Emmett Shear: The New Steward of OpenAI and His "Safety First" Approach to AI

Openai Emmett shear Artificial intelligence Ai regulation Technology leadership

By AI Sam

Nov 20, 2023

Emmett Shear, the co-founder of streaming platform Twitch, has been named as the new interim CEO of OpenAI. This change came as former CEO, Sam Altman, confirmed he would not be returning to the position he had held from 2019 until his dismissal on 18 November, and would instead join Microsoft to head a new advanced AI research unit with fellow OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman. The previous OpenAI interim CEO, Mira Murati, was in post for barely 48 hours.💡

Much commentary has focused on Altman and the OpenAI board's reasons for ousting him. But what do we know about Shear? 🤔

He was born in 1983 and grew up in Seattle, attending the Evergreen School for Gifted Children, where he met his future Twitch co-founder Justin Kan. Shear graduated from Yale University in 2005 with a degree in computer science. He and Kan were part of the first class of Y Combinator in 2005, where they developed a calendar application called Kiko, later sold on eBay for $250,000. Sam Altman was in the same cohort. In 2006, Shear, Kan, Michael Seibel, and Kyle Vogt started Justin.tv, a 24/7 live video feed of Kan's life, which eventually evolved into a general live video platform. In 2007, Justin.tv was launched, becoming a large platform with over 30 million monthly users. In 2011, the gaming content from Justin.tv was spun off into TwitchTV, inspired by "twitch gameplay," and in 2014, Amazon acquired Twitch for approximately $970 million. Shear stepped down as Twitch's CEO in March 2023. Shear has been involved in various other ventures, including serving as a part-time partner at Y Combinator since June 2011. His philanthropic efforts include donating $1 million to start the SF New Deal during the COVID-19 pandemic to help people in need in San Francisco. At the time of writing, his X/Twitter bio describes him as "super opinionated about the most random shit". 🧬

Although best known for Twitch, Shear also has a reputation in Silicon Valley for his cautious perspective on AI safety, and commitment to AI alignment - the practice of trying to ensure that Artifigical General Intelligence (AGI) is aligned with "human values".  In an era where the unchecked development and deployment of AI is a growing concern, Shear emphasises responsible usage and regulation of artificial intelligence technologies. In contrast to the techno-optimism and acceleraionism of many AI developers and investors, Shear stresses the potential risks AI poses to society and even the future of humanity, putting his "pDoom" -  that is, his estimated probability that AGI will destroy humanity - at "between 3% and 30%". He has previously called for a drastic slow-down in frontier AI research and the implementation of more checks and balances, particularly in relation to large language models (LLMs) and other generative AI technologies. "If we're at speed 10 right now", he wrote in a tweet about the idea of a moratorium on AI development, "a pause is reducing to zero. I think we should aim for a 1-2 instread".⚖️

Shear's vision complements the broader "Responsible AI" movement, which seeks to avoid AI systems that amplify existing human and societal biases, instead promoting justice and fairness. Shear appear to believe that AI regulation should be a collaborative endeavour, with responsibility resting not solely with tech companies, but also involving employers, society, and government stakeholders. Transparency is another important aspect in Shear's discourse on AI. Information on advancements in AI, he believes, should not be held secret, but shared openly with the public, creating a more informed and nuanced dialogue about the state and direction of AI technologies.🌐

Commenting on Shear's appointment, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella tweeted, "we look forward to getting to know Emmett Shear and OAI's new leadership team and working with them". However, it remains to be seen how long the OpenAI board's commitment to its mission of ensuring AGI benefits humanity can withstand the market and competitive forces its ouster of Altman has unleashed. Meanwhile, the resignation on 19 November of Shear's Justin.tv co-founder Vogt as CEO of General Motors' self-driving car unit Cruise, has led to speculation that he may become OpenAI's next permanent CEO. 🌪️


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