While artificial intelligence has taken the limelight over the past year, technology that can appear to operate like human brains has been top of mind for researchers, investors and tech executives in Silicon Valley and beyond for more than a decade.
Here are some of the people involved in the origins of the modern A.I. movement who have influenced the technology’s development.
Mr. Altman is the chief executive of OpenAI, the San Francisco A.I. lab that made the chatbot ChatGPT that went viral over the past year and ushered in recognition of the power of generative artificial intelligence. Mr. Altman helped start OpenAI after meeting with Elon Musk about the technology in 2015. At the time, Mr. Altman ran Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley start-up incubator.
Mr. Amodei, an A.I. researcher who joined OpenAI early on, runs the A.I. start-up Anthropic. A former researcher at Google, he helped set OpenAI’s research direction but left in 2021 after disagreements about the path the company was taking. That year, he founded Anthropic, which is dedicated to creating safe A.I. systems.
Mr. Gates, a founder of Microsoft and for many years the richest man in the world, was long skeptical of how powerful A.I. could become. Then in August 2022, he was given a demonstration of OpenAI’s GPT-4, the A.I. model underlying ChatGPT. After seeing what GPT-4 could do, Mr. Gates became an A.I. convert. His endorsement helped Microsoft move aggressively to capitalize on generative A.I.
Mr. Hassabis, a neuroscientist, is a founder of DeepMind, one of the most important labs of this wave of A.I. He secured financial backing to create DeepMind from the investor Peter Thiel and built a lab that produced AlphaGo, an A.I. software that shocked the world in 2016 when it beat the world’s best player of the board game Go. (Mr. Hassabis was an award-winning chess player as a teenager.) Google bought DeepMind, which is based in Britain, in 2014, and Mr. Hassabis is one of the company’s top A.I. executives.
A professor at the University of Toronto, Mr. Hinton and two of his graduate students were responsible for neural networks, a key underlying technology of this wave of A.I. Neural networks captivated the tech industry, and Google quickly agreed to pay Mr. Hinton and his crew $44 million in 2012 to bring them on, beating out Microsoft and Baidu, a Chinese tech company.
Mr. Hoffman, a former PayPal executive who founded LinkedIn and became a venture capitalist, was — alongside Mr. Musk and Mr. Thiel — part of a group that invested $1 billion in OpenAI.
Mr. Musk, who leads Tesla and founded SpaceX, helped to establish OpenAI in 2015. He has long been concerned about A.I.’s potential dangers. At the time, he sought to position OpenAI, a nonprofit, as a more ethical counterweight to other tech companies. Mr. Musk left OpenAI in 2018 after disagreements with Mr. Altman.
Mr. Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, spearheaded the company’s investments in OpenAI in 2019 and this year, committing $13 billion to the start-up over that period. Microsoft has since gone whole hog on A.I., incorporating OpenAI’s technology into its Bing search engine and across many of its other products.
Mr. Page, who founded Google with Sergey Brin, has long been a proponent of A.I. and its benefits. He pushed for Google’s acquisition of DeepMind in 2014. Mr. Page has a more optimistic view of A.I. than others, telling Silicon Valley executives that robots and humans will live harmoniously one day.
Mr. Thiel, a PayPal executive turned venture capitalist who made much of his fortune from an early investment in Facebook, was a key investor in early A.I. labs. He poured money into DeepMind and, later, OpenAI.
Mr. Yudkowsky, an internet philosopher and self-taught A.I. researcher, helped seed much of the philosophical thinking around the technology. He was a leader in a community who called themselves Rationalists or, in later years, effective altruists, and who believed in the power of A.I. but also worried the technology could destroy people. Mr. Yudkowsky hosted an annual conference (funded by Mr. Thiel) on A.I., where Mr. Hassabis met Mr. Thiel and secured his backing for DeepMind.
Mr. Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, has pushed for A.I. for at least a decade. Recognizing the power of the technology, he tried to buy DeepMind, before Google made the winning bid. He then went on a hiring spree to bring aboard A.I. talent to Facebook.
Reporting was contributed by Cade Metz, Karen Weise, Nico Grant and Mike Isaac.