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OpenAI CEO Sam Altman Admits He Was “Totally Wrong” About Antisemitism in America

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OpenAI CEO Sam Altman

Sam Altman, CEO of artificial intelligence company OpenAI, made a surprising admission this week – he was “totally wrong” about the prevalence of antisemitism in America, particularly on the po litical left.

In a post on social media platform X on December 8th, 2023, Altman wrote: “For a long time I said that antisemitism, particularly on the American left, was not as bad as people claimed. I’d like to just state that I was totally wrong.”

This statement comes from someone who just this week was named TIME Magazine’s CEO of the Year for OpenAI’s groundbreaking AI system ChatGPT and other innovations.

What Prompted Altman’s Change of Heart?

Altman does not explain exactly what caused him to change his viewpoint so drastically. However, the timing suggests recent events played a role. Over the past couple months there has been growing attention and alarm over outbreaks of anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence on American college campuses and at protests against Israel.

This follows Israel’s broad military offensive in Gaza in October aimed at defeating the terrorist organization Hamas. On October 7th, Hamas militants carried out a brutal attack in southern Israel, killing over 1,200 civilians. Israel responded by launching airstrikes targeting Hamas.

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Surge in Antisemitic Incidents

In the aftermath, antisemitic incidents have skyrocketed globally, with a 400% increase tracked by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in the US alone. Much antisemitism has occurred alongside ostensibly “pro-Palestinian” and anti-Israel protests on university campuses. Disturbingly, many protests have featured calls for violence or even genocide against Jews.

The recent toxic environment for Jews on the video platform TikTok has also drawn major concern. Jewish employees at TikTok report that antisemitic and anti-Zionist sentiment is rampant and unchecked among colleagues on internal messaging systems. They say TikTok’s large content moderation team seems unwilling or unable to address the spread of antisemitic misinformation and hate on the user-facing platform itself.

Altman’s Mea Culpa

In his statement, Altman concludes: “I still don’t understand it, really. Or know what to do about it. But it is so fucked.” This points to a sense of confusion and powerlessness from the tech visionary in the face of rising antisemitism’s scale and vitriol.

For many Jews however, Altman’s admission and vocal stance may provide some reassurance that a major industry leader recognizes the disturbing reality they face. Still, tangible progress countering the toxic spread of modern antisemitism relies on tech companies actually enforcing effective content and conduct policies.

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History of Antisemitism Downplayed on the Left

Altman’s admission is remarkable given his progressive politics and association with the tech industry’s predominantly liberal social values. In recent decades, some on the left have downplayed antisemitism as primarily a far-right phenomenon. They assume the left’s commitment to diversity and inclusion precludes systemic bigotry against Jews.

This View of antisemitism as solely a right-wing problem likely informed Altman’s previous skepticism that it was rampant in left-leaning spaces. However, recent events have challenged assumptions. Especially on social media and campuses, progressive communities reveal deeply-rooted antisemitic attitudes continuing today.

What Role Do Tech Platforms Play?

Altman’s leadership role in tech raises questions about the role that online platforms unintentionally play enabling modern antisemitism. Social networks like TikTok are designed to boost engagement. Features like powerful recommendation algorithms caring little for truth or ethics drive outrage, conspiracy theories and hate.

Problems extend even to workplace chat platforms. OpenAI will need to guard against any normalization of prejudice within company culture or flooded external communication channels. Blindspots likely exist: a recent incident found OpenAI’s AI systems easily coaxed into generating antisemitic content.

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Going forward, Altman’s statement may prompt reflection in the tech industry about its ethical duties addressing these urgent issues. Companies must acknowledge shortcomings allowing or incentivizing dangerous speech targeting marginalized groups like Jews. Introspection by leaders like Altman marks a hopeful first step.

Conclusion

The alarming resurgence of antisemitism has prompted OpenAI CEO Sam Altman to reevaluate long-held views underestimating anti-Jewish hatred on the political left. His admission follows spikes in antisemitic rhetoric and violence tied to outrage over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Universities and social networks in particular reveal the scale of the problem. Both allow the spread of anti-Jewish conspiracies and calls to violence with little meaningful pushback.

Altman seems to grasp tech companies must thoughtfully moderate extreme speech threatening vulnerable groups. However beyond voicing support, technology firms still require tangible policy and design changes targeting harm at scale. Industry leaders should follow Altman’s lead recognizing modern antisemitism as an urgent human rights issue requiring concrete action.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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