OpenAI CEO Sam Altman helped bring ChatGPT to the world, which sparked the current A.I. race involving Microsoft, Google, and others. About a week ago, Altman listed the Silicon Valley rules for startups that OpenAI has ignored on its way to a valuation of nearly $30 billion.

But he’s busy with other ventures that could be no less disruptive—and are in his mind linked in some ways. This week, Microsoft announced a purchasing agreement with Helion Energy, a nuclear fusion startup primarily backed by Altman. And Worldcoin, a crypto startup involving eye scans cofounded by Altman in 2019, is close to securing hefty new investments, according to Financial Times reporting on Sunday.

Before becoming OpenAI’s leader, Altman served as president of the startup accelerator Y Combinator, so it’s not entirely surprising that he’s involved in more than one venture. But the sheer ambition of the projects, both on their own and collectively, merits attention.

Microsoft announced a deal on Wednesday in which Helion will supply it with electricity from nuclear fusion by 2028. That’s bold considering nobody is yet producing electricity from fusion, and many experts believe it’s decades away.

During a Stripe conference interview last week, Altman said the audience “should be excited” about the startup’s developments and drew a connection between Helion and artificial intelligence.

“If you really want to make the biggest, most capable super intelligent system you can, you need high amounts of energy,” he explained. “And if you have an A.I. that can help you move faster and do better material science, you can probably get to fusion a little bit faster too.”

He acknowledged the challenging economics of nuclear fusion, but added, “I think we will probably figure it out.”

He added, “And probably we will get to a world where in addition to the cost of intelligence falling dramatically, the cost of energy falls dramatically, too. And if both of those things happen at the same time—I would argue that they are currently the two most important inputs in the whole economy—we get to a super different place.” 

Worldcoin—still in beta but aiming to launch in the first half of this year—is somehow no less ambitious, as Fortune reported in March. If A.I. takes away our jobs and governments decide that a universal basic income is needed, Worldcoin wants to be the distribution mechanism for those payments. If all goes to plan, it’ll be bigger than Bitcoin and approved by regulators across the globe.

That might be a long way off if it ever occurs, but in the meantime the startup might have found quicker path to monetization with World ID, a kind of badge you receive after being verified by Worldcoin—and a handy way to prove that you’re a human rather than an A.I. bot when logging into online platforms. The idea is your World ID would join or replace your user names and passwords.

The only way to really prove a human is a human, the Worldcoin team decided, was via an iris scan. That led to a small orb-shaped device you look into that converts a biometric scanning code into “proof of personhood.”

When you’re scanned, verified, and onboarded to Worldcoin, you’re given 25 proprietary crypto tokens, also called Worldcoins. Well over a million people have already participated, though of course the company aims to have tens and then hundreds of millions joining after beta. Naturally such plans have raised a range of privacy concerns, but according to the FT, the firm is now in advanced talks to raise about $100 million.


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