by Sam Altman10/7/2015
Updated on 6/5/20
YC Research, now OpenResearch, and its portfolio of research projects are no longer affiliated with Y Combinator. YCR generated important ideas and organizations, and we are proud to have helped them get up and running. They have, in fact, been operating independently for several years, and it has become clear that we are most helpful when working side by side with founders and researchers as part of our batch program. We will continue to support nonprofits through the batch program, and cheer on OpenResearch from the sidelines.
Our mission at YC is to enable as much innovation as we can. Mostly this means funding startups. But startups aren’t ideal for some kinds of innovation—for example, work that requires a very long time horizon, seeks to answer very open-ended questions, or develops technology that shouldn’t be owned by any one company.
We think research institutions can be better than they are today. So we’re starting a new research lab, which we’re calling YC Research, to work on some of these areas.
We’re going to start YCR with one group (which we should be ready to announce in a month or two) and if that goes well, we’ll add others.
YCR is a non-profit. (The researchers will, of course, have full discretion over when they’re ready to release their work, and we’ll have a process in place to address technology that could be dangerous.) Because of the openness, the researchers will be able to freely collaborate with people in other institutions.
We’re not doing this with the goal of helping YC’s startups succeed or adding to our bottom line. At the risk of sounding cliché, this is for the benefit of the world. As we’ve seen throughout history, new technological breakthroughs help all of us. Fundamental research is critical to driving the world forward, and funding for it keeps getting cut. (1)
To start off, I’m going to personally donate $10 million, and we will raise more money for specific groups soon.
We’ll especially welcome outsiders working on slightly heretical ideas (just like we do for the startups we fund) and we’ll try to keep things small—we believe small groups can do far more than most people think. Also, smallness usually means less politics, which has plagued science in recent decades.
YC has a very high problem flux at this point—we fund hundreds of companies per year. Compensation and power for the researchers will not be driven by publishing lots of low-impact papers or speaking at lots of conferences—that whole system seems broken. Instead, we will focus on the quality of the output.
We plan to do this for a long time. If some of these projects take 25 years, that’s perfectly fine with us.
We’re very excited to see what comes out of this.
1 – Funding for technological development is actually relatively high, but funding for fundamental research keeps getting cut. Investors want to fund incremental progress—and the world has gotten very good at delivering that. This is more valuable than it sounds; incremental progress compounds quickly.
But it’s not all we need—we are dependent on the unpredictable breakthrough jumps to drive humanity forward. Technology startups today work very well for making a super-efficient piston engine, but they are unlikely to fund the kind of open-ended R+D required to develop a jet engine.
Sam Altman is the CEO of OpenAI. He was the president of YC from 2014-2019. He studied computer science at Stanford, and while there, worked in the AI lab.