Peter Thiel is arguably the world's most ingenious venture capitalist. He is a co-founder of PayPal, the first major Facebook investor, a hedge fund boss, a libertarian, an excellent chess player, and one of the most influential folks in Silicon Valley.
He believes that there is an education bubble and he actively (by significant felllowships) encourages smart kids to escape from the conventional, left-wing-politics-dominated academic system, and become builders of an independent, competing, more pro-freedom framework for the elite.
I admit that my discussions with him in Nice may make me a bit biased. As far as I remember, no other dollar billionaire has ever invited me to a luxurious place for a week and no other billionaire has asked me so many good questions about the expectations at the LHC etc. (Those 4 years ago, I happened to have a "flu" over there which, I became almost certain later, was always caused by Candida, not by viruses or bacteria. I have pretty much chased those "flus" from my life.)
Well, even though I am less corruptible than 99.9% of the mankind, I am still a realist. So I do admit that it's possible that if George Soros had ever done anything for me, maybe he wouldn't be quite the same kind of a jerk and artificially inflated bubble of hot air relatively to Peter Thiel that he is today. ;-)
At any rate, Peter Thiel was interviewed by Glenn Beck a few days ago. Beck had to wait for 6 years; I had waited for 6 minutes. ;-)
The discussion is very interesting. Thiel believes that the progress could be much better and faster than it is. We could cure many diseases and do other wonderful things. (He has been funding quite a few "truly science-fiction-like" projects like swimming cities etc.) But unlike Ray "Singularity" Kurzweil, he stresses that the future is open-ended. It is not something predetermined we may watch while eating popcorn. The future will depend on our acts, too. Defeatism is undesirable. Self-fulfilling prophesies may fulfill themselves but one may also do things because of which they will not be fulfilled.
Back in Nice, there were numerous very interesting (world's top) defenders of the Intelligent Design and I feel that he is close to that culture – despite the fact that he's been actually trained as a biologist in the college. I guess that his (heterodox evangelical) religion is behind this inclination, much like in many other cases. But even if you counted Thiel as a softcore ID guy, and Richard Lindzen, for that matter ;-), I wasn't the only evolution believer over there. An Indian chap with a Czech name – due to his Sudetenland German paternal ancestry – was a real biologist on the evolution side. It still worked.
This part is about Thiel-inspired technology that helped to kill Osama, Snowden, NSA, the government's efforts to regulate the Silicon Valley, and related things about the Internet privacy. Thiel also points out that most (not only!) U.S. lawmakers are science-illiterate.
I would talk about the multiverse issues – obviously I must have been expected to be much more critical towards the well-known experts' opinion about these matters, and I am not critical because I am confident that the experts are much more rational than the non-experts in those matters. Richard Lindzen would give an overview of the climate debate. And of course that we would notice that Thiel's pre-existing beliefs would be "climate skeptical", too.
In the Glenn Beck interview, Thiel effectively says that he is skeptical because he feels that the advocates have turned the climate debate into a taboo that can't be debated – and such a situation is a sign of a problem. Well, most of the time. If you want to be right 80% of the time, Thiel's rule-of-thumb is very good. I still feel that similar sociological observations are somewhat unreliable methods to decide about an intrinsically scientific or technical problem.
The interview also covers some comparisons of the Silicon Valley and Washington D.C., debt of students, financing and regulation of new drugs, and other things. We would learn that Apple lost most of the innovative edge and became as stagnant, bureaucratic, and problematic as pretty much all companies with an easy enough way to make profit become. A part of the problem is that companies often depend on the founders.
Some month ago, Thiel would argue in WSJ that competition is for losers, wise chaps manage to create monopolies. For example, Glenn Beck has a monopoly on the Glenn Beck-like shows LOL; it is not like the 1,438th restaurant in Dallas. Things that are one of a kind are most important. (Of course I mostly agree. But, hoping that I won't sound like a Marxist with their ideas about quality and quantity, I also think that many qualitative breakthroughs occur "largely" because of the accumulation of smaller, less radical and just evolutionary advances.) He also mentioned these things in the interview. It's only bad if monopolies become static, but if that's so, it's mostly the government regulation's fault. And in technology, monopolies aren't forever, anyway.