Apr 14, 2017 - Economy

What Y Combinator chief thinks of Trump, AI and startups

Flickr CC / TechCrunch

Sam Altman, the president of prestigious Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y Combinator, has been expanding the organization's scope into areas such as researching cities. He also made headlines last year for his vocal opposition to Donald Trump while also maintaining his ties to investor and Trump-supporter Peter Thiel. Speaking at The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco, Altman talked about the state of Trump and technology.

Big takeaway: Despite his criticism of Trump, Altman says the President is right one thing — that the tech industry is partly responsible for the fact that so many Americans feel left behind. Still, he said, "I don't think he's right about how to solve it."

On the promise of machine learning:

Machine learning applied to every vertical is the easiest layup in all of startups right now. I think you can take this idea and apply it to farming, self-driving cars, radiology. I think there is a new massive company to be built in every vertical.

On universal basic income, which Y Combinator is currently studying:

I don't think this is the only answer. I don't think universal basic income is the cure-all.
If the robots do take all the jobs, then the cost of living will go down so much that we can afford to do this ... The question is, 'what makes people happy?' People want to contribute, they want to contribute to the future.

On the effect of automation on jobs:

In the short term, I think all repetitive work that does not require a human emotional connection is likely going to be at least greatly supplemented by machines ... There will be jobs that, even though they're repetitive, people want a human connection.

On Trump:

I think one big thing that Trump is right about is that a lot of Americans are left behind and that the tech industry is in part responsible for that. [But] I don't think he's right about how to solve it.
We should all root for [Trump's] success, we should all try to change his mind as much as we can.
(On Elon Musk sitting on Trump's CEO Council): I'm really happy that he is—I don't think I could stomach it myself.
(On the negative response to Thiel's support of Trump): I don't think anyone deserves what happened to him.

On the lack of affordable housing:

We have seen a complete failure of state and local governments to build enough housing.
You used to be able to come home from WWII, start a family and buy a house. Is there a way to use technology and some policy work to make housing affordable again?

On startups:

It is easier to start a hard company than it is to start an easy company. If you do something that really is important to the world, a lot of people are gonna want to help you.

On diversity in startups and tech:

I think that if you don't get a really diverse group of founders, you will miss problems that a lot of the world faces.
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