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He's a distinguished American entrepreneur and tech executive known for his pivotal role in shaping the startup landscape and advancing artificial intelligence (AI) research. Today, he's one of the biggest players in the AI revolution, best known for being the CEO of OpenAI – the company behind ChatGPT. He also has a reported net worth between US$500 million and US$700 million.
From St. Louis, Missouri, to Stanford dropout to the president of the most influential startup accelerators globally, Y Combinator – here's a rundown of the CEO of one of the hottest startups in the world today.
Early life and education
Sam Altman was born on April 22, 1985, in St. Louis, Missouri, in the US. He went to Stanford University, where he studied computer science but dropped out to pursue entrepreneurship.
Altman co-founded his first startup, Loopt, in 2005. Loopt was a location-based social networking mobile app that let users connect with friends and discover nearby places. The company received venture funding and was an early player in the location-based services space.
Altman became widely known as the president of Y Combinator (YC), one of the most influential startup accelerators in the world that has nurtured the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, Twitch, Stripe and more.
He played a significant role in shaping the startup ecosystem through YC.
In 2019, Altman also co-founded Worldcoin, a crypto project that's been in the works for years. Its mission is to tackle the challenge of distinguishing human-made content from AI-generated stuff. One way it’ll do that is with its World ID, a "digital passport" that proves someone is a flesh-and-blood human and not some AI bot. To get one, you have to go through an in-person iris scan with the company’s “orb,” a shiny silver ball about the size of a bowling ball.
Altman and co-founder Alex Blania said that World IDs are a game-changer in the age of AI tech like ChatGPT. They'll help distinguish real people from AI bots online, tackling identity verification and fraud issues. Altman also believes AI will revolutionize the economy. Now, Worldcoin's ambitious goal is to get 2 billion users on board after the official launch, according to Altman.
In March 2019, Altman became the CEO of OpenAI, an organization dedicated to advancing AI research in a safe and beneficial way. OpenAI has been at the forefront of AI research and is known for developing advanced large language models like ChatGPT.
Altman has publicly admitted that he doesn't know how powerful AI will become, what its increasing use and growth will mean for the average person or whether or not it'll put our world and humankind at risk.
Investments and advisory roles
In addition to his work at Loopt, YC and OpenAI, Altman personally invested in various startups and has served as an advisor to several tech companies.
In his portfolio are companies such as Airbnb, Stripe, Reddit, Asana, Pinterest, Teespring, Shoptiques, Instacart, Optimizely, Verbling, Soylent and Retro Biosciences. On top of all this, he serves as the board chairman for Helion and Oklo, two nuclear energy companies.
Altman has been a vegetarian since he was a kid. He's openly gay and used to date one of the co-founders of Loopt, Nick Sivo, for about nine years. They separated when the company was bought in 2012.
As of 2023, his partner is Australian software engineer Oliver Mulherin, and he lives in San Francisco's Russian Hill neighborhood.
He's said before that he's a "prepper," which is essentially someone who takes proactive steps to prepare for and be self-sufficient in case of emergencies or disasters. Oftentimes, what this involves is stockpiling food, water, medical supplies and other necessities and acquiring skills for survival, like first aid and self-defense. In fact, in 2016, he said, "I have things like guns, gold, potassium iodide, antibiotics, batteries, water, gas masks from the Israeli Defense Force, and a big piece of land in Big Sur that I can go to if needed."