A few Peter Thiel related links.
First, some bits from his Reddit AMA today, one of my favorites to date (I bolded the questions for easier reading).
What do you think about NSA/Snowden and the impact on cloud, security, and general startups in the USA?
It is a much-needed debate.
BTW, I don't agree with the libertarian description of the NSA as "big brother." I think Snowden revealed something that looks more like the Keystone Kops and very little like James Bond.
The first thing an intelligence agency should do is counter-intelligence, and the NSA could not even figure out that there was something suspicious about an IT person downloading all those files. And once they knew Snowden had done this, they apparently still couldn't figure out what all he had taken...
It was inappropriate that the US was tapping Angela Merkel's cell phone. But I suspect that this was news to Obama as well. And more generally: the NSA has been hovering up all the data in the world, because it has no clue what it is doing. "Big data" really means "dumb data."
Why do you think more wealthy people don't fund anti-aging research? What do you think could be done to encourage them to do more?
Most people deal with aging by some strange combination of acceptance and denial. I think the psychological blocks to thinking about aging run very deep, and we need to think about it in order to really fight it.
So, unrelated question, but I'm just curious--- What was your reaction to THE SOCIAL NETWORK movie?
The zero-sum world it portrayed has nothing in common with the Silicon Valley I know, but I suspect it's a pretty accurate portrayal of the dysfunctional relationships that dominate Hollywood.
...what is one thing you believe to be true that most do not?
Most people believe that capitalism and competition are synonyms, and I think they are opposites. A capitalist accumulates capital, and in a world of perfect competition all the capital gets competed away: The restaurant industry in SF is very competitive and very non-capitalistic (e.g., very hard way to make money), whereas Google is very capitalistic and has had no serious competition since 2002.
Hi Peter.. if you were not from United states, do you believe you could reach the same position as you are now?
One can never run this experiment twice, but...
I was born in Germany and my parents emigrated to the US when I was 1 year old. I think Germany and California are in some ways extreme opposites -- Germany is pessimistic and complacent, California is optimistic and desperate. I suspect my life would have turned out very differently had we stayed in Germany.
Peter, what's the worst investment you've ever made? What lessons did you learn from it?
Biggest mistake ever was not to do the Series B round at Facebook.
General lesson: Whenever a tech startup has a strong up round led by a top tier investor (Accel counts), it is generally still undervalued. The steeper the up round, the greater the undervaluation.
What is your view on bitcoin? will it replace the current financial system we have?
PayPal built a payment system but failed in its goal in creating a "new world currency" (our slogan from back in 2000). Bitcoin seems to have created a new currency (at least on the level of speculation), but the payment system is badly lacking.
I will become more bullish on Bitcoin when I see the payment volume of Bitcoin really increase.
Can you comment on how you think artificial intelligence may change society in the coming decades? And what you think we can do to increase the chance that these changes will be positive?
I think AI is still a fair ways off. But the economic questions (e.g., how will this impact our work?) are secondary to the political questions (e.g., will AI be friendly?).
The development of AI would be as momentous as the landing of extraterrestrials on this planet. If aliens landed, the first question would not be about the economy!
You've spoken a great deal about stagnation and a fair amount about what institutions and individuals might do tocombat it. What advice do you have for adapting to it? Short of becoming an entrepreneur, what does the prospect of technological stagnation mean for how average individuals should invest and plan their lives?
If our great expectations about the future are not realized, then we need to save way more than we are doing today. China (with 40% savings) is perhaps more "rational" than the US (with about 0% savings), at least in a world of general stagnation.
I have heard stories about you at PayPal not wanting to hire MBA's. And now we all know your stance on college. I have 2 questions.
Why did you refuse to hire MBA's?Do you think there needs to be a change in K-12 education to lessen the demand for college?
1 no absolute ban, just think most MBA's tend to be high extrovert/low conviction people -- a combination that in my experience leads towards extremely herd-like thinking and behavior 2 yes, I think K-12 should give people enough skills to be able to contribute towards our society -- it is failing because it does not even come close to this
How do you combine your libertarian politics and your Christian faith? Is there a contradiction you struggle with or do you see no conflict at all?
To think of Christ as a politician might be the easiest way to get him all wrong.
The theological claim that Christ is the "son of God" is also the anti-political claim that Augustus Caesar (the son of the divine Julius Caesar) is not the "son of God." So I think that Christ should be thought of as the first "political atheist," who did not believe that the existing political order is divinely ordained.
Now, I think that there is lot of resonance between political atheism and libertarianism, even if they are not strictly identical...
Did Anton Chigurh kill Carla Jean Moss at the end of No Country for Old Men?
Probably. But the real issue is that Chigurh did not overcome chance himself.
"No Country for Old Men" is the movie that chapter 6 of my book is directed against.
You mentioned in the Tim Ferriss Podcast that you think when startups fail it is simply a tragedy. Do you think anything can be taken out of it when the unfortunate does happen?
Unfortunately, not very much... Failure is typically so overdetermined that people never learn all the reasons for which they failed.
How important do you feel social responsibility is as a contributing factor to a companies success?
A sense of mission is critical, but I think the word "social" is problematically ambiguous: it can mean either (1) good for society, or (2) seen as good by society.
In the second meaning, it leads to me-too copycat companies. I think the field of social entrepreneurship is replete with these, and that this is one of the reasons these businesses have not been that successful to date.
Second, Dan Wang summarizes some of Peter Thiel's key responses from this debate with Marc Andreessen. On energy:
Look at the Forbes list of the 92 people who are worth ten billion dollars or more in 2012. Where do they make money? 11 of them made it in technology, and all 11 were in computers. You’ve heard of all of them: It’s Bill Gates, it’s Larry Ellison, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, on and on. There are 25 people who made it in mining natural resources. You probably haven’t heard their names. And these are basically cases of technological failure, because commodities are inelastic goods, and farmers make a fortune when there’s a famine. People will pay way more for food if there’s not enough. 25 people in the last 40 years made their fortunes because of the lack of innovation; 11 people made them because of innovation.
One of the smartest investors in the world is considered to be Warren Buffett. His single biggest investment is in the railroad industry, which I think is a bet against technological progress, both in transportation and energy. Most of what gets transported on railroads is coal, and Buffett is essentially betting that after the 21st century, we’ll look more like the 19th rather than the 20th century. We’ll go back to rail, and back to coal; we’re going to run out of oil, and clean-tech is going to fail.
Think about what happens when someone in Silicon Valley builds a successful company and sells it. What do the founders do with that money? Under indefinite optimism, it unfolds like this:
- Founder doesn’t know what to do with the money. Gives it to large bank.
- Bank doesn’t know what to do with the money. Gives it to portfolio of institutional investors in order to diversify.
- Institutional investors don’t know what to do with money. Give it to portfolio of stocks in order to diversify.
- Companies are told that they are evaluated on whether they generate money. So they try to generate free cash flows. If and when they do, the money goes back to investor on the top. And so on.
What’s odd about this dynamic is that, at all stages, no one ever knows what to do with the money.
On the technologically-accelerating civilization:
How big is the tech industry? Is it enough to save all Western Civilization? Enough to save the United States? Enough to save the State of California? I think that it’s large enough to bail out the government workers’ unions in the city of San Francisco.
Finally, a link to Thiel's new book Zero to One which releases next week. It's a collection of a lot of what he taught in CS183 at Stanford. For a taste, revisit notes from the class as compiled by Blake Masters.