Peter Thiel on markets, technology, and educationJun 04, 2021
today, a successful man and a complete opposite of why everything you thought you knew about business may very well be wrong. Peter Teal, uncommon knowledge. Now, welcome to uncommon knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson, co-founder of PayPal, co-founder of Palantir, the president. of clarium capital, managing partner of the founders' fund and first external investor in Facebook, Peter Thiel is one of the main investors in Silicon Valley, one of its main thinkers and, since he appeared portrayed in the film The Social Network, one of its top celebrities, can't escape now the son of german immigrants mr. Teel grew up in Foster City, California, after graduating with a degree in philosophy as a Stanford student.
He attended Stanford Law School, where he and I first became friends before returning to California to begin his career in business. Teal practiced law briefly how long was he in Cravath solbin Cromwell Sullivan Cromwell exchanges seven months and three days seven months and three days mr. teals new book zero to one notes on startups or how to build the future Peter Thiel welcome zero to one. I am quoting the book now if you take a typewriter and build 100 you will have made horizontal progress if you have a typewriter and build one word processor you have explained the vertical process well.
I think in the 21st century we will have two basic modes of progress, one is globalization, which is basically about copying things that work and the other involves
technologyor inventing new things and that's it. that's what 0 to 1 is about, it's all I know about how we build, how we build, how we build the great new companies that will take our civilization to the next level in them in the next century, just 0 to 1, you argue about China, you consider that an example of globalization the only thing they are doing is copying things that already existed, on the other hand, it is quite powerful, look at what China has been able to do with hundreds of millions of people getting out of poverty and, yet, you say, quote Most people think that the future of the world will be defined by globalization, the truth is that
China's plan for the next 20 years is very simple, it is just a copy of everything that works in the West. is that they invent new things is I think they might be able to, I don't know, say about Chinese culture that intrinsically makes it impossible for people to invent new things, but they don't actually have to because it's still very poor and they can get a lot of just copying things that work, but for the so-called developed nations, we, Western Europe, Japan, we actually have to invent new things and that's why for us technology matters much more than globalization, we have to invent new things, let me push that a little bit from the end.
From World War II until the 1970s, as is well known, Western Europeans and Americans worked approximately the same number of hours per week and at that time, in the mid-1970s, once Western Europeans had been rebuilt from the damage of the Second World War, restored to a high standard. Lifestyles diverged. Americans start working harder, but Western Europeans slack off, but isn't there something about that point of view that after a certain point you don't have to invent new things that you can rely on? Leisure becomes more important. Time with friends walking. Sean's diary stops at a café for a latte or a good Cabernet, that's the way to live.
The Europeans are onto something, it is not clear how well it is working and I agree that there are differences between the US and Western Europe, but I would say that the entire developed world has entered an era of relative stagnation because since For quite some time we have seen advances in computers, the Internet, mobile Internet, per capita income has still increased a little in the United States. in the last forty years, but there is a feeling of unease, it is much worse in Western Europe, but people think that the younger generation will not do as well as their parents, people think that you know this and then they are not very clear how to cultivate a I would say that the economy and our political systems depend on economic growth, so standing still is not a civilizational option;
You must advance or your civilization will flatten and suffer unrest. I think you can have civilizations that are static and, like medieval societies or Egypt, unchanged for a time. thousand dollars, although I don't know if they can be had in a representative democracy where the give and take of our republican form of government depends on the pie growing there is more for you there is more for you there is more for We make commitments that are beneficial for everyone when once the pie stops growing, our system becomes very polarized and I don't think it works as well unless it has growth right.
We'll return to that first Peter Thiel subversive deal on one level. zero to one represents how to book a pretty specific guide to building a company, but even being a how-to manual, you engage in acts of subversion, you are engaging in acts of subversion all the time, let's take it out on a couple of these. conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley startups should proceed slowly and carefully should make incremental advances zero to one quote it's better to risk boldness than to be trivial what's most good for you there's the opening line of Anna Karenina is that all happy families are the same All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way and my argument is that in business the opposite is true.
All happy companies are different because they found something unique that gives them a mission and also gives them a kind of monopoly where they can work. They are able to charge more for their products than other people when they don't have to compete and all dissatisfied companies are equal because they can't escape the essential equality that is competition, so when you iterate when you do things that are just better and better you end up in a super intense competitive dynamic you don't want to be the fourth pet food company online you don't want to be the tenth thin film solar panel company in which you don't want to open a restaurant probably any city in the world and these are incredibly competitive businesses but They are not capitalist in the sense that they do not generate capital, they do not generate profits, they do not generate capital, capitalism works best when you do something that is that is very unique, very differentiated and I think that is something that people need to think very carefully before start 0 to 1 competitive
marketshere speaks here sits one of the leading libertarians in Silicon Valley in the country competitive markets destroy profits, certainly as an entrepreneur or company founder, the goal is always to aim for a monopoly, is doing something that no one else is doing, I would rather have started a company like Google and started a pizza place in downtown Palo Alto or or even or even like say, an airline company that is a big company but has an airline industry in the The US hasn't made a profit in a cumulative hundred years because competition has destroyed them all, okay, so it's actually argued the way it is. -to book, you are trying to provide concise and memorable lessons, but there is one that particularly caught my attention and I wondered if you are saying this to be memorable or if you really mean it: you maintain that there are really only two types of businesses, monopolies and those who never make money Really yes, I mean, I mean, I mean almost everything I say in this book, those are the two fundamental forms of business, the difference is obscured tremendously because the people who have monopolies They pretend not to have them.
They have them, they don't want to be regulated by the government they want and that's why they always pretend to be in a very competitive dynamic and people have super competitive businesses they always want to pretend that there is something unique to be able to attract investors or something like that. So if you were opening a restaurant in Palo Alto and you were trying to get me to invest in it, you might say, well, it's not like every other restaurant, it's really unique, it's really different, the sushi is the best sushi we have. You're the only British food in Palo Alto or something and that's why people always tell fictitious stories like this that end up obscuring the difference: the monopolist pretends not to have them and the people in ruthless competition pretend not to be the apparent difference. is much smaller than the actual difference, so I think this is the fundamental difference in business between a competition and a monopoly and you always want to be on one side of that equation, so apply that analysis to a company like, for example, Ford. where Henry Ford comes up with the assembly line and does something no one else is doing Ford becomes immensely popular, pop, excuse me, immensely profitable, then along comes Alfred P Sloan in GM GM wakes up and Ford is good, then you see that Ford becomes profitable and then holds on.
A Donald Peterson in the late 80s appears and invents this new line: the Taurus, a kind of smooth and shaped car. Ford becomes immensely profitable again and then almost goes out of business. Elmo Lally because again now he seems to be going through a crisis. period of profitability certainly in contrast to GM, so how do you explain that they can be achieved over the long lifespan of a large corporation? periods of monopoly can be achieved that are then eliminated by competition, how is that done? How can the analysis be made to fit that? Well, I would say that Ford's first right was a vertically integrated monopoly with huge economies of scale, so that was the classic version of this and that worked best.
I would say that in recent decades it has been a much more complicated question. Do you really differentiate yourself? The main differentiation is kind of like Brandt, which is a weak form of monopoly that a lot of these companies have, so they're people that you know work very well for Mercedes and BMW, probably not so well for some of the American companies in right now, but that's, you know, there are people who like Ford more than Chevrolet and they'll pay a little more for that, even it's completely undifferentiated, so the brand is very it's the weakest form of monopolies, it's A slippery concept, but it's very good.
I would like to talk about provoking because at Pepsi, true, you can say that on one level they are very competitive, but there are all these people who will do it. only drinks Coca-Cola or only drinks Pepsi, so they're actually pretty profitable franchises because they have this brand component, okay, no, you, who I've known for a long time, I know you're a very rigorous thinker and you just say yes, here you talk about branding just as you did now as a possible tool that you can use to achieve monopoly and yet it sounds slippery when you describe the concept and you just said that branding is a slippery concept, I mean it's almost like there is a circularity if a company has a name, people if a company does well it must have a great brand but still I know you can't be satisfied, how do you think about the brand issue?
Well, as an investor, I don't understand it, so I think it's a real phenomenon, but I don't understand what does it. It is objectively the case that there are people who will pay more than what it costs to make the products because they like it. the brand then marketing works, advertising works and there are contexts where it can really generate a real brand. I prefer not to invest in those types of companies. I prefer to invest in companies where there is a great technological advantage or you have vertical integration or you have other types of monopolies that I think they are a little more solid, but the brand is very important, which leads to another principle of conventional wisdom that you overturn here is zero to one, you hear it said over and over again. over and over again hire the best engineers and just focus like a laser, focus on that one phrase that comes up over and over again, focus on your product, get the right product and it will sell itself and Peter Teal says sales 0 to 1 matter as much as the product well, it's always a combination of technology and selling technology and there's certainly the presumption that engineers have maybe even more scientists than engineers is that you don't need to convince anyone of what you're doing, people of the world will do it.
Work your way to your door to get what you're producing and there are certainly products where you have huge lines of people showing up. You know the Apple computer could do this, but the sales couldn't. It doesn't happen in a total vacuum, so there's always a sales component, it always tends to come back to something that's kind of hidden, you know, the worst salespeople are salespeople who are transparent salespeople, a used car dealership, that's it. the classic salesman, a really good salesman. It's always unclear, so I think Jobs was a phenomenal salesman, but he didn't look like a used car salesman, so you as an investor, if you're investing, consider the earliest stage at which you would consider making an investment if a company has sales. and distribution at that stage or is it something youyou feel that as an outside investor you might get a board seat that can be added if the product is great.
Well, I think you'd like to have a distribution plan, and it's typically the component that people underestimate the most, especially if they come from an engineering background, if they come from a sales background, they probably underestimate engineering if They come from an engineering background They underestimate salespeople They always overvalue what they do well If you are a lawyer you believe that the only thing that exists in the world is the law If you are a scientist there is nothing but science and that is why there is always this bias of overvaluing what that you are good and underestimate others, okay, one last bit of conventional wisdom that you subvert here time and time again, that startups must remain flexible.
The phrase used is to retain optionality if this smart market doesn't work. Adapt. your product and go to that market and Peter Thiel says zero to one a bad plan is better than no plan plan plan plan good plan it's always worth thinking you know how this market is going to develop houses the product can be implemented it will You know what's going to happen in 5 to 10 years with our business, so I think these are all critical questions that people should think about. This doesn't mean you can't change your plan or that you can change course, but that shouldn't. be the starting point if the starting point is that we have no idea what we're doing and we'll just figure it out as we go, that's a really bad idea even if it's like we're going to know there's something like that. from the extreme versions in Silicon Valley that have been tried multiple times and have never worked like you, we'll just get some talented people in a room and keep brainstorming until they come up with a product and I would say good ideas good plans for a business A good business plan is actually a little rarer than talented people and is therefore something quite valuable when presented.
Does the notion of planning also apply to the life of an individual? Are you one of those people? who at Stanford Law School when I was at Sullivan Cromwell through the recruiter came and walked in and said where do you want to be in five years you had that answer ready, well we're usually brains as I noticed you worked for them for seven months . and then it worked out well. I would say I wasn't thinking about this and this is certainly Mike. If I were to give any advice to my younger self, it would be to think about these things a lot more.
My prejudice was not to think about For them, my prejudice was that
educationwas an institute to think about your future, what are you going to do with your future? I don't know, I'm getting a bachelor's degree, what are you going to do once you have it? Don't know. I'm getting a graduate degree, what are you going to do after that? I don't know, I'll work at a law firm or a consulting firm or a banking position because that will create options in the future, and so when we think about our lives as just Adding these line items on a resume I think actually that It's not the best way to do it, although that's the bias throughout our elite
educational system that pushes people to quit at 25.
How old were you when you graduated? from Stanford Law 24 24 yes 24 Could 24-year-old Peter Thiel have known enough to target 44-year-old Peter Toth? Oh, I don't think that that I don't think that's realistic, but I think I think I think. a bad plan is better than no plan, so I think 24-year-old Peter Thiel didn't have a plan and that was a bad plan, it would have been better to have gotten it. Peter Thiel public intellectuals 0 to 1 in the late 1960s we expected a four-day work week energy too cheap to measure and vacations on the moon didn't happen smartphones that distract us from our surroundings also distract us from the fact that our surroundings It's strangely old only computers and communications have improved dramatically since mid-century, I quote just computers and communications, but since they affect every aspect of our lives, it's not good enough.
I'd say there are quite a few other things that people were hoping to improve. There is an energy problem where we haven't really moved beyond fossil fuels and they are getting more and more expensive. There are food production problems in which a fantastic green revolution is taking place that is losing steam. I think there's a lot of what we could be doing in biotech medicine, you know, we thought we were going to defeat cancer in the 1970s, but 44 years later we haven't made as much progress in a lot of other diseases that I think we could put effort into. much more, so I think Technology has been redefined as information technology and it has a much more restricted meaning than it did 40 or 50 years ago, so we have this very powerful but very narrow cone of progress throughout the world of bits, not so much in the world of bits. atoms and then we have this dualism, it's like this Cartesian dualism where you have all the things that happen in this virtual reality, but the material world that we live in doesn't progress as much and I think that's an important part that's missing, okay, but It is not like this.
It is the case that computer technology is just beginning and will accelerate, it is just beginning to affect the physical world, the physical economy, just a little patience, Peter, and you will see self-driving cars, energy is quite cheap, it is emerging. Fracking is the beginning. To spark the renaissance of American 3D manufacturing, 3D printing is just getting started, you'll have a perfusionist, but based on genome sequencing and the ability to design new drugs at the molecular level, just a little patience, well, that's it what people argue. Contrary to this technological slowdown thesis, they always say that they always point immediately to things that will happen in a few years and I certainly think that some of these things are plausible, there is no reason why they can't happen, but I always keep coming back. to this idea that in the last forty years it has been slower and I think one of the reasons why it has been difficult to do things in the world of atoms is that it is very regulated it is difficult to build a new nuclear power plant it is difficult to build one Supersonic planes with rockets are too noisy.
You know, new drugs cost a billion dollars to be approved by the FDA, so I don't think there's a natural law that says we can't do more, but I do. There are these are these cultural and political problems that have held us back, okay? Larry Summers Lawrence Summers Former Treasury Secretary and Former Harvard President Quotes Although financial repair had largely taken place in 2009, the recovery has only kept pace with population growth and has been worse in other parts of the world. industry other than the United States, real interest rates may not be able to fall enough to stimulate investment and cause total unemployment.
The presumption that normal economic and political conditions will eventually return cannot be maintained. you're saying that not only is this a thing, but you're underestimating the fact that the new normal is slow growth and stagnation, yes, although where I would diverge greatly from Summers is in what I would do about analytics by Summers. The macroeconomic and you see it from a Keynesian perspective in which you have to increase demand, so you have to increase money printing, you have to lower interest rates even more, you have to increase deficit spending, you have to find ways of the government going into even more debt. more money gives even more credit and this seems completely crazy to me.
I mean, consumers in the US are borrowing too much since the whole boom is going on. Baby boomers are approaching retirement in a state of actuarial bankruptcy, so it's pretty irresponsible to try to encourage them. demand I have a much more classical view of economics where I think the only side that really matters is supply. You know the overall productivity of the economy, so we have to ask ourselves why it's so hard to do new things. and I think that has less to do with what Bernanke or Yellen are doing at the Fed and has much more to do with the microregulations that drive the microeconomics that drive the supply side.
You sound like Ronald Reagan adjusted by some experience. In Silicon Valley, will you accept that characterization? It's close, although I think in our time marginal tax rates are not as important and I think regulations are more important. Okay, which brings us to Peter Thiel and the education of the United States of America. You yourself attended Stanford as an undergraduate, then went to Stanford Law School, and in recent years you have been scathing on the subject of American education and, in fact, have found that teal scholarships can attract children brilliant so that they abandon their studies. go to university and start their own companies, you have said that we are in an educational bubble and a bubble means that there is unreality in the fact that people are buying things that are somehow not real and yet education Peter American's superior is such that students from all over the world are clamoring to get into Stanford or Harvard or name any other at a really low level in the league tables, you will find foreign students trying to get into American schools.
Well, we have a well, we have a bubble in education just like we do. had a housing bubble in the last decade or Internet stocks in the 90s, is reflected in the fact that people are spending more and more, college costs have increased by four hundred percent after inflation since 1980, now you have over a trillion dollars in student debt and although in many cases it still is, in some ways it makes sense for people to do it because they get this credential, it's very important for all these other things, it's a bit of a parasitic system , you know, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's, like there's a very, very expensive IQ test being administered, where you know my IQ test would cost twenty-five dollars, you know that education at Harvard costs a quarter of a million dollars, so yes, once you have that credential, you get a better job, but it's an incredibly high tax that's being extracted when people use the word education, which is always an abstraction. amazing, you know, and we should be talking about what you're learning specifically, is it the root, is it science, technology, engineering, mathematics, is it true liberal arts that we're actually studying?
Well, the humanities, once you use this abstraction, can mean anything you can think of economically like education and investment. Are four-year-old parties a consumer decision? Is it an insurance policy that people are buying or is it like I said in many? In many cases, it's just a tournament where the value is actually the fact that these universities primarily exclude people and if you were president of Harvard or any of these elite universities, the only thing that would get you fired from immediate would be to increase enrollment in a normal business, you have the whole world clamoring to get in, you would say okay, let's increase enrollment by 20% or 100 / you know, maybe a 10 to 20 year plan you don't do it right away, but because we offer such an excellent education, obviously more people should have it.
I think the only type of business that wouldn't increase is like a crazy nightclub, it's like studio 54 or something, we just have a long line of people coming in and the more exclusive you make it, the more valuable it is, so it's disguised as something positive, it is actually very zero-sum. I said scathing and that applies, so if it's a bubble, which way will it do it? The pop bubble is, um, it's hard to say exactly how it ends because one of the reasons we've invested so many resources into the education system is that people can imagine any kind of alternative they can imagine doing anything different than what I What I think will happen is that we'll start to see more alternatives and I mean, I've never said that anyone should go to college or anything like that.
I think we should have more options, it shouldn't be that you go to Yale or go to jail it shouldn't be that you have to get a college degree and the analogy that I've suggested is that in some ways I think that universities face a somewhat similar crisis to that of the Catholic Church at the beginning of the 16th century. Five hundred years ago, where we basically had a unitary system, we knew there was only one way and one kind of secular, atheist version of the Catholic Church, it's like an atheist Church where your salvation is getting a college degree if you don't get it. with a diploma you will go to hell and there is no salvation outside of this university system, indulgences are becoming more and more expensive or becoming more corrupt and I think the disturbing message I have is similar to that of the 16th century. reformists are notThere is no formula and that people have to find a way to save themselves and that is a disturbing message because we would like to have a formula, so the ultra Oaks that you mentioned would go away a moment ago if you had any advice for Peter Thiel, 24 years?
If you had advice for 18-year-old Peter Thiel when you were graduating high school here in Foster City, would you have said no? Would you tell your 18-year-old son now? one year me don't go to Stanford you know it would be why are you why are you going would be I would say the advice would always be a little slippery answers it's a little slippery but it's always so difficult that we run these experiments, but I would value the substance more than the status. Are you doing it for the prestige of UM for the status or are you doing it because there are actually a lot of important things you want to learn, so go long, substance, short, status?
Well, that's advice not just for eighteen-year-olds. Okay, while we are in education, so the alternatives will take. What form do MOOCs have? It is on the Internet that we will first see the first cracks in the edifice of American higher education. I think it will be a whole. I think it will be very heterogeneous. There will be a lot of different things, so they may be MOOCs, they may be vocational training expanded, they may be academies where you learn, say, computer programming in six months and we can actually get a really good job without a period. of four years.
To what extent and to what extent can it simply be a whole range of things? To what extent does federal government policy support the education bubble? Well, you're encouraging people to take all these loans, you're subsidizing the loans, and then, perversely, you're making them. There's no way people can get out of them, so you can't get rid of your student debt, even if you personally declare bankruptcy, it's attached, it's like it's almost a form of indentured servitude, it's tied to you, you're a natural person for the rest of your life zero to one the government used to be able to coordinate complex solutions to problems like atomic weaponry and lunar exploration, but today the government primarily only provides insurance our solutions to big problems are payment programs of transfers close quote what went wrong between John Fitzgerald Kennedy saying we will put a man on the moon by the end of this decade and we did and Barack Obama saying the Affordable Care Act will transform American healthcare by keeping costs down across the board the country and it has not happened.
Yeah, what went wrong, oh, this is this. it's hard to say, let's start by acknowledging that something went wrong and you know, I'm a pretty staunch libertarian and not even I would have predicted that Obama's concern about Obama not being able to make his website work and a website is a product clearly inferior and simpler than building an Apollo rocket or building a bomb, I mean a nuclear bomb in the Manhattan Project, so there is this inability to do anything that involves complex coordination, I think there is almost an inability to Describe a future that's really different from the present so you know a letter from Einstein will get lost in the White House mailroom and somehow what always seems to happen is that kind of ax redistribution, utilitarian considerations dominate , so it would be much easier.
I'd rather give grandma a little more money for Medicare than actually invest in the research to find some new drugs or you know, the money that would go to the moon will be spent on some other transfer program and that's how it is. a, Discretionary investing is steadily declining and non-discretionary spending is steadily increasing and it's just that somehow we can't imagine anything else to do with money. I think that's okay, a question about what else to do with the money. a massive change imagining a different situation. future revitalizing NASA revitalizing a nuclear program so we can design we could actually use nuclear energy people we could design plants which are the technologies that require huge sums from the government or your friend Elon Musk will send a spaceship to Mars using private money um, I I don't know if you can solve all problems with startups or small groups of people, but we live in a world where this is how problems will be solved, so we won't do them through mass movements, you know, think about when it was The last time a politician gave a speech in which he said poorly about trade, a future that looked very different from the present, you could say like Martin Luther King, I have a dream, a black and white painting of how the United States United would look really different than what it is.
Reagan Mr. did it in the 1960s. Gorbachev tore down that wall, yes you may have had a little to do with Peter, but that's actually the last speech I can remember. We are a really different future. It was described and it is at this point that it does not pull. tests, well, you know, I think people don't believe in the future, you know, every science fiction movie that is made shows technology or a future that looks different is a bad future is the matrix its terminator is avatar its Elysium I saw the gravity movie the other day you'd be happy to be back on a muddy island, you'd never want to go to space and so and so in that kind of world you won't get any broad political support to do something very different look, I know, in that seat maybe four or five months ago, George Gilder said a lot of what you're saying now and he said all of this could improve the growth of the economy, all of this could be fixed very quickly if we elect a government that would address George still believes a little bit more than you on the marginal tax rate, the importance of reducing marginal tax rates, but I would certainly agree with you and the need to roll back regulation, if we could do that, the economy would recover very quickly.
Do you think we could do it? Whether the democratic system as it exists now will lead to such a result. Separate question if we had such if you could name Rand Paul President of the United States tomorrow and fill both houses of Congress with libertarians. Yes. For the economy to recover quickly, we have always thought that experiments are always dangerous because you enter into very speculative territory, so yes, I think there are political things that we could do that would be better or worse. I don't think we should do it. wait for this and that's why I always spend a lot of time in Silicon Valley and not in DC.
I find politics interesting. I think it's important. I also think it's almost endlessly frustrating, so the key thing is to figure out what can be done. It can be done today without waiting for political reform and there are some things that probably can't be done, but I think there is still a lot that people could do and we shouldn't always blame stagnation and blame regulations even though they make things worse. . Okay, you spend your time in Silicon Valley because you're you, you're not suggesting that all the bright students at Stanford and at all these universities that we've been talking about, that they should all turn their backs on the system and just focus on you.
You do not want to lead a libertarian revolution that involves simply ignoring as irrelevant or despicable the basic structure of the United States of America. Well, I don't think there is anything unitary, so I don't think so. everyone should be an entrepreneur I don't think everyone should be a computer programmer I don't think everyone should be in politics on the margins, although I would say that it is one of the positive aspects of the consequences of the 2008 crisis. The crisis It's that young people don't go to Wall Street in New York as much or get into politics as much in DC.
Maybe there was a two or three year bubble around DC after 2008 that ended happily and I think the fact that Silicon Valley is able to attract a plurality of talented young people is a very healthy sign that enrollment and Teach for America have declined in the last couple of years, good or bad, it depends on what people are doing, but I think I think to the extent that people are coming to Silicon Valley instead that's a good thing New York versus Silicon Valley if you would have if you were investing in an index of 100 it's very it's very long Silicon Valley very short New York totally unequivocal it's unequivocal is that we had a quarter of a century that was dominated by finance, you know, in 2007 half of the profits in this country were made by banks or financial institutions and I am not against banks or financial institutions, but it was too distorted, so there will be regulatory headwinds and some kind of renormalization, the same process that will continue for a long time time and I think you know that engineering has not been a good career for many years, it has been good for computer science, most other forms of engineering have been bad.
Nuclear engineering Mechanical engineering Electrical engineering Chemical engineering, so I think there's a lot more room to build things to do real engineering and not just financial educators. In the years to come, it seems like you haven't read the newspaper in the last few years of the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg who was determined to make New York City entrepreneurial and actually held an auction of sorts for the rights to build a campus on Roosevelt Island, I think right there in the middle of the East River, Cornell bid several hundred million dollars. are building a new campus on Roosevelt Island aimed specifically at making New York a place much more like the engineering startup of Silicon Valley.
New York is going to rise again, well, I always look, I'm Peter, I'm skeptical about copying things, you know? I don't want to copy, you know, you know you're not, you shouldn't try to be the next Facebook or the next Google that you know and the next Mark Zuckerberg won't build a social media site, the next Bill Gates will. build an operating system and I think that similar to Accenture trying to copy Silicon Valley, you're already putting yourself in a weird derivative position, you know you don't want to be Harvard of North Dakota, you know something about somewhere there's usually the nothingness of nothingness, okay Peter Thiel and the meaning of life, let's start with the meaning of the human Ness two quotes from John Walker writing on rebound quotes humans have consistently proven capable of building machines that rapidly surpass their biological predecessors, the biology never produced anything like a steam engine, a locomotive, or a passenger plane, there is every reason to assume that artificial intelligence will surpass our capabilities as much as those of a Boeing 747 surpass those of a Peter Teal falcon and scratch computers. to one they are complements to humans, not substitutes for what makes you very sure, well, I think, I think, I think that artificial intelligence is still of this kind of strong variety that Walker talks about, it is still a long way off, yes will it ever happen, is there any problem in principle?
Is there a reason why in principle? computers can't replace us, it's hard to say, it's true that people would have predicted this would happen a long time ago and in fact they did, those are the predictions you were talking about in the sixties, so there have been a number of AI predictions that have turned out to be quite wrong, so I think it's possible that there is something in principle that makes it more difficult or almost impossible for reasons that we don't fully understand yet, but I think the reality is that humans and computers They're just good at very different things, so they're mostly complementary, and I think the fears people have about being replaced by computers are largely unfounded, you know, technology frees people up to do other things. , it would be scary if computers were better than humans at absolutely everything I think it is still very far away that somewhere between science fiction, science fiction, fantasy, the breaker and the error, the singularity is not upon us the singularity defined as the moment when we have a machine that is smarter than us, yes I think it is not that close and I think their vision of the future is wrong when you see that when one says that the singularity is close, this portrays the future as something that just happens, it's just these exponential curves, all you need to do is sit down and eat a little bit. popcorn and watch the movie unfold and I think actually, instead of talking about the future like Kurzweil does, I think it would often be better to talk about human agency and what we're doing, what kind of future we are. choosing to build, its remodeling, does free will matter a lot to you?
Well, it's um, despite your attack on the Catholic Church just now, you're not Calvin, reject me, it was an attack on the atheist Church, but, but, I think not, I think I think every time we're too optimistic. or too pessimistic about the future, I always get nervous about those kinds of mentalities because it means that it doesn't matter what you do if you're super optimistic. the future will take care of itself if you are superpessimistic, we're headed for the apocalypse, there's nothing you can do and extreme optimism and extreme pessimism lead to a kind of inertia, so I think it's always a healthier attitude to think about it.
It's something open ended and it's really up to us to decide what we want the future to be last question last question or for Peter Teal on the meaning of life zero to one our task today is to find ways to create the new things that will make the future not only be different, but rather that it is better to go from zero to one. Close quote: Why continue like this? Surely you are not suggesting that we simply, in some kind of simian hyperactivity, seek to acquire more and more material goods, more and more smart devices. devices for the sake of smarter devices well, I'm not a techno-utopian.
I don't think technology is an absolute good. I think there are technological innovations that could be quite problematic. You know, you can certainly cite nuclear weapons as one of those innovations, but I don't think there can be a good future where we don't have technological progress, we have seven billion people on this planet and you can't go back to the Garden of Eden, no. You can come back. to some kind of pastoral Neolithic existence, so, you know, there's nothing to do, so we know that we've followed this scientific and technological trajectory and, having come as far as we've gone, we have to try to go further, so There is a difference between saying zero.
For one, I'm making this up as I go, so I'm sure I'll be clumsy trying to make this distinction, but there is a difference between saying lead your life this way because it's satisfying and you just talked about the humanities. real you studied philosophy the Greeks had an idea of excellence the life well lived this is a path to a life well lived that is something that you seem moments to say and then it seems that at other moments you say we are in the most terrible traffic jam, we have 7 billion of people, we're stuck in democracy and the only way out of this jam is here, baby, whether we like it or not.
We need technology and innovation to get out of this jam. I don't see the contradiction. Oh, I don't see the contradiction. I think I believe. Look. I think I believe. I think we could be doing much better than we are. It is important. That we build these technologies is not incompatible with people also reading Shakespeare or Greek philosophy, so I think you can do both, but I don't think there can be a good future without more scientific knowledge and technological progress and this has been a engine that has driven Western civilization during the last centuries. It would be crazy for us to give this up.
It's part of what has made our civilization so extraordinary and I think giving up would be incredible would represent an incredible decline last question Clayton Chris is not Kristensen, the famous Harvard Business School figure, he had a very serious health problem and He has finished classes every semester since then, but it raises a couple of questions. on the whiteboard I knew up until that point he was talking about business theory, but on the last day he is now asking questions including these: How can I be sure that I will be happy in my career and how can I be sure that my relationships will develop into something durable? source of happiness Now you might want to reach across the table and slap me for trying to end on a cheesy note, but how are those questions about personal happiness the work of man?
I'm not going to try to improve Clayton Christensen. How does happiness figure into Peter Thiel's game plan here? I always prefer meaning over happiness, but I think we have meaningful lives when we are. I think it's very meaningful when we do things that would otherwise be important. that would not be done otherwise so you don't want to be just a cog a machine you don't want to just do something that otherwise you would do it a thousand other people who take your place and it's always yes but for but for you, if it weren't for this company or this company that you're working at, this important thing wouldn't get done, that's what tends to be extremely significant and I think you should always point to that Peter Thiel, author of zero to one thanks.
Thank you for contributing to the Hoover Institution and the Wall Street Journal. I'm Peter Robinson.
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