Reid Hoffman is on the board of 11 tech companies, including Microsoft which has focused on AI and eight non-profits.
The billionaire venture capitalist and entrepreneur is concerned about
But not because of the headline-grabbing doomsday scenarios. He is worried that the headlines about doomsday are too negative.
Hoffman has been a thought leader in the AI field for many months now. He has done this in blog posts and television interviews. He has addressed government officials all over the world. He has three podcasts, and a YouTube Channel. In March, he co-authored a book called "Impromptu" with a friend.
All of this is part of a land grab to gain public opinion on AI, in anticipation of when the initial flurry of hype and fear over the technology will settle into a coherent discussion. The tech tools will be politicized, sides will be picked, regulations will be proposed and the technology will be politicized. Hoffman and other industry leaders are currently trying to influence the conversation in their favor even though public concern seems to be growing. He said: "I am deliberately and loudly pounding the drum of positivity."
Hoffman is a rare individual who has a hand in so many aspects of this fast-moving field. The 55-year old sits on 11 boards, including
Eight nonprofits and Greylock Partners, his venture capital firm, have backed at least 37 AI companies. Greylock Partners has invested in at least 37 AI startups. He was one of the first investors to invest in
He recently left the board of Inflection AI, the AI chatbot startup that has raised at least $225 million. He helped to found Inflection AI - an AI chatbot company that has raised over $225 million.
Then there's his abstract goal, which is to "elevate humanity" or help people improve their lives, a concept that he conveys in a friendly, factual manner. Hoffman says AI is crucial to this mission, and cites examples like the potential of AI to transform education and health care by "giving everybody a tutor" and "giving everyone an assistant".
He said, "That's a part of our responsibility here." Hoffman is one of a select group of tech executives who are leading the AI charge. Many of them also led the previous internet boom. He is part of the former "PayPal mafia".
Elon Musk, Peter Thiel and other executives are included. Both backed by Elon Musk
OpenAI was founded by Jessica Livingston, a founder of the startup incubator Y Combinator. Sam Altman, OpenAI's CEO, used to be president of Y Combinator. Jessica Livingston is the founder of Y Combinator and also invested in OpenAI. Sam Altman was previously the president of Y Combinator. Musk now has his own AI firm, X.AI. According to PitchBook which tracks startup investment, Thiel's venture fund, Founders Fund has backed over 70 AI companies including OpenAI. Altman, who runs OpenAI and has also invested in AI startups, has done so in addition to running OpenAI. OpenAI has itself invested in seven AI companies through its startup funds. Y Combinator’s latest batch included 78 startups focused on AI. This is nearly twice as many as its previous group. They have been promoting their views in the marketplace of Ideas. The tech leaders disagree on AI's opportunities and risks. Musk warned about AI's dangers in Bill Maher’s show, and in a meeting with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Hoffman explained the technology's possibilities to Vice President Kamalah Harris, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Altman told a congressional committee last week that the "benefits of the tools we've deployed so far vastly exceed the risks." Hoffman believes that warnings of AI's existence-threatening threat to humanity are overstating what technology is capable of. He also believes that AI can cause other issues, such as job losses, the destruction of democracy and disruptions to the economy. The obvious solution is more technology. He said, "The future is the place to be, and not the past." This can be a difficult pitch for a public who has witnessed the negative effects of tech over the last decade, such as social media misinformation or autonomous vehicle accidents. Oded Neter, professor at Columbia Business School, says that the risks this time are much greater. Netzer said that the handling of AI by tech companies is not only about risks but also how quickly they move. I don't believe we can trust or hope that the industry will self-regulate. He said Hoffman's pro AI campaign is intended to restore trust in areas where it has been damaged. He said that "it's not to suggest there won't some harms" in certain areas. The question is, "Can we learn from our mistakes and improve?" Hoffman has thought about this question ever since he was studying symbolic systems at Stanford University, in the late 80s. In a March YouTube video, Hoffman imagined that AI could facilitate "our Promethean Moment". "We can create these new things, and we can travel with them." Hoffman, who had previously worked at PayPal and founded LinkedIn, a professional social network in 2002, began investing in startups such as Nauto, Nuro, and Aurora Innovation. All three companies are focused on using AI technology in transportation. He joined the AI ethics committee of DeepMind. Mustafa Suleyman said that Hoffman was different from other venture capitalists because his main motivation was to do good in the world. How can we serve humanity? Suleyman said that Hoffman asked this question constantly. Suleyman found Hoffman's advice so valuable when he began to work on Inflection AI. He asked Hoffman to help him found the company. Greylock invested last year in the startup. Hoffman was there as well in the early days of OpenAI. In 2015, Hoffman met Musk and Altman at an Italian restaurant in San Jose to discuss the early days of OpenAI, whose mission is to ensure that the most powerful AI benefits "all of humanity". Hoffman told me that several years later, as OpenAI began to think about corporate partnerships and Altman was preparing for a meeting with Microsoft (which had acquired LinkedIn in 2016), he encouraged Altman. Altman admitted that he initially worried Microsoft, as a giant with a duty of prioritizing its shareholders, would not take OpenAI's unusual structure for capping profits and its mission seriously. Altman stated that "everyone is anxious" about how a large and complicated deal will work. Hoffman smoothed things out. He spoke to Altman about his concerns, while wearing various metaphorical "hats", including those of an OpenAI board, a Microsoft member, and himself.
Hoffman: "You need to be very clear with which hat you are talking."
Altman stated Hoffman assisted OpenAI in "modeling Microsoft, thinking about what would be important to them, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how we can be similar." OpenAI and Microsoft signed a $1 billion deal in 2019, which propelled both companies to the top of their field. Hoffman did not participate in the negotiations, and he abstained on voting for the approval of the deal at each board. Hoffman had another Promethean Moment a little more than a year earlier, when he saw the progress OpenAI made on its GPT-3 Language Model. He turned on AI for nearly all of his projects, including Greylock’s new investments, existing startups, as well as discussions with government officials, his book, podcast and discussions. He said, "It was like, if it's nothing, then it better be something absolutely critical for the society." OpenAI launched a chatbot in November called ChatGPT. It became an instant hit. Tome, a Greylock investment company, integrated OpenAI GPT-3 into its "storytelling software" immediately. Keith Peiris said that Tome users grew from a small number of teams to six million. Hoffman explained that his "access to extremely high-quality information flow" influenced his approach. He has benefited from his relationships with Microsoft and OpenAI, among others. Some are through his philanthropic work, such as Stanford University's Center for Artificial Intelligence. Some of his money comes from his political connections. He has invested millions of dollars in Democratic campaigns and political action groups. He said Barack Obama was a good friend. He's currently using his influence to paint an image of AI-driven advancement. Tech insiders applaud his cheerleading. The rest of world is more sceptical. Recent research conducted by Reuters & Ipsos revealed that 61% Americans think AI is a danger to humanity. Hoffman dismisses these fears as exaggerated. He believes that tech companies will upgrade their systems, and then deploy them, to solve the AI's more tangible issues, such as its tendency to give out inaccurate information. He said that in the future, there will more investment, more podcasts and more conversations with government officials. Also, Inflection AI will continue to be developed. He said that the best way to manage AI's potential risks is to steer the world in the direction of positive things. He said: "I am a techno optimist, and not a techno utopian."