In April 2023, Greg Brockman took the TED stage to share the amazing potential of ChatGPT. In a 16 minute conversation he presented emerging features of the AI tool that many entrepreneurs have been experimenting with, emphasizing “it’s incredibly important that we all become literate in this technology.”
After the talk, which, in Brockman’s words, was about “a little bit about the future of AI tools, how we teach AIs to follow our intentions, and how the tools themselves can help increase our ability to provide quality feedback came 14 minutes of questions from TED founder Chris Anderson.
Here Brockman was questioned by Anderson about how everything he shared was made possible and how OpenAI deals with aspects of AI that many people worry about, what Anderson called “a pandora’s box” of potential problems.
Brockman’s answers pointed to his beliefs and principles, which are presumably woven into the culture of how OpenAI thinks and builds products like Dall·E and ChatGPT. From Brockman’s reactions on the TED 2023 stage, here are some principles that emerged for aspiring entrepreneurs to follow.
1. Get intentional
“We made a lot of conscious choices from the start,” says Brockman, who co-founded OpenAI with Sam Altman seven years ago, because “we felt like something interesting was happening in AI and we wanted to help steer it in a positive direction The OpenAI approach, Brockman explains, has always been, “to let reality punch you in the face.”
Deal with reality as it is and work on your mission from there. Let things happen, observe them, draw conclusions and plow on. Become a student of trends, human behavior and technology and think about what you can create within them. Brockman said OpenAI is deliberately about, “pushing[ing] to the limits of this technology to really see it in action.”
2. Be prepared to fail
“We tried a lot of things that didn’t work,” Brockman said. As with many success stories, “you only see the things that worked.” For every ChatGPT product that secures 100 million users just two months after launch, there are hundreds of ideas that didn’t make it to the meeting room, months of mitigating losses and moving on, and years of trial and error.
“I don’t think we’re always going to get it right,” Brockman said. But you only have to be right once. Being prepared to fail makes that much more likely because you take more risks and know where to draw the line. Moreover, failure is nothing to be ashamed of.
3. Welcome misfits
Brockman believes that a big part of making progress lies in getting “teams of people very different from each other to work together in harmony”. If everyone is the same, there is no coverage. world views are too similar and the mind mapping becomes repetitive.
Misfits, rebels and eccentrics, all dedicated to the cause and willing to work hard. Strong, supportive management and an underlying sense that you are onto something life-changing. And as Brockman walks through ChatGPT placing a grocery order and saving a sick dog’s life, you can see why that could be true.
4. Increasing existing knowledge
“We are all building on the shoulders of giants,” Brockman admitted, pointing to advances in computers, algorithms and data past and present. OpenAI didn’t invent AI, they just explored it to create a range of products. ChatGPT isn’t the only AI language model, but it was arguably the first to be widely accessible to everyone.
Engineers work on problems and build on the knowledge of other industries before they get big, and that’s exactly the message here. See what is already happening, learn from the work of those who have gone before you and build on top of that. Learn from other people’s mistakes, get a head start, and follow that “ever-ascending trajectory up and to the right” that Altman swears by.
5. Place big bets
“We always knew we wanted to be a deep learning lab,” says Brockman, but ChatGPT came from an unexpected source. He then told the story of his OpenAI colleague, who had created a tool that could predict the next character in Amazon reviews.” When this colleague got a result, the team doubled down on that particular methodology, and that’s when things got interesting. “We knew,” said Brockman, “you have to scale this thing up. You have to see where it goes.”
Placing big bets is similar to Altman’s method of “making it easy to take risks”, which he says comes from having “your basic commitments”. OpenAI raised money since 2016, so it was well prepared to tinker and go down rabbit holes. Place bigger bets, win bigger prizes. There is no proof like ChatGPT.
6. Rebuild old methods
Once OpenAI knew it was onto aspects of its technology, Brockman said, “we had to rebuild our entire stack,” adding that “every part of the stack has to be designed well.” new paths and footholds Old processes may not be relevant and the foundations will not support the growth to come.
Once the new pile is in place, the now-snowball idea can fully form. In Brockman’s lecture, he described the behavior of ants where first “a few ants run around,” and then when you get enough of them together, “you get these ant colonies that have completely emergent, different behaviors.” Rebuilding old methods produces new results.
7. Scale gently
“As you scale up, it surprises you,” said Brockman. Anderson then asked about the “enormous risk of something truly terrible happening”. OpenAI knows the dangers, and so does Brockman. “We think it’s so important to deploy incrementally,” he said. With the ant colonies behaving differently at scale in mind, Brockman said they “take each step as we see it,” which gives people plenty of “time to provide input.” Then they “figure out how to manage it” as they add capabilities to their tools and algorithms.
With AI and business in general, you can’t predict everything that will happen with large data sets and multiple moving parts. A small store can be destroyed by a million customers, but one that already has ten million can handle a 10% increase. Gentle scaling is on the agenda for OpenAI, with Altman confirming that there are currently “no GPT-5 in training.”
Replicate ChatGPT’s success by following the principles that emerged when the co-founder spoke at TED 2023. Be intentional, be prepared to fail, and welcome misfits into your business. Stand on the shoulders of giants so you can place big bets and rebuild your systems as you find possible ways forward. Finally, scale carefully so that the whole is built up in a sustainable way.