The Impossible interview #9: Sam Altman and Alan Turing, a dialogue between the present and the past of Artificial Intelligence

Saül Gordillo
7 min readJun 4, 2023

An encounter between eras: the vision of the father of computing and the leader of artificial intelligence on the past, present, and future of AI

In the heart of London, in a café whose bustle seems oblivious to the significance of the meeting taking place at one of its tables, sit two key figures in the history and future of artificial intelligence. Sam Altman, co-founder and CEO of OpenAI, and Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, meet in a new installment of the impossible interviews published on this blog. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee mixes with the anticipation of a conversation that promises to be as fascinating as the characters involved.

— Sam Altman: Alan, I have always admired your work. Your contribution to computing and cryptography has been fundamental to the development of technology as we know it today. But I would like to know more about your early years. Could you tell me a bit about your childhood and how you became interested in mathematics and logic?

— Alan Turing: Certainly, Sam. My interest in mathematics began when I was a child. I remember always being fascinated by patterns and structures. I enjoyed solving problems and discovering the rules underlying the world around us. I think that innate curiosity led me to mathematics and, later on, to logic and computing.

— Sam Altman: That curiosity is something we share. I, too, was drawn to technology from a young age. But how was it for you growing up in a time when computing, as we know it today, did not yet exist?

— Alan Turing: It was challenging, no doubt. But it was also an opportunity. With no predefined path, I had the freedom to explore and experiment. I believe that’s what allowed me to make some of the discoveries I did.

— Sam Altman: Your work in cryptography during World War II was crucial. Could you share something about that experience? What was it like working at Bletchley Park and contributing to deciphering the Enigma code?

— Alan Turing: It was a challenging but also very rewarding time. At Bletchley Park, I had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds of the time. And although the conditions were tough and the work was exhausting, we knew we were making an important contribution to the war effort.

— Sam Altman: That sense of making a significant contribution is something I have also experienced in my work with OpenAI. But I would like to know more about your work after the war. How was the transition from cryptography to theoretical computing?

— Alan Turing: Well, I don’t really see it as a transition, but rather an extension of my work. Cryptography taught me to think about problems in new and creative ways, and those skills were fundamental when I started working on what we now know as computing.

— Sam Altman: That’s interesting. In my case, my interest in technology began when I was a teenager. I started programming and entrepreneurship at a young age. But it wasn’t until I co-founded OpenAI that I truly began to see the potential and challenges of artificial intelligence. How was it for you when you realized the potential of machines to mimic human intelligence?

— Alan Turing: It was a moment of revelation, no doubt. I have always believed that mathematics and logic are the keys to understanding the world, and when I started working on the idea of a universal machine, I realized that we could use these tools not only to understand intelligence but also to recreate it.

— Sam Altman: That is a vision we share. At OpenAI, we are working to ensure that artificial intelligence can be used for the benefit of all. But we are also aware of the ethical and democratic challenges it poses. That’s why we are committed to developing AI in a way that benefits everyone.

Altman: “At OpenAI, we work to ensure that artificial intelligence can be used for the benefit of everyone, but we are also aware of the challenges and risks”

— Alan Turing: That is admirable, Sam. But it’s also important to remember that technology is just a tool. The real challenge is how we use it.

— Sam Altman: I completely agree. And that is precisely one of the topics I have been discussing in my meetings with world leaders — the need for regulation to ensure that AI is used ethically and beneficially.

— Alan Turing: Regulation is important, no doubt. But it is also important to foster education and understanding of AI. Only then can we ensure that it is used in the best possible way.

— Sam Altman: Recently, I have been talking with world leaders about AI regulation. I have visited the White House and had meetings with European leaders, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Europe’s position on this issue is particularly interesting as it tends to be more conservative and protectionist. How do you see Europe’s stance on this, Alan?

— Alan Turing: I believe Europe has a unique perspective. The continent’s history, with its diverse cultures and experiences, gives it a more nuanced view of technology and its impact on society. It may appear more conservative, but it has also demonstrated a great ability to adapt and evolve. I think the key lies in finding a balance between protecting individual rights and freedoms and fostering innovation and progress.

Turing: “The key lies in finding a balance between protecting individual rights and freedoms and fostering innovation and progress. I believe Europe has a unique perspective”

— Sam Altman: That is a very interesting viewpoint. In my conversations with European leaders, I have noticed a genuine concern for the potential risks of AI. But I have also seen a desire to harness its potential to improve people’s lives. I think the challenge lies in balancing these two concerns.

— Alan Turing: Exactly. And that balance is not always easy to find. But it is essential if we want AI to be a tool that benefits everyone.

— Sam Altman: And that is precisely what we are striving to do at OpenAI. We want to ensure that AI is developed in a way that is beneficial for all, and we are committed to working with governments and organizations around the world to achieve that.

— Alan Turing: Sam, you have talked a lot about the work you are doing at OpenAI. But I would like to know, how do you see the future of artificial intelligence? What are your hopes and fears?

— Sam Altman: Well, Alan, I believe the future of AI is incredibly promising. We have the opportunity to solve problems that previously seemed insurmountable and to improve people’s lives in ways we can’t even imagine yet. But I am also aware of the risks. AI has the potential to be a very powerful tool, and like all powerful tools, it can be used for both good and bad.

— Alan Turing: I share your vision, Sam. AI has tremendous potential, but it also presents significant challenges. I believe one of the greatest challenges will be ensuring that AI is used ethically and responsibly.

— Sam Altman: Alan, it has been a pleasure talking to you. Is there anything you would like to say to the people working in AI today?

— Alan Turing: I would like to tell them to never lose sight of the fact that they are working on something that has the potential to change the world. AI is not just a tool; it is an extension of our ability to understand and interact with the world. And with that power comes great responsibility.

— Sam Altman: That is very true, Alan. And before we finish, did you know that one of the first programs I wrote was an implementation of the Turing test?

— Alan Turing: That’s fascinating, Sam! I’m glad to know that my work has had such a lasting impact.

This dialogue between Sam Altman and Alan Turing is the latest installment of the ‘impossible interviews’ published on Saül Gordillo’s blog. Previous installments have included imaginary dialogues between diverse figures such as Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Josep Pla and Ferran Adrià, Leo Messi and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Salvador Dalí and Risto Mejide, Mercè Rodoreda and Eugeni Xammar, and Pep Guardiola and Montserrat Roig. These imagined encounters have been generated with the help of artificial intelligence, once again demonstrating the incredible potential of this technology.

*Alan Turing (1912–1954) was a British mathematician, logician, theoretical computer scientist, cryptographer, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. He is considered one of the fathers of computing and a pioneer in artificial intelligence. During World War II, he worked at Bletchley Park, the British government’s cryptography center, where he led the team that decrypted the German Enigma code. After the war, Turing worked on the development of one of the earliest computers and proposed a test to determine a machine’s intelligence, known as the Turing test. Despite his untimely death, Turing’s legacy remains fundamental to computer science and artificial intelligence.

*Sam Altman (born 1985) is an entrepreneur and leader in the field of artificial intelligence. He is the co-founder and CEO of OpenAI, a research organization in artificial intelligence with the mission of ensuring that artificial general intelligence (AGI) benefits all of humanity. Prior to OpenAI, Altman was the president of Y Combinator, one of the world’s most prestigious startup accelerators. Altman has been recognized for his leadership in the technology field and has been included in lists of the most influential people in the world. His vision and work at OpenAI are helping to shape the future of artificial intelligence.

Key words

AI, alan turing, artificial intelligence, chat gpt-4, ChatGPT, europe, impossible interview, rishi sunak, sam altman

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Saül Gordillo

🤖 IA 🎙️ Ex director Catalunya Ràdio, Mitjans Digitals CCMA, Agència Catalana Notícies, web El Periódico, El Punt, Repòrter, Principal. Cofundador Poliblocs 🚀