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Who is Wojciech Zaremba? The Man Leading OpenAI’s Research

Wojciech Zaremba isn't a name you hear quite often, but his contribution to AI is something you might be using every day. Without Zaremba, ChatGPT wouldn't be a reality. So, who is he and how is he transforming AI as we know it?
Updated February 12, 2024
Wojciech Zaremba and artificial intelligence, generated with Midjourney
Wojciech Zaremba and artificial intelligence, generated with Midjourney

Every once in a while, someone comes along and changes society as we know it. And in those rare instances, there’s a chance that their name won’t ever hold the same weight as the Bill Gates or the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.

And yet, they make products that shift the paradigm. Products that are deeply embedded into society have become the norm.

Such is the case for Wojciech Zaremba: OpenAI’s lead researcher on LLMs and robotics.

So today, let’s take a closer look at who he is. Where did Zaremba come from? What was he doing prior to ChatGPT? Why did he pursue this line of work? Let’s find out.

A True Genius - Zaremba’s Early Life

Wojciech Zaremba was born in Kluczbork, a sleepy town in Southern Poland. Growing up, he was already demonstrating bits and pieces of what he was about to become, winning local mathematics and robotics competitions at a young age.

The world was first introduced to Zaremba by winning a silver medal in the 2007 International Mathematical Olympiad, the most prestigious pre-collegiate mathematics competition in the world. This is no small feat, as future Fields medalists and industry leaders like Terence Tao, Maryam Mirzakhani, and Noam Elkies attend IMO.

He continued his education at the University of Warsaw, then transferred to the École Polytechnique, where he graduated with a degree in mathematics. He then pursued a doctorate in New York University, where he was mentored by none other than Yann LeCun, one of the “godfathers of deep learning.”

The Real World - Zaremba’s Career

During his undergraduate years, Zaremba started working at NVIDIA, where he was a key contributor to NVIDIA chipsets. Then, while he was getting his doctorate, he was hired by Google Brain and Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research.

His time with Google Brain proved to be his most formative year, as he shifted his focus from hardware to software, particularly in neural network research. He was most interested in adversarial neural network attacks, or manipulating input data at a quantum level for a learning model to intentionally make incorrect classifications.

An Offer He Can’t Refuse - Zaremba and OpenAI

What would you do if you received an opportunity to change the world?

Most of us wouldn’t get that offer. But then again, most of us aren’t Wojciech Zaremba.

The year was 2015. Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, two highly-respected software developers, and venture capitalists, approached Yoshua Bengio (another one of the godfathers of deep learning) for a list of names containing the smartest people in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Zaremba was a part of that list.

Bengio’s list was the beginning of a billion-dollar startup called OpenAI. While he was initially recruited to be a researcher, he quickly climbed the ranks and became the leader in several technologies, such as:

  • Dota 2 OpenAI Bots: Elon Musk, a co-founder of OpenAI, suggested that they should pick a complicated game and create an AI bot that can beat even the best players in the world to showcase their progress. They chose Dota 2, a popular MMORPG, and their bot was able to beat the world champions. 
  • GPT: Zaremba was also the one responsible for OpenAI’s development of LLMs. He was particularly involved in the creation of GPT-3. This turned out to be OpenAI’s most successful product to date, powering ChatGPT’s robust nuance and coherence.
  • Codex: An LLM for coding. It serves as a crucial back-end component for GitHub’s Copilot application: an AI assistant for development. Codex is fluent in most programming languages and can understand systems end-to-end.
  • Robotics: Zaremba is also leading OpenAI’s efforts in creating robots that learn, not just robots that follow. An example of what OpenAI’s robots can do is complete a Rubik’s cube.

When OpenAI fired Sam Altman, Zaremba was also one of its employees who signed the open letter threatening to resign and follow Altman’s potential move to Microsoft if the board members responsible for the fiasco didn't leave the company. Once the issue was resolved, both Altman and Zaremba resumed what they do best: leading OpenAI in creating game-changing AI products.

Beyond OpenAI: Zaremba’s Other Pursuits

When he’s not too busy redefining society, Zaremba enjoys scuba diving and skydiving. He also sits as a board member of Growbots: a Polish startup that aggregates data from various sources to create an effective outreach automation solution.

Where We’re Headed: Zaremba’s Views on the Future of AI

Like Altman, Wojciech is a strong proponent of global regulation of AI systems. He believes that, while AI has the potential to benefit mankind, it can only be a reality if we acknowledge the present and future risks of this technology.

Speaking of the future, Zaremba is 100% certain that a “superhuman AI” will happen. He states that this AI will be altering its own code based on a set of parameters we provide, and that’s to benefit humanity. However, he’s also conscious of the fact that humans have our own code, and we still find ways to work against our morals. So, it’s entirely possible that AIs will do the same.

He does, however, provide a reprieve. His hypothesis is this: rogue superhuman AI systems won’t care for people. They’ll go to the stars, to depths and unknowns we’ve never explored before.

As for how society should adjust when AI starts replacing human workers, Zaremba advocates for a universal basic income. He doesn’t think that the future of blue-collar work is human, but machines. So, to circumvent the loss of income, families must receive a set amount of money to sustain them.

So, Who Is He?

Wojciech Zaremba is one of Sam Altman’s “guy in the chair.” The people behind the scenes are content with making a positive effect on the world with little to no recognition. His actions during OpenAI’s leadership debacle speak volumes about who he is as an employee and as a friend.

As AI continues to progress, people like Wojciech Zaremba, whose prowess not only in computer science but also in mathematics is unparalleled, are the ones moving the needle forward. We need more people like him in the AI space — someone who’s unafraid of pushing the envelope, but wise enough to know the line that shouldn’t be crossed.

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Written by John Angelo Yap
Hi, I'm Angelo. I'm currently an undergraduate student studying Software Engineering. Now, you might be wondering, what is a computer science student doing writing for Gold Penguin? I took up studying computer science because it was practical and because I was good at it. But, if I had the chance, I'd be writing for a career. Building worlds and adjectivizing nouns for no other reason other than they sound good. And that's why I'm here.
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