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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Emmett Shear, a pro-business person who looks like an anti-Sam Altman

He is less known to the general public than his predecessor, but his skills are widely acclaimed by his peers in Silicon Valley. After a thunderous media sequence, still ongoing, Emmett Shear, 40 years old, was named CEO of OpenAI, in place of the very media-focused Sam Altman.

Originally from Seattle in the United States, the engineer trained at the prestigious Yale University has as his most visible CV line the co-creation of Twitch in 2011, a successful streaming platform. The former startup was bought in 2014 by Amazon for $970 million, with the tech giant seizing its e-commerce potential. A failure for YouTube (owned by Google) which was eyeing this takeover.

Twitch, his most famous feat

Emmett Shear was the director of Twitch until last March before handing over the reins, to officially devote more time to his family. Under his leadership, Twitch’s revenue has grown continuously, reaching $2.8 billion last year (in 2016 it was $275 million). According to New York Timesthe platform now boasts 31 million viewers every day and more than seven million streamers every month.

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“Emette Shear is the streaming dad on the web, he’s a pioneer. Before all the social media giants, he understood the potential of the real-time interactive digital experience and the power of communities. The success of Twitch is being able to generate growth with these two pillars,” explains Diego Ferri, director of strategy at the consulting firm EY/Fabernovel.

“Tech evangelist”

“Great tech evangelist”, according to the EY/Fabernovel framework, Emmett developed a taste for entrepreneurship very early on. It began in 2005 with the launch of Kiko Calendar, an online calendar solution, resold on eBay for $250,000, following the arrival of Google Calendar. HAS This time, Emmett Shear teams up with Justice Kan, his childhood friend and future associate. The two young bosses were at the time members of Y Combinator, one of the most famous incubators in Silicon Valley. The structure has notably seen the birth of the successful companies Reddit, Airbnb and Dropbox. The now ex-boss ofOpenAI Sam Altman has also been there.

In 2007, Emmett Shear co-launched Justin.tv, which allows users to open a live video channel. Among all the sections of the feed, the video games section becomes the most popular. So much so that it was finally decided to keep only it in 2011. The Twitch platform that we know today was born.

Crisis communication

Known for being thoughtful by nature, a quality less cited in his predecessor, the new commander of OpenAI is no less ambitious. “I accepted this position because I believe OpenAI is one of the most important companies there is today”, he wrote in a message published this Monday on the X platform (formerly Twitter). His decision to join ChatGPT’s parent company was, in his words, “taken within a few hours”to be present “the opportunity of a lifetime”.

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The arrival last Friday of Sam Altman, considered by many as an “AI superstar”, caused an earthquake in Silicon Valley. A fine connoisseur of the bustling world of American tech, Emmett Shear has proven himself agile in crisis communications. “It is clear that the process and communication around Sam’s removal was very poorly managed, which seriously damaged trust in OpenAI”he wrote on X.

The entrepreneur also promised an independent audit within the next 30 days on the reasons for Altman’s departure, and said he was ready to “reform the management team (…) to make it a force capable of obtaining results for our clients”. In a firmer tone, he continued his message by ensuring that he “would lead developments within the organization – to the point of strongly pushing for significant changes in governance if necessary”.

A more business profile than Sam Altman

Emmett Shear nevertheless remains in a form of ejection seat in view of the revolt aroused among OpenAI employees by the dismissal of their boss. But according to the expertise of Diego Ferri, director at EY/Fabernovel, his known qualities as a manager should push the wind in his favor: “Faced with increasingly tough competition in AI and given the colossal money invested, I think that the OpenAI board of directors is looking for a business profile and very competent in business management. Emmett Shear also knows how to work with demanding growth objectives, which he showed with Amazon. »

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According to the consulting executive, the new CEO of OpenAI is also known for “its ability to anticipate market trends and pivot”, which in terms of AI, a technology that evolves very quickly, is a real asset. Is his lack of notoriety, unlike Sam Altman, a handicap in embodying the most promising AI box in the sector? ? “I think it will be an asset for speaking to public authorities, and in particular the regulators of the tech sector”replies Diego Ferri, who discusses the profile of Apple CEO Tim Cook on the subject, as discreet as he is efficient.

Not skilled enough in AI?

Even so, one criticism has often come up since the appointment of Emmett Shear: he is not known to be an expert in artificial intelligence, a quality possessed by Sam Altman, whose profile is more focused on research. Enough to raise questions about its ability to generate new innovations at OpenAI.

“It’s true that he doesn’t have as advanced skills as his predecessor in terms of AI. But he is very sensitive to the ethics and transparency of the sector. This is a key issue for its future and acceptability by the general public”comments Diego Ferri.

Last June, during an interview for an American podcast, Emmett Shear warned against the creation of an AI uncontrollable by humans. “A bomb that would destroy the universe”, according to the boss.

No scandal (yet)

Latest fact, to date, which could help him in his position: he has no scandals on his back, particularly with regard to his management at the head of Twitch. The entrepreneur is even known to be quite voluntary on issues of inclusiveness. But many observers nevertheless point out the dismissal last November of 400 employees of the Twitch platform, or 16% of the workforce. This, against a backdrop of discontent among users of the platform, who feel they have less freedom than before. Business as usual in Silicon Valley?