"It would be hard to imagine the President of the United States declaring war on Alzheimers," Peter Thiel says, "because our pessimism about technology has started to seep into the system." That's right, we are pessimists whether we want to admit it or not, and it can be seen in our diminished expectations of progress in a wide range of fields.
If Thiel's keynote address at the 2012 Nantucket Project may have seemed like the buzz kill of the weekend, that may be because, as he says, the experts that we often hear from "are insanely optimistic about everything." Indeed, experts are incentivized to view innovation with rose-colored glasses. Doom and gloom doesn't get scientists research dollars. And Thiel says that venture capitalists, a group he belongs to, can be some of the most incorrigible optimists.
This wild-eyed optimism prevails, Thiel says, despite our diminished expectations for the kinds of problems that technology might actually be able to solve. And so we continue to operate with "a background assumption that we are living in a technologically-accelerating civilization." Thiel has a different view of where we are headed, and he says we need to fight hard to improve our future prospects.
As a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, Thiel has been involved with some of the most dynamic companies to emerge from Silicon Valley in the past decade. Thiel's first start-up was PayPal, which he co-founded in 1998, and led as Chairman and CEO. After eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5 billion in 2002, Thiel founded Clarium Capital Management, a global macro hedge fund. As a venture capitalist in his personal capacity, Thiel funded companies like Facebook, where he was that company's first outside investor and director. Thiel's contributions to technology, entrepreneurship, and finance have been widely recognized, including by the World Economic Forum, which honored Thiel as a Young Global Leader, and by BusinessWeek, which named him one of the 25 most influential people on the Web.