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Five big takeaways from Sam Altman's conversation with Trevor Noah

Brian Contreras, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

When Sam Altman was abruptly fired last month as CEO of artificial intelligence powerhouse OpenAI, the rupture left him with a lot of thinking to do.

But looking back on the experience, Altman told comedian Trevor Noah in a video podcast released Thursday morning, there may have been some upside.

"The empathy I gained out of this whole experience, and my recompilation of values, for sure was a blessing in disguise," Altman told the former "Daily Show" host in one of his first major interviews since triumphantly returning to the tech company. "It was at a painful cost, but I'm happy to have had the experience in that sense."

It was one of several subjects the technologist — whose company is behind major consumer AI products such as ChatGPT and DALL-E, making him the face of the current AI boom in many ways — opened up about on the latest episode of Noah's Spotify podcast "What Now?"

1. Altman was at the Las Vegas Grand Prix when he got fired.

In response to a question from Noah about where he was when he got the news that the OpenAI board had fired him, Altman said he was where a lot of rich, influential Californians were at the time: Las Vegas, for the Formula One Grand Prix.

 

"I never got to watch any race that whole weekend," he told the host as the two sat around a simple wooden table in what they implied was OpenAI's office. "I was in my hotel room, took this call, had no idea what it was gonna be, and got fired by the board."

His phone started blowing up with messages to the point where iMessage stopped working, Altman added. Employees began quitting; Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI, was calling people up.

Returning to OpenAI was not yet on his mind, Altman continued, but he knew he wanted to keep working on developing generalized artificial intelligence. He flew back to California and started contemplating his next move.

"It felt like a dream," Altman said of the experience. "I was confused, it was chaotic. It did not feel real."

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