Peter Thiel, billionaire founder of PayPal, naysayer of the American college system, and famously outspoken libertarian, took to Reddit on Thursday for an “Ask Me Anything,” or AMA, session. For about one hour, Thiel answered questions from the Internet on everything from Silicon Valley fashion to the National Security Agency and Edward Snowden. You can learn a lot from reading his responses—perhaps most importantly, that Thiel has a sense of humor.
On Silicon Valley fashion:
No absolute and timeless sartorial rules.
But, in Silicon Valley, wearing a suit in a pitch meeting makes you look like someone who is bad at sales and worse at tech.
On the American health care system:
We would never design a system like this if we were starting from scratch.
If technology involves doing more with less, than US health care (like US education) is the core of “anti-technology” in this country: For the last four decades, we have been spending more and more for the same (or even for less).
On how Snowden has impacted the cloud, security, and startups:
It is a much-needed debate.
BTW, I don’t agree with the libertarian description of the NSA as “big brother.” I think Snowden revealed something that looks more like the Keystone Kops and very little like James Bond.
The first thing an intelligence agency should do is counter-intelligence, and the NSA could not even figure out that there was something suspicious about an IT person downloading all those files. And once they knew Snowden had done this, they apparently still couldn’t figure out what all he had taken…
It was inappropriate that the US was tapping Angela Merkel’s cell phone. But I suspect that this was news to Obama as well. And more generally: the NSA has been hovering up all the data in the world, because it has no clue what it is doing. “Big data” really means “dumb data.”
On artificial intelligence:
I think AI is still a fair ways off. But the economic questions (e.g., how will this impact our work?) are secondary to the political questions (e.g., will AI be friendly?).
The development of AI would be as momentous as the landing of extraterrestrials on this planet. If aliens landed, the first question would not be about the economy!
On the ethics of Uber:
Not optimal if you break the law to the point where the company gets shut down (think Napster). I’m not saying that will happen to Uber, but I think they’ve pushed the line really far.
PayPal built a payment system but failed in its goal in creating a “new world currency” (our slogan from back in 2000). Bitcoin seems to have created a new currency (at least on the level of speculation), but the payment system is badly lacking.
I will become more bullish on Bitcoin when I see the payment volume of Bitcoin really increase.
On his favorite rap artist:
On whether Palantir is a front for the CIA:
No, the CIA is a front for Palantir.