Paul Graham calls A.I. ‘the exact opposite of a solution in search of a problem’

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Earlier this year, OpenAI’s cofounders described how their A.I. venture had broken various Silicon Valley rules on its way to a valuation of nearly $30 billion.

“You’re supposed to have a problem to solve, not a technology in search of the solution,” CTO Greg Brockman told the Possible podcast in May. In OpenAI’s early days, he said, the leaders spent months “just writing down all the different ideas that we could work on for both GPT-3 and for GPT-4 … Maybe we could do a medical thing or a legal thing.”

Instead they decided to ignore the rule altogether—to great success. As it turns out, “every company, every individual, every business is a language business,” Brockman explained. “So if you can add a little bit of value in existing language workflows, then it will just be able to be adopted so broadly.”

This week, renowned venture capitalist Paul Graham offered up his take on artificial intelligence—while invoking some of the same language Brockman used. 

“AI is the exact opposite of a solution in search of a problem,” he wrote on X. “It’s the solution to far more problems than its developers even knew existed.”

In 2005, Graham cofounded Y Combinator, the wildly successful startup accelerator that’s helped Airbnb, Stripe, and other startups take off. 

He continued, “A pattern I’ve noticed in the current YC batch: a large number of domain experts in all kinds of different fields have found ways to use AI to solve problems that people in their fields had long known about, but weren’t quite able to solve. AI is turning out to be the missing piece in a large number of important, almost-completed puzzles.”

He shared no examples, but when a user replied that “the supply chain and procurement industry need this badly,” Graham responded, “I met two startups using AI for this just today.”

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who in 2014 replaced Graham as president of Y Combinator, also weighed in on his venture’s unorthodox approach as a startup.

“OpenAI went against all of the YC advice,” he said during an onstage interview at an event hosted by fintech company Stripe in May. In addition to taking four and a half years to launch a product and being the most capital-intensive startup in Silicon Valley history, he said, “We were building a technology without any idea of who our customers were going to be or what they were going to use it for.”

Today, of course, thanks in large part to the A.I. gold rush that OpenAI kicked off with the launch of ChatGPT late last year, keeping track of all the A.I. startup activity is so difficult that one might reasonably turn to an A.I. chatbot for help. But Graham suggests it isn’t all hype. 

“It’s not intrinsically a fad or a sign of opportunism that there are suddenly a huge number of startups all doing AI,” he wrote. “There were simply a huge number of almost solvable problems that have now become solvable.”

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