Reed Hoffman is on a mission: to show that artificial intelligence can improve humanity

Reid Hoffman, a billionaire businessman and venture capital investor, worries about artificial intelligence — but not for the headline-grabbing doomsday reasons. Instead, he fears that the headlines on Judgment Day will be too negative.

So in recent months, Mr. Hoffman has engaged in a rigorous thought-drive regimen extolling the virtues of artificial intelligence and has done so in blog posts, TV interviews, and sidekicks. He has spoken to government officials around the world. He hosts three podcasts and a YouTube channel. And in March, he published a book, “Impromptu,” which he co-wrote with the GPT-4 artificial intelligence tool.

It’s all part of the AI ​​public grabbing the ground in readiness for when the initial rush of fear and hype about the technology settles into a coherent debate. Aspects will be chosen, regulation will be proposed, and technical tools will be politicized. For now, industry leaders like Mr. Hoffman are trying to push the terms of the debate in their favour, even as public concerns grow.

“I bang the positive drum very loudly,” he said, “and I do it on purpose.”

Few are so entwined in the many facets of a fast-moving industry as Mr. Hoffman. The 55-year-old sits on the boards of 11 tech companies including Microsoft, which has been involved in artificial intelligence, and eight non-profit organizations. His venture capital firm, Greylock Partners, has backed at least 37 AI companies. He was among the early investors in OpenAI, the most prominent AI startup, and recently left its board of directors. He also helped found Inflection AI, an AI chatbot startup that has raised at least $225 million.

Then there’s his more abstract goal of “uplifting humanity,” or helping people improve their conditions, a concept he conveys in a style that’s both affable and matter-of-fact. Mr. Hoffman believes AI is critical to this mission, and as examples cites its potential to transform areas like health care — “giving everyone a medical assistant”; And education – “to give a teacher to all.”

“This is part of the responsibility we have to think about here,” he said.

Mr. Hoffman is among a small group of close-knit tech executives leading the charge of artificial intelligence, many of whom also spearheaded the recent Internet boom. He is a member of the “PayPal Mafia” of former PayPal executives including Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. The latter two supported DeepMind, an AI startup acquired by Google, and all three were early supporters of OpenAI. Jessica Livingston, founder of startup incubator Y Combinator, has also invested money in OpenAI; Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, was previously the President of Y Combinator.

Mr. Musk has now started his own artificial intelligence company, X.AI. Mr. Thiel’s Founders Fund has backed more than 70 AI companies, including OpenAI, according to PitchBook, which tracks startup investments. Mr. Altman has invested in several AI startups as well as managing OpenAI, which itself has invested in seven AI startups through its startup fund. And Y Combinator’s latest batch of startups included 78 AI-focused companies, nearly double its last batch.

Technology leaders disagree about the risks and opportunities of AI, and have been vocally promoting their views in the marketplace of ideas.

Mr. Musk recently warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence on a Bill Maher show and in a meeting with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY. Mr. Hoffman explained the technology’s potential to Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Last week, Mr. Altman told a congressional hearing that “the benefits of the tools we’ve deployed so far greatly outweigh the risks.”

In Mr. Hoffman’s view, warnings about the existential danger of AI to humanity overstate what the technology can do. He believes that other potential problems caused by AI — job losses, the destruction of democracy, the disruption of the economy — have a clear solution: more technology.

“Solutions live in the future, not by perpetuating the past,” he said.

This is a difficult step for an audience that has witnessed the harmful effects of technology over the past decade, including misinformation on social media and accidents of self-driving vehicles. This time, the stakes are higher, said Oded Netzer, a professor at Columbia Business School.

“It’s not just about the risks, it’s about the speed at which they move, I don’t think we can hope or trust that the industry will regulate itself,” Mr. Netzer said of tech companies’ handling of AI.

He said Mr Hoffman’s pro-Amnesty campaign aims to boost trust where it is broken. “It does not mean that there will not be some damage in some areas,” he said. “The question is can we learn and iterate to a much better state?”

Mr. Hoffman has been pondering this question since he studied symbolic systems at Stanford University in the late 1980s. There, imagine how artificial intelligence will facilitate our “Promethean moment,” he said in a YouTube video from March. “We can make these new things and we can travel with them.”

After working at PayPal and co-founding LinkedIn, the professional social network, in 2002, Mr. Hoffman began investing in startups including Nauto, Nuro, and Aurora Innovation, all focused on applying AI technology to transportation. He also joined DeepMind’s AI Ethics Committee.

Mr. Hoffman differs from other venture capitalists, Mostafa Suleiman, co-founder of DeepMind, in that his primary motivation was to do good in the world.

“How can we be of service to humanity? He used to ask that question all the time,” said Mr. Suleiman.

When Mr. Suleiman started working on his latest startup, Inflection AI, he found Mr. Hoffman’s strategy advice so useful that he asked him to help found the company. Greylock invested in the startup last year.

Mr. Hoffman was also there in the early days of OpenAI. At an Italian restaurant in San Jose, Calif., in 2015 he met with Mr. Musk and Mr. Altman to discuss the beginnings of the company, whose mission is to ensure that the most powerful artificial intelligence “benefits all of humanity.”

Several years later, when OpenAI was considering corporate partnerships, Mr. Hoffman said he encouraged Mr. Altman to meet with Microsoft, which bought LinkedIn in 2016.

Mr. Altman said he was initially concerned that Microsoft, a giant that has a duty to put its shareholders first, might not take seriously OpenAI’s mission and unusual structure for determining its profits. In any big, complex deal, Mr. Altman said, “everyone worries about ‘How is this really going to work?'” “

Mr. Hoffman helped make things easier. He talked Mr. Altman through various interests while wearing metaphorical “hats” as an OpenAI board member, as a Microsoft board member, and as himself.

“You have to be really clear about which hat you’re talking to,” Mr. Hoffman said.

Mr. Altman said that Mr. Hoffman helped OpenAI “model Microsoft and think about what they care about, what they’re good at, what they’ll be bad at, and what they’re like for us.”

In 2019, OpenAI and Microsoft entered into a $1 billion agreement, propelling it to the leading position it is today. (To avoid a conflict of interest, Mr. Hoffman was not part of the negotiations and abstained from voting to approve the deal in each House.)

A little over a year ago, when Mr. Hoffman saw OpenAI’s progress on the GPT-3 language model, he had another moment at Promethean. He instantly turned a switch on AI in almost everything he was working on, including Greylock’s new investments and existing startups as well as his podcast, book, and discussions with government officials.

“It was basically like, ‘If it’s not like that, it better be something very important to the community,'” he said.

OpenAI launched a chatbot, ChatGPT, in November, which became a sensation. Greylock One Greylock investment, Tome, integrated OpenAI’s GPT-3 technology into its “storytelling” software right away. Keith Pearce said that the number of Tome users rose to six million from a few thousand teams, Tommy CEO.

Mr. Hoffman said his approach has been shaped in part by his access to “very high-quality streams of information,” some of which is through his business relationships with Microsoft, OpenAI, and others. Some are through various charitable causes, such as the Center for Artificial Intelligence at Stanford.

Some of them are through his political connections. He has poured millions of dollars into Democratic campaigns and political action committees. He said Barack Obama is a friend.

For now, he’s using his influence to paint a picture of AI-driven progress. Tech insiders cheer him on. The rest of the world is more skeptical. A recent poll by Reuters and Ipsos showed that 61 percent of Americans believe that artificial intelligence could pose a threat to humanity.

Hofmann dismisses these concerns as exaggerated. He expects the more real problems facing AI, including its tendency to divulge incorrect information, to be resolved as tech companies upgrade their systems and deploy to help.

Looking into the future, he said, there will be more investments, more podcasts, more conversations with government officials, and more work on Inflection AI. He stressed that the way to deal with the risks of artificial intelligence is by directing the world towards the positives.

“I am a technical optimist,” he said, “not a technical utopian.”

Kid Metz Contribute to the preparation of reports.

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