From Brazil to Nigeria, via Europe and Asia, Sam Altman, head of OpenAI and creator of ‘ChatGPT’, is traveling the world to reassure about the risks of artificial intelligence and warn against regulatory projects that may be too restrictive.
A set of 16 cities in 5 continents, face-to-face meetings with heads of state, conferences at universities and even an appearance at the meeting that the Bilderberg group, the discreet club of world political and economic leaders, held in Lisbon last week. That is the impressive poster of the “OpenAI Tour”, as the Californian tech company called it.
The tour illustrates the status of the global guru of artificial intelligence that Sam Altman, 38, has gained following the lightning success of his‘ChatGPT’. But now, he must respond to the fears it provokes: misinformation, election rigging, massive job destruction, theft from creators, and even a global threat to humanity.
The need for answers is pressing, since Europe and the United States are studying to regulate the sector, numerous personalities requested a pause in the investigation in March and Italy suspended ChatGPT for 3 weeks for non-consensual use of personal data. Last Saturday, the G7 countries decided to create a working group and, in Brussels, European Commissioner Thierry Breton suggested quickly launching a pact on artificial intelligence (AI).
Sam Altman explained on Twitter that he planned to meet with users and regulators during his tour. His seduction campaign began with an appearance before US senators on May 16th, where he caused surprise by exclaiming: regulate me! Taking the lead, he declared that what scares him the most is that AI could cause “significant damage to the world” and proposed creating a global regulatory agency. However, he also considered that many jobs could be created and stressed the risks that too strict regulation could entail, since “if the American industry slows down, China or anyone else will be able to move faster”.
The next day, the executive traveled to Rio de Janeiro, and then went to Lagos (Nigeria) and Lisbon. This week, he visited Madrid, London, Paris, Warsaw and Munich. His next stops will be Tel Aviv, Dubai, New Delhi, Singapore, Jakarta, Seoul, Tokyo and Melbourne.
Is he kind of a tech “messiah”?
Through the cities through which he passes, Altman repeats his speech, which mixes optimism and warning, to try to convince that AI will not escape human control. “In [the group] Bilderberg, it was a bit scary”, commented one participant. “He also promised to be looking for a country in which to set up his European headquarters”, he added.
In Paris, Warsaw and Madrid he was received as if he were a head of state, meeting respectively with French President Emmanuel Macron and with the Polish and Spanish heads of government Mateusz Morawiecki and Pedro Sánchez, all of them eager to take advantage of this economic opportunity, although remembering the need to establish control.
At a Nigerian university, Altman promised a flourishing of start-ups and tried to redo the image of OpenAI, which used cheap African laborers to train the application’s language model. In Rio de Janeiro, at the Museum of Tomorrow, he defended the need to regulate, but insisted that he hopes ChatGPT will lead to “real scientific progress” and “improve people’s lives”. From the hands of the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, who was enthusiastic, he symbolically received the keys to the city.
In London, however, his arrival generated less consensus; at University College there was a line of students eager to listen to him, but also a protest with a handful of participants. “We should not let Silicon Valley billionaires with a ‘messiah’ complex decide what we want”, declared one student.
Meanwhile, Sam Altman warned that OpenAI could “cease to operate” in the European Union if the future regulation imposed too many limits. “We will try [to adapt to it] but there are technical limits to what is possible”, he told Time Magazine, explaining that he had “a lot” of criticism of the draft European regulations.