Sunday, June 23, 2024

Sam Altman says helpful agents are poised to become AI’s killer function

Computer scienceSam Altman says helpful agents are poised to become AI’s killer function

It’s a leap from OpenAI’s current offerings. Its leading applications, like DALL-E, Sora, and ChatGPT (which Altman referred to as “incredibly dumb” compared with what’s coming next), have wowed us with their ability to generate convincing text and surreal videos and images. But they mostly remain tools we use for isolated tasks, and they have limited capacity to learn about us from our conversations with them. 

In the new paradigm, as Altman sees it, the AI will be capable of helping us outside the chat interface and taking real-world tasks off our plates. 

Altman on AI hardware’s future 

I asked Altman if we’ll need a new piece of hardware to get to this future. Though smartphones are extraordinarily capable, and their designers are already incorporating more AI-driven features, some entrepreneurs are betting that the AI of the future will require a device that’s more purpose built. Some of these devices are already beginning to appear in his orbit. There is the (widely panned) wearable AI Pin from Humane, for example (Altman is an investor in the company but has not exactly been a booster of the device). He is also rumored to be working with former Apple designer Jony Ive on some new type of hardware. 

But Altman says there’s a chance we won’t necessarily need a device at all. “I don’t think it will require a new piece of hardware,” he told me, adding that the type of app envisioned could exist in the cloud. But he quickly added that even if this AI paradigm shift won’t require consumers buy a new hardware, “I think you’ll be happy to have [a new device].” 

Though Altman says he thinks AI hardware devices are exciting, he also implied he might not be best suited to take on the challenge himself: “I’m very interested in consumer hardware for new technology. I’m an amateur who loves it, but this is so far from my expertise.”

On the hunt for training data

Upon hearing his vision for powerful AI-driven agents, I wondered how it would square with the industry’s current scarcity of training data. To build GPT-4 and other models, OpenAI has scoured internet archives, newspapers, and blogs for training data, since scaling laws have long shown that making models bigger also makes them better. But finding more data to train on is a growing problem. Much of the internet has already been slurped up, and access to private or copyrighted data is now mired in legal battles. 

Altman is optimistic this won’t be a problem for much longer, though he didn’t articulate the specifics. 

“I believe, but I’m not certain, that we’re going to figure out a way out of this thing of you always just need more and more training data,” he says. “Humans are existence proof that there is some other way to [train intelligence]. And I hope we find it.”

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