Peter Thiel’s Model for Innovation in the Next 20 Years

I almost started this post by claiming that Peter Thiel is “obviously” one of the most well-known figures in Silicon Valley. Then I realized that, though quite probably the case within the Valley, he’s unlikely to be as well known outside of this geographic region.

To a broader audience, Peter Thiel (1967) is an Frankfurt, Germany-born entrepreneur, investor and businessman whose track record includes two Stanford degrees, being an early investor in Facebook, a co-founder of software company Palantir, and more.

This post is essentially about the future the way we think about the future. Specifically, Thiel posits that we should catalyze a renewed focus on technology and innovation in our society by learning from the ’50s and ’60s. We can do this by “look[ing] at all the science fiction book that were written at the time, and [..] all the things that didn’t happen, and making a concerted effort to make that happen.” Full video here.

So what did ’50s and ’60s science fiction envision that has (partially) happened?

  • computer revolution
  • the Internet

So what did ’50s and ’60s science fiction envision that hasn’t happened?

  • space travel[1]
  • robots[2]
  • underwater cities
  • flying cars[3]
  • reforestation of the desert

I’m always looking for intelligent frameworks and methodologies for thinking about the future of technology itself, and its impact on humanity. Thiel’s proposal to taking a lead from the ’50s and ’60s seems potentially quite fruitful. A quick search yields the following collection of books. Note: I’ve allowed myself to be partly biased by both Thiel’s mention of the late ’60s (for that decade), as well as titles I’ve heard described as (near-)classics before (for both decades).

  • 1953: “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 1961: “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlein
  • 1950: “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov
  • 1965: “Dune” by Frank Herbert
  • 1968: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick
  • 1966: “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
  • 1969: “Slaughterhouse” by Kurt Vonnegut

I can’t wait to dive into every single one at least one of these.

Note: Thiel mentions the phrase “Critical vectors of technological progress over the next 20 yeas.” At first glance, this seems like a phrase I’d like to keep a mind as a useful framework for thinking about the future of technology.

[1] SpaceX is on top of it. There is a nascent private space industry, but need MOAR.
[2] Watch this and this.
[3] Peter Thiel himself has said flying cars would be a “bad idea” since they’d never be allowed to take off.

What’s this all about, anyway?

Well, fundamentally: information. On the spectrum from theoretic to applied, this is about the nature of information, its relationship to physical reality; to more applied things; viewing software as the creation and manipulation of information. A software engineer applies the principles of engineering to software. Some of these principles are inherited from engineering in the broader sense; some are specific to software.

From a mathematical perspective, I seek to build an intellectual framework of all the above by formulating precise definitions and relationships, and sets and subsets.

* Information is the only resource that grows as it is used.

Who do I write for?

Myself, to be honest.