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