COSM A Technology Summit

Tech Entrepreneur Peter Thiel says Silicon Valley is losing its touch

Published at Mind Matters

In the opening session of COSM — A National Technology Summit, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who sits on the board of Facebook, had some sombre, sometimes harsh words for Silicon Valley.  For one thing, he senses that the pace of practical innovation is slowing down, despite the hype: 

It’s become a lot less charismatic in the last five years. The big tech companies are as self-hating as the big banks were in 2009. There is absolutely no narrative of the future left.

But that was just the beginning. Responding to a question from futurist George Gilder, author of Life After Google about the recent huge fines and litigation against big tech companies, he says, “The story is not that they have done a lot of bad things but that they have not done enough good things. That remains the core challenge of Silicon Valley.”

But it was universities, failing in their mission to educate and settling for indoctrination, that he compared to the Roman Catholic Church of 500 years ago, whose corruption started the Protestant Reformation. Too often, he said, a degree is a cheap form of “salvation” that does not prepare the student for life: “We should be fighting the Atheist Church,” he said of the universities. “Reform does not come from within.” 

Thiel himself found a unique way to fight back. He had intended to found a university in 2007 (the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation). But the dismal picture of good founders’ intentions gone bad over the previous century prompted him to develop a program instead to pay young entrepreneurs to drop out and found a business instead.

Despite being, perhaps the ultimate Valley insider, Thiel dismisses the idea that machines will take over and out everyone out of a job: “Information is essentially surprisal. It is unexpected bits. It’s why machines don’t really compete with humans. They are tools that endow people by making people more productive. They make them more employable. Machines are not going to take over the universe.”

He was speaking by interactive video at COSM — A National Technology Summit: AI, Blockchain, Crypto, and Life After Google — October 23–25, 2019, sponsored by the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence at Discovery Institute, hosted by technology futurist George Gilder.

Denyse O’Leary reporting live from the COSM Technology Summit.