Advocates of science fictional thinking crop up in the weirdest places. For example, Peter Thiel helped found PayPal and invested early in Facebook, and his main business is hedge funds and venture capital (which may predispose one to take his ideas with a large pinch of salt, given the economic events of the last couple of years), but he also invests in the sorts of venture that seem to have leapt right off the pages of old-school science fiction novels: sub-oceanic human colnisation projects, life extension research and private space flight, for instance.
So why does a man with that much money sloshing around want to invest in blue-sky futurism? Because he believes that radical progress is the only thing that will keep the existential wolves from civilisation’s door:
Wired: You’re worried about economic stagnation, but you’re optimistic about artificial intelligence and space?
Thiel: I think we have to make those things happen. We should be looking at technologies that might lead to really big breakthroughs. As a starting point, let’s just go back to the science fiction novels of the 1950s and ’60s and try to run the past 40 years again.
Wired: We need underwater cities and flying cars, otherwise we’re going bankrupt?
Thiel: We go bankrupt if radical progress doesn’t happen and we don’t realize it’s not happening. That’s a dangerous combination.
It’s a strange and topsy-turvy world when venture capitalists advocate wild flights of fanciful imagination while science fiction writers advocate plausible extrapolations from the status quo, don’t you think? 😉
4 thoughts on “Back to the future of the past? Venture capitalist advocates a return to radical futurism”
Fascinating…! And if the emoticon denotes the purest of ironicality–I agree with it. Thiel’s statements do strike me as somewhat strange, though, in their uncommon genre shift. Most capitalists’ claims you have to look for on the Supernatural-Horror-Fantasy shelf, all easily identifiable as being part of the interminable “Invisible Hand” series.
He’s right, you know.
We can play it safe–we can coddle, optimize, mitigate, and securitize all we want–and end up in a very comfortable prison on a tiny planet that is going nowhere.
Or we can do wacky things. Some of them will work. And there is the potential for greatness.
When I made this suggestion to several SAF writers, including Charles Stross, it was met with acute hostility by the author and by the audience.
To quote Burt Rutan, American aerospace pioneer (as I did on @outshine, after reading an interview with him on New Scientist):
“If half of them believe it’s impossible, and half think it’s really hard but worth trying, then it’s a research project.”
And that is the way in which a huge amount of progress is made.
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