Sam Altman / Sama depicting an image of the man with two polo shirts on.

Sam Altman / Sama

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Updated May 17, 2024 at 12:54PM EDT by Zach.

Added May 16, 2024 at 10:12AM EDT by Aidan Walker.

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About

Sam Altman, also known as Sama, is a tech founder and CEO of OpenAI, the company responsible for artificial intelligence models and generators such as ChatGPT, Sora and DALL-E. Prior to his work for OpenAI, Altman helped lead Y Combinator, a prominent Silicon Valley start-up incubator, and Loopt, a location services start-up. Since entering the public spotlight in the late 2000s, Altman has been the subject of significant discourse, media coverage and memes.

Career

Altman was born in 1985 and attended Stanford University, dropping out in 2005 to found Loopt, a social network and mapping start-up that relied on sharing your tracked movements with your friends, which he sold in 2012.

After the sale of Loopt, Altman became involved in venture capital, investing in start-ups and technology companies. He became a partner at Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley talent incubator and investment fund responsible for helping launch, staff and fund companies like Airbnb, Doordash, Instacart, Dropbox, Reddit and Twitch. From 2014 to 2019, Altman was President of Y Combinator.



He left Y Combinator in 2019 to become CEO of OpenAI, a position he has held continuously since then, except for a brief period in 2023 when he was fired and rehired as the organization's leader. Altman is notably a billionaire as of May 2024.[1]

Online History

Altman has maintained a blog since 2013 where he periodically posts his thoughts on a variety of topics but generally on the qualities of successful people or start-ups and his analysis of current events.[2] Altman started his Twitter / X account in July 2006 and has 2.9 million followers on that platform as of May 2024.[3] He is notable for posting in all-lowercase letters.

Double Popped Collar at WWDC Conference 2008

On June 9th, 2008, Altman presented his geolocation and social networking app Loopt at a developer expo for Apple's new iPhone, where he pitched Loopt as an app for the iPhone. While presenting, Altman wore two neon-collared polo shirts, one on top of the other. This sartorial choice was heavily remarked upon at the time. The video (seen below) posted by CNET of Altman's pitch received over 115,000 views over the course of 15 years.[4]



The double-popped collar choice was remembered by people within the tech community as a subject of discussion back in 2008. On December 16th, 2017, X user @buzz received over 50 likes for quote-tweeting a post about Altman's shirt choices, which had received over 1,000 likes in seven years (seen below).[8]


buzz@andersen.social @buzz Dec 16, 2017 It's amusing that a whole generation of techies now know Sam Altman only as the powerful head of Y Combinator, not as WWDC 2008 Popped Collar Dude. Tom Dale @tomdale Dec 15, 2017 This is uncomfortable, but it's possible we have to allow people to wear not one but two neon polo shirts if we want them to be able to build derivative location sharing apps. am Altman of Executive opt

On June 9th, 2008, tech blogger John Gruber mocked Altman's "ill-fitting" polo shirts, earning 60 likes over the course of nearly 16 years (seen below).[10]


John Gruber @gruber Loopt is a location-based social network for douchebags who wear two ill-fitting polo shirts at the same time. 1:40 PM Jun 9, 2008 172 60 ☐ 1 L→

As Altman's level of fame increased, other posters brought up the 2008 two-collar incident. For example, X user @thatguybg referred to Altman's transformation since 2008 as a "glow-up," earning over 670 likes in two months on March 2nd, 2024 (seen below).[9]


brett goldstein @thatguybg. Mar 2 TIL sam altman's first co was a cliche location sharing app and he used to wear a double popped collar if he can glow up, so can you Back in 2008 when Sam Altman ran the app Loopt Sam Altman, CEO Loopt NEWS.COM WORLDWIDE DEVELOPERS CONF. 2008 criet 0:00/1:28 × 71

Removal and Reinstatement As Open AI CEO

On November 17th, 2023, Altman was fired as CEO of OpenAI, leading to a spurt of memes and speculation about the internal workings of the company behind ChatGPT. Altman was fired from his position while Greg Brockman was released as the chairman of the board of directors.

AI and tech enthusiasts on X and Reddit, among other sites, shared memes and discourse about Altman's controversial firing, which was reportedly due to him withholding information from the board. Altman acknowledged his firing in an X post on the same day (seen below).


Sam Altman @sama i loved my time at openai. it was transformative for me personally, and hopefully the world a little bit. most of all i loved working with such talented people. will have more to say about what's next later. 4:46 PM Nov 17, 2023 24.8M Views :

In general, Altman was seen as leading a camp of "accelerationists" within OpenAI who sought the rapid improvement and rollout of AI as opposed to a more cautious "degrowth," "doomer" or "ethicist" camp led by figures within the company like Helen Toner.[6]

The chief scientist at OpenAI, Ilya Sustevker, was quoted by the New York Times defending Altman's ouster as necessary to protect OpenAI's vision of "making AI beneficial for humanity."[5] Some interpreted the conflict within OpenAI in November 2023 as a battle between accelerationists and researchers who were more skeptical about the social consequences of artificial intelligence.



After OpenAI employees threatened to quit en masse and investors put pressure on the organization, Altman was reinstated as CEO following a week. During the brief period when Altman was not CEO, he posted a photo of himself visiting the OpenAI officers with a guest badge (seen below).[7] The post received over 99,000 likes in six months.


Sam Altman @sama ⚫ Nov 19, 2023 first and last time i ever wear one of these SOPENA 3.7K 8.8K A GUEST 04 ObEZ 99K ill 20M

Firing of Sam Altman from OpenAI

Firing of Sam Altman From OpenAI also known as Sam Altman Ousted From OpenAI, refers to the dismissal of former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on November 17th, 2023, that led to a spurt of memes and speculation about the internal workings of the company behind ChatGPT in the latter half of 2023. Altman was fired from his position while Greg Brockman was released as the chairman of the board of directors. AI and tech enthusiasts on X and Reddit, among other sites, shared memes and discourse about Altman's controversial firing, which was reportedly due to him withholding information from the board.

Elon Musk vs. Sam Altman / OpenAI Lawsuit

Elon Musk vs. Sam Altman / OpenAI Lawsuit refers to entrepreneur Elon Musk suing OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman over the issue of the company's status as a nonprofit. According to Musk, OpenAI has strayed from its original mission of developing safe and responsible AI in order to pursue profits. In the lawsuit, Musk alleges that OpenAI has become a "de facto subsidiary of Microsoft," and this is a breach of contract. Musk notably participated in the founding of OpenAI as a nonprofit before leaving in 2018. After the lawsuit was filed in early 2024, it garnered prominent discourse online.

Search Interest

External References

[1] Forbes – Sam Altman

[2] Sam Altman – Blog

[3] X – @sama

[4] YouTube – Loopt shows off new app for the iPhone

[5] New York Times – Sam Altman

[6] Axios – Doomers Have Lost The AI Fight

[7] X – @sama

[8] X – @buzz

[9] X – @thatguybg

[10] X – @gruber

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