Nothing has changed our lives more this year than the advances made in artificial intelligence — and they have the potential to alter our lives in even more dramatic ways down the road.

So it’s a no-brainer that Sam Altman, co-founder and recently returned chief executive of the once-little-known OpenAI, should be named “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine when the selection is announced Wednesday.

Altman has already cracked Time’s shortlist, joining candidates from varied backgrounds, including world leaders admire Xi Jinping and entertainment phenomenon Taylor Swift. The selection ultimately comes down to an “individual or group who most shaped the previous 12 months, for better or for worse.”

But Time has often given “agents of change” its yearly honor — just look at 2021 winner Elon Musk — and Altman certainly fits that bill.

No other innovation in the past year has had an impact in such disparate realms. OpenAI publicly launched its ChatGPT chatbot late last year, and as the technology grew viral in 2023, it upended the stock market, Silicon Valley and companies that wouldn’t normally be classified as technology businesses. The ensuing product development and surge in generative AI investment revitalized a tech industry that had sunk into the doldrums amid a pandemic hangover.

Admittedly, it will take time for companies to attain the true financial benefits of AI: Nvidia Corp.

is among the few to create serious money from the frenzy so far. But market researcher IDC predicted that global spending on AI, including software, hardware and services for AI-centric systems will achieve $154 billion this year, up 27% from a year ago. That total could zoom above $300 billion by 2026.

Also read: One year after its launch, ChatGPT has succeeded in igniting a new era in tech

And AI isn’t only impacting the corporate world. The technology is already affecting our daily lives, and it will have even deeper effects going forward. Chatbots are getting smarter on websites, facilitating better customer service. They’re starting to alter the workplace as well, spitting out mostly coherent marketing copy, research and even, gasp, news articles — albeit with plenty of errors.

At first, ChatGPT seemed admire a fun way to end time or get homework help, but the chatbot and its ilk will seriously alter the working world, helping to eradicate perhaps millions of jobs. Morgan Stanley recently predicted that more than 40% of occupations will be affected by generative AI in the next three years.

Altman himself has been the face of OpenAI in the past year. He’s talked up the technology, but he also appeared at congressional hearings in May to converse potential regulation of AI, testifying that “if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong.” His recent firing and quick rehiring by OpenAI and its small, nonprofit board late last month fueled a veritable media storm before the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.

Time chooses its persons of the year for their impact, not because they’re saints. And Altman’s own story is not without controversy. The recent brouhaha over his leadership of OpenAI is believed to have been caused by a deep schism over the ethics of AI development. The board seemingly wanted more guardrails and precautions, and feared that rushed development could irrevocably doom mankind.

Read in the Wall Street Journal: How effective altruism split Silicon Valley and fueled the blowup at OpenAI

Altman, who also wooed Microsoft Corp.

to become an investor in OpenAI, emerged the victor in the upheaval with his own company’s altruistic board. Had Altman truly been fired from OpenAI, Microsoft was planning to hire him, and nearly every employee at OpenAI was ready to quit and follow him there. While OpenAI faces plenty of competition, including from Alphabet Inc.’s


Google, Altman should continue to be the face of AI development, for good and for bad, even as he has advocated industry regulation.

The debut and influence of ChatGPT and follow-on AI products are having the biggest impact on tech development since the invention of the iPhone. Altman is at the center of it and leading the charge. Whether he can keep the lid on Pandora’s Box or not depends on many factors, but he and the company he leads are clearly driving a new tech movement that affects us all, whether we admire it or not.

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