UCL News


OpenAI’s Sam Altman talks AI, super-intelligence and Mars during UCL visit

25 May 2023

Sam Altman, CEO of the ChatGPT developer OpenAI, argued that super-intelligence could lead to big productivity gains and a more equal society at a Q&A event at UCL.

Sam Altman and Azeem Azhar

Altman, who earlier in the day met the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, spoke to nearly 1,000 people in a packed auditorium in the IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society.

He discussed a range of topics, from the more personal (how he writes a to-do list by hand) to the societal – the risks and promise of AI. He argued for caution in regulation while the technology was still emerging. “The right answer is probably something between the traditional European-UK approach and the traditional US approach,” he said.

But he said he believed the benefits of super-intelligence greatly outweighed the risks, leading to accelerated economic growth, more jobs, and potentially greater equality.

“My basic model of the world is that the cost of intelligence and the cost of energy are the two limited inputs,” he said. “If you can make those dramatically cheaper, dramatically more accessible, that does more to help poor people than rich people … This technology will lift all of the world up.”

On the risks of the technology, Altman said ensuring broad access to super-intelligent systems was a “very challenging question”, and also that these systems could be used to create “interactive, personalised, persuasive” disinformation. On the latter, he said regulation could help, but that “the real solution is to educate people about what’s happening”, so that people understood the dangers in the same way that people now understand that an image might be digitally manipulated.

Professor Geraint Rees, Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement), said: “We were privileged to host Sam at UCL for an insightful and wide-ranging discussion. How AI develops has profound implications for all of us and it is important to discuss and debate these important topics. UCL is at the forefront of research and education in AI and this event was a wonderful opportunity for our staff and students to hear from a leading figure in the field.”

The event began as an on-stage conversation between Altman and Azeem Azhar, creator of the Exponential View newsletter and podcast. The two were then joined by Professor David Barber (Director of the UCL Centre for Artificial Intelligence), Professor Yvonne Rogers (UCL Computer Science, and Director of the UCL Interaction Centre) and Margaret McCabe, Founder and Group CEO of Debate Mate, for a panel Q&A. 

Sam Altman talks to students protesting outside the IOE building

During this panel session, Altman was asked by an audience member about using super-intelligence to help humans visit Mars. He replied: “I have no desire to go and live on Mars – it sounds horrible… If we can send robots first and we can spruce it up a little bit that seems much better. But I think Earth is really quite wonderful.”

Altman’s meeting with the UK Prime Minister earlier in the day occurred alongside UCL alumnus and supporter Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind (now Google DeepMind), as well as Dario Amodei of the company Anthropic.

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhivpGsMJTw




  • Top: Sam Altman, right, and Azeem Azhar. Middle: Sam Altman talks to students protesting outside the IOE building about the risks that AI might pose. The students held up signs calling for a pause in the development of advanced AI systems.  Credit: John Moloney for UCL

Media contact

Mark Greaves

T: +44 (0)7990 675947

E: m.greaves [at] ucl.ac.uk