An Interview With Peter Thiel

Reason Magazine is running an interview with VC, trader and philanthropic investor Peter Thiel. It's of interest to those who would like more insight into the thinking that leads Thiel to support the activist outgrowth of the transhumanist community - specifically the Singularity Institute (hundred of thousands of dollars focused on development of general artificial intelligence) and the Methuselah Foundation (millions of dollars focused on radical life extension). The interview focuses far more on the former than the latter, but the reasoning is applicable across the board. On the one hand information technology, on the other hand biotechnology, both accelerating hard towards the promise of amazing future technologies:

I think [the Singularity Institute is] a group of really smart people working on an important problem. I think that the basic rule on philanthropy that I have is that I want to donate money to causes that are worthwhile but where there are no market-based mechanisms for them. There is a category of things that would benefit all of humanity but where the benefits are very diffuse and the costs are concentrated. Maybe it’s very long-term. So I focused my philanthropy on things with a 20-, 30-, 40-year horizon. The horizons are too long for a for-profit company to take advantage of, and the government and universities are not pushing things because maybe it’s too unconventional or it doesn’t easily fit into a particular political agenda or vision of the future. Those areas are probably systematically underfunded. It may be the only area of philanthropy that’s underfunded. ... I also have been doing some work on radical life extension, which I think is similarly underfunded.


I certainly think living longer is not a generally bad thing. I think that making sure the technology arc is positive rather than negative is not generally a bad thing. I think it probably would be somewhat mistaken to frame it in too narrowly selfish a way. It may be the case that the work being done on life extension is going to benefit people 100 or 200 years from now, but I think it still is a good thing to do it. My own guess is that I will live to age 100 to 120, so I'm frustrated that the technologies aren't going as quickly as they should because of government interference.


The question's not an abstract question about “Is it desirable for people to live X years?" It's "Is it good to have a cure for this form of cancer? Is it good to do something where your bodies and minds stay younger and healthier for longer than they otherwise would?" The [Leon] Kass approach encourages the rest of the society not to reflect about this. In the United States life is getting longer and longer, but we’re not thinking about it. If we’re actually going to live to age 100, the effect of Kass will be to encourage people to have a very unhealthy last 30 years because they will not have thought about and will not have prepared for it.

The future is what we make of it: either a golden era, realized through foresight and planning, or a wasted opportunity. The more people of influence to realize just how great the potential, the better.


"The future is what we make of it: either a golden era, realized through foresight and planning, or a wasted opportunity. The more people of influence to realize just how great the potential, the better."

Absolutely right. This might seem self-evident, but unfortunately it isn't. This reminds me of 'fixed mindset' vs. 'growth mindset'.

Posted by: Michael G.R. at May 1st, 2008 12:45 PM

I agree with Thiel when he says that life extension therapies will take 100-200 years to arrive.

Posted by: ADBatstone at May 1st, 2008 9:38 PM
Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.