, I don’t think it would be commercially relevant. And that’s what I’m excited about — not making fusion work in the lab, although that’s cool too, but building a system that works at a very low cost.
If you look at past energy transitions, if you can bring down the costs of a new form of energy, it could take over everything else in a couple of decades. And then also a system where we can produce enough power and enough reliable power, whether in terms of not breaking machines, not having intermittence or having to store solar energy or wind energy or something like that. If we can create enough for Earth in, like, 10 years — and I think that’s actually Helion’s toughest challenge as we map out what it takes practically to do that, to replace all the current generative capacity on Earth with fusion and do it very quickly and think about what it really means to build A factory being able to roll out two of these machines a day for a decade – that’s really hard but also a very interesting problem.
So I’m very happy that there’s a combinatorial race, I think that’s cool. I’m also very happy with the solar power and the batteries are getting really cheap. But I think what matters is who can supply the cheapest and most energy efficient ones.
Why is Hellion’s approach superior to what dozens of countries in the south of France are working on?
Yeah, well, this thing, Eater, I think it will probably work, but for what I said earlier, I think it would be commercially irrelevant. them too [themselves] I think it would be commercially irrelevant.
The thing that is very exciting to me about the Helion is that it is a simple machine at a reasonable cost and a reasonable size. There are a bunch of different items other than the giant [experimental machine being developed by these nations], but the very cool thing is that what comes out of the reaction are charged particles, not heat. almost all others [alternatives], like a coal plant or a natural gas plant or something else, produces heat that drives a steam turbine. Helion makes charged particles that push back the magnet and drive an electric current down the wire. There is no heat cycle at all. Thus it can be a simpler and more efficient system.
I think he missed the whole discussion about the merger however [is] Really cool. It also means that we don’t have to deal with so much nuclear material. We do not have a dangerous waste or even a dangerous system. You can touch it shortly after it turns off.
It is building Great facility Immediately. Has she proven her thesis yet?
We’ll have more to share there soon.