TRANSCRIPT AND SHOW NOTES:
On December 21st, Sam Altman published a blog with the title, “What I wish someone had told me.”
I’ll actually post show notes with this this Christmas Bytes edition so you can get the link to the full list if you want.
It’s interesting, but one in particular is really interesting.
Concentrate your resources on a small number of high-conviction bets; this is easy to say but evidently hard to do. You can delete more stuff than you think.
So what are Sam Altman’s “high conviction bets.” I would have guessed – Artificial Intelligence, Generative AI and the search for Artificial General Intelligence.
And you’d be right if you thought the same thing. After all he’s invested the past decade into Open AI.
Well, he’s invested his time. But what he hasn’t done isn’t where he’s placing his big bets
I’m sure he has some investments that are related to AI in some way. He’s invested as an angel investor in more than 100 startups and has holdings in other companies. But when we talk about “concentrating on a small number of high-conviction bets” where he’s placed his biggest bet is NOT in artificial intelligence.
It’s not easy to get definitive info on Altman but best estimate of his net worth is about 700 million dollars. He got in early on a number of investments including Stripe and Air BnB. So he’s not on the Forbes billionaire list, but he’s – let’s say – doing okay.
So out of that, what are his itwo large, or shall we say, “high conviction bets”:
The first is a firm called Helion Enterprises. Helion is a Washington based company aiming to tame nuclear fusion to create a limitless source of clean energy.
His second investment? A “healthy lifespan extension company” called Retro Biosciences. The goal of the company is to “add 10 good years to your life.”
This is certainly a high conviction bet. Back in March, MIT Technology reported that Altman had “emptied his bank account” to be the sole investor in Retro Biosciences writing cheques in a single year amounting to 180 million dollars.
Retro’s aim is to prolong human life by discovering how to rejuvenate our bodies, according to its CEO and cofounder, the entrepreneur Joe Betts-LaCroix.
Is any of this possible? Well so far, we probably generated enough net power from fusion to power a toaster. I’m not diminishing this, but it’s by no means a sure thing as a commercial venture, although there’s lots of talk about reactors being commercially available in the next decade. But so far, there’s nothing that proves this can really happen.
And the Retro BioSciences? They are looking at “reprogramming mature cells by some kind of genetic intervention” which will issue instructions to turn mature cells into youthful cells. It’s reverses aging.
If it works.
It’s not a new idea. Larry Page put money into a similar effort 10 years ago. Jeff Bezos has pumped billions in to Altos Labs aiming to prevent diseases and aging.
Some scientists call it impossible. Others say that they know what has to be done, it’s just an engineering challenge to actually make it work.
So Altman is betting big time on two possibly impossible investments. Both of these have been the holy grail for centuries from the time explore Ponce de Leon went off in search of the fountain of youth. And Nicola Tesla’s brilliant career was destroyed by his goal to provide free wireless power to the world.
So Altman is placing his two big bets on these. Both of which, by the way, will not succeed on his own money. They will have to raise billions more to meet the engineering challenges and to then commercialize these offerings.
So what’s the deal with AI? If these are his big bets? Why not pour your time into them. And that’s where the story gets interesting.
If you had something that you thought was theoretically possible, but would be an incredible engineering challenge – and you needed to solve that challenge, one that might be so complex that humans will struggle for decades or more trying to get it to work?
If that was the case wouldn’t it be great if you had a greater computing capability that could navigate the complexity of the mathematics of fusion – or map the human genome to understand how to reverse aging?
Like an artificial general intelligence?
Hmmm. Author F Scott Fitzgerald once said that “The truest sign of intelligence is the ability to entertain two contradictory ideas simultaneously.”
I have no doubt that this is true. But there’s another type of intelligence that can link seemingly different things together into a cohesive vision.
Has Altman found that? Is his end game leveraging Artificial General Intelligence to achieve limitless power and give us, if not immortality, at least longer, healthier life spans?
And even though there are lots of skeptics, me included, who aren’t sure that these are possible, at least in this century – I think the recent curfuffle at OpenAI has taught everyone one thing.
Don’t bet against Sam Altman.
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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!