OpenAI CEO Sam Altman causes stir by declaring Indian AI efforts as “pretty hopeless”

June 11, 2023
Altman AI India

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman caused a stir after he said Indian attempts to build foundational models that compete with OpenAI are “pretty hopeless.” 

While speaking at an event in New Delhi, former Google India head Rajan Anandan asked Altman, “Sam, we have got a very vibrant ecosystem in India, but specifically focussing on AI, are there spaces where you see a startup from India building foundational (AI) models; how should we think about that.”

Altman responded, “It’s totally hopeless to compete with us on training foundation models. You shouldn’t try, and it’s your job to like trying anyway. And I believe both of those things. I think it is pretty hopeless.”

Anandan responded magnanimously, saying, “5000 years of Indian entrepreneurship have shown us that we should never underestimate the Indian entrepreneur. We do intend to try.” 

The response was picked up by many across social media, including CP Gurnani, CEO of Mahindra, who ignited debate by tweeting, “OpenAI founder Sam Altman said it’s pretty hopeless for Indian companies to try and compete with them. Dear Sam Altman, from one CEO to another.. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.” 4 million people viewed Gurani’s tweet. 

Numerous commentators said Altman’s comments were impolite, lacked tactfulness, or came across as arrogant. Others said it was simply the correct answer to an overly specific question. 

Altman responded in the Twitter thread, saying, “this is really taken out of context! the question was about competing with us with $10 million, which i really do think is not going to work. but i still said try! however, i think it’s the wrong question.”

He went on, “the right question is what a startup can do that’s never been done before, that will contribute a new thing to the world. i have no doubt indian startups can and will do that! and no one but the builders can answer that question.”

Altman meets India Prime Minister Narendra Modi

In a meeting with Modi, Altman discussed self-regulation and potential collaboration. Altman said, “We were always amazed and quite grateful for the quality of Indian startups.” 

India has a strong tech sector and access to high quantities of training data, which is fundamental for building large models like ChatGPT. AI is expected to contribute $957 billion to India’s economy by 2035.

“We talked about the opportunities in front for the country, what the country should do, also the need to think about global regulation to make sure we prevent some of the downsides from happening — but it was a great hour,” Altman said.

Altman’s world tour continues this coming week.

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.

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