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The podcaster and M.I.T. scientist Lex Fridman, who has emerged as the father confessor of the tech world, expressed the rapid-fire range of emotions I encountered again and again: “You sit back, both proud, like a parent, but almost like proud and scared that this thing will be much smarter than me. Like both pride and sadness, almost like a melancholy feeling, but ultimately joy.”

When I visited the OpenAI headquarters in May, I found the culture quite impressive. Many of the people I interviewed had arrived when OpenAI was a nonprofit research lab, before the ChatGPT hullabaloo — when most of us had never heard of the company. “My parents didn’t really know what OpenAI did,” Joanne Jang, a product manager, told me, “and they were like, ‘You’re leaving Google?’” Mark Chen, a researcher who was involved in creating the visual tool DALL-E 2, had a similar experience. “Before ChatGPT, my mom would call me like every week and she’d be like, ‘Hey, you know you can stop like bumming around and go work at Google or something.’” These people are not primarily driven by the money.

Even after GPT made headlines, being at OpenAI was like being in the eye of a hurricane. “It just feels a lot calmer than the rest of the world,” Jang told me. “From like the early days, it did feel more like a research lab, because mainly we were only hiring for researchers,” Elena Chatziathanasiadou, a recruiter, told me. “And then, as we grew, it started becoming apparent to everyone that progress would come from both engineering and research.”

I didn’t meet any tech bros there, or even people who had the kind of “we are changing the world” bravado I would probably have if I were pioneering this technology. Diane Yoon, whose job title is vice president of people, told me, “The word I would use for this work force is earnest … earnestness.”

Usually when I visit a tech company, as a journalist, I get to meet very few executives, and those I do interview are remorselessly on message. OpenAI just put out a sign-up sheet and had people come to talk to me.

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