Tech and social justice: An evening with Sam Altman

Last night I was privileged to be in an audience with Sam Altman, the founder of Y-Combinator (YC), a well-respected incubator based in Silicon Valley. He is a bit of a hero to me ever since I went through the free online start-up school with Stanford.

  • He inspires free thinking – in fact he doesn’t hire people who see YC as a stepping stone want another impressive box ticked on their CV – the uni system is easy to hack and he wants free-thinkers (He himself dropped out of Stanford)

I loved his messages, “AI is like a wave that is about to crash over every industry” and tech needs to be used for more social justice and to bring about social equality

  • For democracy to continue to work we need to grow the economy. We need to grow the pie, otherwise we will struggle to reallocate it
  • Machine learning is going to remake every vertical, as we transition from biological to digital intelligence.
  • As c.80% of jobs in the world are repetitive therefore will be replaced by robots we need to use tech to then upskill workers.
    • “People working on a factory assembly line haven’t yet found their true calling in life”
  • Technology needs to be used as a tool to redistribute wealth rather than further concentrate it (The richest 1% own half of the world’s wealth*). This could be:
    • Through training and upskilling
    • Through brute force redistribution (unlikely)
    • Tech helps create a society where there is abundance and commodities like energy become cheap and create a surplus of everything else. People still need to find self-worth and fulfilment

This last point is important. Human nature is such that a lot of our self worth is tied into our careers. Satisfaction comes from doing a job well – and this releases dopamine in the brain which makes us feel great and want to continue the behaviour. We are driven to success. We see this manifest as addictions…to chocolate, Facebook, Snapchat…

In society jobs and careers have become measures of self-worth for some and if we are looking at a society where there is abundance, perhaps jobs become less about how much money you make and how much you contribute to society?

If money (and perhaps status) were not important to you, what would you be doing with your life?

YC are contributing to training by starting a free online course where they try to replicate as much of what they do in order to get it out to 10k+ students. You can sign up here at and watch your seed of an idea turn into the tree of life!