Given that Peter Thiel had recently called Europe a "slacker with low expectations...held back by a poor work ethic," a sit-down interview at Dublin's 2014 Web Summit today had the potential to be more than awkward. Yet Thiel remained calm and composed, offering his insights on topics ranging from artificial intelligence to space travel to the remarkable "courage" of Tim Cook coming out as gay. And, he adds, "This [summit] is obviously not representative of Europe at all..."
Here are some of the highlights of his talk:
On Artificial Intelligence
When asked to give his views on longevity research, Thiel remarked that "we could be doing a lot more on the fight against aging," and that "we should always replace questions about the future with questions about human agency." In other words, there's plenty that we do have the ability to change--and rather than denying that a problem exists, we should go out and solve it today.
He also argues that we tend to talk about artificial intelligence too much in economic terms as opposed to political ones (i.e., how many jobs will be taken by robots.) While he agrees that Elon Musk is right to worry about the potential dangers of AI, the reality, he says, is very far--indeed centuries, he estimates--down the line.
...And Space Travel
Where space travel is concerned, Thiel reiterated that the challenges to progress are largely political, not technological. On the heels of Friday's Virgin Galactic crash, he channels Richard Branson, saying that we shouldn't let the tragedy deter us from moving forward. He also thinks that there's an "enormously negative narrative cast around [space travel]," which impedes technological progress. "If you want to see what the dominant culture thinks of science or technology," he continues, "you should just watch the science fiction movies that come out of Hollywood." He cites Elysium, Avatar and the Matrix as examples, which all depict technology as dangerous and dystopian.
On Silicon Valley Arrogance
Thiel has previously cited a "gulf" between Silicon Valley and Capitol Hill, the latter of which he sees as largely lacking technological fluency to the point of fault. According to Thiel, many lawmakers are too focused on bureaucracy to get anything done. They "don't understand that windmills don't work when the wind isn't blowing," he says. What would help? Voting into office people who have a greater aptitude for science, he adds.
According to Thiel, Silicon Valley techies don't believe that "we're living in a perfect world," and rather want to use their savvy to fix problems as quickly as possible. He trumpets that we "should not ask for permission, but rather ask for forgiveness later."
On Tim Cook Coming 'Out'
On the heels of Tim Cook's announcement last week, Thiel says that "it's always a good thing for gay people to come out." He does, however, see the move as a notably brave one. "If you're the CEO of a major tech company, there's always a way in which you personify the brand on a global level," he continues, "and there definitely are parts of the world where people think about this issue very differently from other parts."