Sam Altman has experienced a meteoric rise through the pantheon of American software engineers, and became one of the most well-known entrepreneurs in the world in 2022 with the emergence of ChatGPT, an Artificial Intelligence chatbot that was a vast improvement on previous chatbots and had a free interface that anyone could sample.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, US in 1985, Altman grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and received his first computer at the age of eight. He was hooked on them from then and headed to Stanford University in 2004 to study computer science. But after just one year, he dropped out to start his life as a software engineer and entrepreneur, forming Loopt, a social network mobile app that was location based. He was a hit with Silicon Valley investors, who dropped more than $30 million into the idea, but it couldn’t seem to acquire enough users. He sold it when he was 26 in 2012 for $43.4 million, though.
In 2011, he went to work for Y Combinator, a startup accelerator that has launched more than 4,000 companies including heavy hitters like Reddit, Twitch, Stripe, DoorDash, Airbnb, and Dropbox. He was named president of Y Combinator in 2014 and expanded his role to president of the YC Group in 2016. He kept expanding the group with an equity fund and a non-profit research lab, but eventually took a move from president to Chairman of the Board as he began to focus on OpenAI, which he had been a founding member of in 2015 along with the likes of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Amazon Web Services.
After four years of only doing research, OpenAI switched to a for-profit mentality, announcing it would start licensing its technologies to harness the power of Artificial Intelligence. That started in 2020 with GPT-3, a natural language model that could translate between languages. In 2021, OpenAI added DALL-E, which could generate digital images from natural language descriptions.
The company came into the public eye at the end of 2022 when it debuted the free preview of ChatGPT, its latest AI-powered chatbot. The following month, Microsoft invested $10 billion in OpenAI and ChatGPT was integrated into the Bing search engine. In 2023, he was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. He was previously named Forbes’ top investor under 30 in 2015.