When the economic factor will go away, I suspect that even more people will go into fitness, body-building, surfing, chess, poker, and eSports, because these activities are often joyful in themselves and have lower entry barriers than serious science learning.
These activities aren’t mutually exclusive, you know. Even if you make mastering eSports or surfing your main goal in life, you’ll still engage in other activities in your “spare-time” and for a lot of people, that will include gaining basic scientific knowledge. Sure, that will be “armchair science” for most of these people, but that’s already the case today.
Those who study a scientific field in its entirety and become PhDs or professors today, rarely do so out of financial interest. For example, a mathematics professor could earn much more money by working in the free economy. As such, I would expect the number of people in the world with the proficiency of becoming a mathematics professor to even grow in a utopian post-AGI scenario. The same goes for other scientific fields as well.
Today, most academics are somewhere in between, for example a doctor, who has enough medical knowledge to practice as a surgeon, but not enough to teach medicine or write academic papers. These are likely the ones who are most influenced by extrinsic rewards, so let’s take a closer look at what happens to those in-betweeners in your scenario.
With AGI surgeons, the demand for human surgeons would dramatically decrease, so there is no financial incentive to become a better surgeon, or practice surgery at all. Some of the existing surgeons would likely follow the academic path and still increase their medical knowledge, out of intrinsic motivation. The remaining surgeons will lay their interest on, as you said, surfing, poker, eSports, etc, or other studies.
I think the most likely outcome for academia will be a strengthening of interdisciplinary sciences. Right now, academics can expect the highest salary by studying a scientific discpline in depth and becoming an in-betweener. When that incentive structure disappears because there is little need for in-betweeners post-AGI, they will either study science more broadly, or focus on other activities and study armchair science in their free time.
In both cases, AI tutoring can have practical applications, so Altman wasn’t lying. Anyway, I think he is referring to current practical AI use cases, which do include AI tutoring, and not a post-AGI future. So overall, I don’t think that he is somehow trying to suppress an inconvenient truth that is outside of the Overton window, but it’s definitely worthwhile to think about AGI implications from this angle.