Why OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is excited about the future of education
Of all the ways artificial intelligence can transform a vast range of sectors, the entrepreneur behind ChatGPT is most excited about its potential to change education.
During the event, Mr Altman was interviewed by Melbourne Business School Chief's Learning Innovation Officer Dr Nora Koslowski. He also took questions from the audience of founders, developers, business leaders and tech enthusiasts during a Q&A session facilitated by The Startup Network CEO Vicki Stirling.
Speaking about AI's potential to drive innovation, supercharge productivity and redefine what it means to be human, Mr Altman said he was particularly excited about the impact AI would have on education.
"Education is very high on the list of things I am most excited about, using this technology to increase the rate of scientific progress," Mr Altman said.
"I am a huge believer that the only sustainable way that our lives all get better is scientific, technological progress.
"If we can get more by building better tools, which we can, this is an exciting time for that. It's not going to be about what I, or any other one person, thinks. It is the creative energy of the world when you give them a new tool that always astonishes you."
Mr Altman said AI would be transformative for education – particularly if it was able to level the playing field between students who could afford extra help and those who couldn't by providing a good-enough alternative to one-on-one human tutoring.
"The difference between classroom education and one-on-one tutoring is like two standard deviations – unbelievable difference," he said.
"Most people just can't afford one-on-one tutoring... If we can combine one-on-one tutoring to every child with the things that only a human teacher can provide, the sort of support, I think that combination is just going to be incredible for education."
AI to drive innovation and productivity
Melbourne was the last stop for Mr Altman on a whirlwind speaking tour that saw the former president of Y Combinator visit 28 cities across six continents in the space of a few weeks.
When asked by Dr Koslowski what he had learned during the tour, Mr Altman said he was surprised to see the level of excitement and optimism for AI that government leaders had – as well as an awareness of the associated risks.
"The economic possibilities, the social possibilities, the way this is going to improve people's lives – there's a lot of excitement and a desire to make sure that we don't slow that down or put a regulation in place that slows new startups down," he said.
"And then also much more acknowledgement than I was expecting about superintelligence being something that we have to take seriously – potentially in the short-term – and the risks that could come with it."
Mr Altman and Dr Koslowski also discussed what the AI revolution could mean for innovation and productivity in countries such as Australia.
"One of the exciting things about this AI revolution that has just started is it's a full reset for everyone," Mr Altman said.
"Everybody gets to start over.
"For new companies or existing companies that really want to innovate, the rules just changed."
Noting that the AI revolution would surpass the mobile revolution and possibly the internet, Mr Altman said a big part of the excitement around AI was its potential to grow productivity to "astronomical" levels.
"You talk to computer programmers, they'll say 'I'm two times, three times more productive, sometimes more'. Then it'll go up to 20 or 30 times more productive," he said.
"And when you have a 20x or 30x productivity gain, it becomes a qualitative change in what someone can do.
"It kind of gets to like everybody is running their medium-sized company. You can really output a lot of things."
How leaders can prepare their workforce
Given AI's potential to drive rapid, disruptive change, Dr Koslowski asked Mr Altman how business leaders could prepare their workforce and begin adopting AI tools like ChatGPT in their operations.
Mr Altman said that experimenting with the technology to see what may be useful was the best place to start.
"The thing that we've seen work the best is companies that just say: 'We're going to have everybody start using ChatGPT. Everybody, start building on the API. We don't know what's going to make sense, but we're going to have a very high rate of experimentation.'
"It may take a few weeks to figure out exactly what workflows are going to change... but leaning all the way in and just saying 'we're going to try this for everything and see where it works' – that seems to be the best approach."
Dr Koslowski also asked Mr Altman some big questions about the future of AI and humanity, including: Where would humanity find meaning? How would superintelligence change the definition of our species?
Mr Altman said that he believed humans would find new challenges to tackle as the tools they used became more powerful.
"I think every problem we solve is a greater and greater triumph and leads to greater and greater and more interesting problems," he said.
"I've never believed this thing like we're going to build an AI and then we're all going to sit around and play video games.
"I think we'll have this tool that'll do a lot of the things that we do now, or did in the past, and we will go on to do and care about new things."