Peter Thiel on technology and globalization

Those of you who have heard Peter Thiel speak (at the Singularity Summits and a while back at Foresight’s Senior Associates Gathering) already know that he is quite a visionary. In Hoover’s Feb/Mar 2008 Policy Review, Peter presents The Optimistic Thought Experiment, his thoughts on globalization and technology. Some excerpts:

For every account of globalization that culminates in the capitalist paradise, there are others in which globalization results in world-wide anarchy or tyranny. At a first approximation, the best possible future follows the straight and narrow path between these unappealing alternatives. The narrowness of the path is determined by the combination of the spread of destructive technology and the difficulty of improving human nature…

This time around, globalization either will succeed and humanity will achieve a degree of freedom and prosperity that can scarcely be imagined, or globalization will fail and capitalism or even humanity itself may come to an end. The real alternative to good globalization is world war. And because of the nature of today ’s technology, such a war would be apocalyptic in the twenty-first century. Because there is not much time left, the Great Boom, taken as a whole, either is not a bubble at all, or it is the final and greatest bubble in history

The solutions to hard engineering problems are not necessarily valuable, but it is unusual for the solutions to easy engineering problems to have much value in the long term…

Technology entrepreneurs and investors would do well to return to hard and important problems…

Despite all this, the world may yet resume the globalist path. The narrative of the past four centuries has not been one of continuous progress, but strewn beneath the stories of cupidity and strife there lies the story of the powerful impulse toward globalization and of the transformational effects of technology. In this context, a near-term backlash against globalization should not be confused with the end of the world, though a wholesale rollback could represent the ultimate catastrophe.

We especially like “Technology entrepreneurs and investors would do well to return to hard and important problems.” For example, productive nanosystems! —Christine

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