Gray Matters

Are Human/AI Hybrids the Future Of Humanity?

Sam Altman is known for seeing into the future. For years he led Y Combinator — one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent incubators. He’s invested in companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Reddit. When Sam makes a prediction, you listen. And he has plenty of predictions to go around. Here’s what he thinks might be coming down the pike…

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

You kind of have this transition from purely biological humans, to some sort of hybrid: merged humans and artificial and digital intelligence.

Sam Altman: I think if we do a good job, and if the world goes the way we want, you kind of have this transition from purely biological humans, to some sort of hybrid: merged humans and artificial and digital intelligence. And not everyone’s going to choose to do that, and I think there will be some sort of world for people who don’t want-

Laurie Segall: What does all that mean? …What does that look like?

Sam Altman: …I mean, here’s one version of the world I could imagine, which is that…a small percentage of people…say, “You know, I’m going to go all in on the future. I’m going to plug my brain in via Neuralink or whatever.” Seems very scary to me, honestly, but I think a lot of people would choose that, and maybe I would at that point too. And I’m going to merge with a copy of this AI and we’re going to… We, like whatever this new thing is, this sort of hybrid, we’re going to go off exploring space. And sort of just be, to a human, unimaginably smart and powerful and capable. In a way that a human today, with all of the capabilities of an iPhone, would seem like a magician to a human from just a few hundred years ago. I think that exponential difference, we should expect to see even more powerfully on this exponential curve of technology.

And I think what that means, in terms of like power and capabilities, are difficult for you and I to sit here and clearly imagine. But it’s pretty unbounded. And then I think there will be some people who say, “You know what? I am opting out of that whole thing. I want to live out my life as a, you know, regular human.” …Maybe the whole world is just like an AI-free zone, I don’t know. And AI goes off and takes the rest of the universe.

Laurie Segall: …This line is going to sound weird when I say it. I’ve been particularly interested in death. How do you think death is going to change? …I’ve done a lot on bots…where we create a digital version of ourselves. But I know that it’s been an obsession here in Silicon Valley. You know, the idea of replacing your blood with the blood of young people. That’s one thing, but even beyond that. What do you think death means in 20 or 30 years?

Sam Altman: I think it’s a really interesting question. If you had a perfect copy of your brain, like if you got the Neuralink implant and downloaded every thought process, every memory, every emotion… Say if you could make a perfect copy of Laurie in a computer that was going to live forever in that computer-

Laurie Segall: Can I make some tweaks, Sam?

Sam Altman: Let’s say you can make some tweaks.

Laurie Segall: Okay. (laughs)

Sam Altman: …And you know that you, your body, is going to die, but that copy of Laurie, which has all your memories, all your thoughts, it acts exactly like you because it is the surrogate of the extreme molecule by molecule copy simulated in software. Do you count that as you living forever? Do you care?

Laurie Segall: I mean, I do think that’s me living on in some way.