LONDON — Sam Altman, the president of Silicon Valley startup incubator Y Combinator, said in an on-stage interview on Monday that he sees the future of the human race as a “merge” with machines, not a conflict with them.
Altman, who spoke at the event hosted by Mosaic Ventures in East London, said that “if you have the AIs [artificial intelligence] 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. He suggested that humanity could either plug electrodes into our brains and upload them to computers, or have a deeper relationship with existing technology.
“I think we’re going to need something like that so that we’re one thing and it’s not us vs AI,” Altman suggested.
Automation shouldn’t lead to a loss of jobs
Y Combinator, which Altman heads, invests in a cohort of startups twice a year and provides them with mentoring, as well as seed funding. It has backed successful companies such as Reddit, Airbnb, and Dropbox.
The interviewers from Mosaic Ventures asked Altman about automation and its potential impact on manual labour and jobs. Unsurprisingly, Altman said he expects it to replace many traditional roles. “I expect that almost every job in a factory will be replaced by a robot in the next, let’s say, 10 years,” he said.
That replacement will cause “mega consequences” and “huge disruption,” according to Altman. But he suggests retraining people who stand to lose their jobs because of growing automation.
“I don’t think people working on an assembly line have found their highest, most fulfilling calling,” Altman said. “I take the mindset of we owe it to society as a whole to retrain people whose jobs we displace but if we can make them happier and have a better job and put their efforts, their talents, to better use, that’s still a net win.”
Microsoft founder Bill Gates suggested in an interview with Quartz in February that a way to offset rising automation could be to tax robots. Altman, however, said that he doesn’t think that’s such a good idea. “The taxing robots thing sounds good but I think it’s a sort of silly thing once you think through all of the consequences of that.”
Y Combinator isn’t considering a reality TV show
Elsewhere in the on-stage interview, Altman said people have asked him if he’d consider some kind of reality TV show version of Y Combinator where people could spectate what happens to startups that go through the incubator. Altman, however, isn’t keen on the idea.
“The answer is no,” he said. “We see other accelerators do reality TV and that makes us cringe so much. I can’t imagine any good founder wanting to do that … All the eSports reality TV stuff just feels wrong.”
That’s a very different approach to Apple, which is preparing to launch its “Planet of the Apps” show on Apple Music. The show will see entrepreneurs and app developers pitching their startups to an expert panel of judges.
Altman isn’t a fan of Trump, but he accepts that there were ‘good reasons’ to vote for him
Altman also talked about his political views. “I’ve never felt so politically motivated in my life,” he said when asked about current US politics. “I think that what’s happening in the US right now scares me a lot.”
Altman isn’t a Trump supporter and was seen at a protest at San Francisco International Airport over Trump’s refugee ban.
But Altman did acknowledge that there were “a lot of good reasons to vote for Trump.”
Altman has come under fire for his company’s link to Trump via Silicon Valley veteran Peter Thiel. Gizmodo published an article last year titled “Sam Altman Should Resign from Y Combinator” in which it criticised the executive over his refusal to denounce Thiel.
Altman told the audience in London that he could understand why people would vote for Trump. “The things that make a company’s graphs go up and to the right, the things that incite those passions in people, are not necessarily things that are best for our society,” Altman said.
Altman said he hopes that Trump’s presidency is “a short, black mark in our history that yields a great response and is a rallying cry for people to come together.”
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