More to Peter Thiel than meets the eye

The Press - - Catalyst - BOB BROCKIE


Peter Thiel is the Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire who con­tro­ver­sially jumped the queue for New Zea­land cit­i­zen­ship, sup­ported Trump’s elec­tion cam­paign to the tune of US$2 mil­lion, and bought a life­style block on the shores of Lake Wanaka for $13.5m.

Not ev­ery­body wel­comes our new ci­ti­zen.

But there is much more to Thiel than meets the eye.

Born in Ger­many in 1967, Thiel spent a lot of his child­hood in South Africa where he read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings 10 times.

He was a child chess prodigy in the US, and earned de­grees in phi­los­o­phy and law at Stan­ford Univer­sity. For a while, he worked as a po­lit­i­cal speech­writer and deriva­tives trader, be­fore found­ing PayPal in 1999.

He started up more than 24 Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies be­fore be­com­ing a board mem­ber of Face­book, pres­i­dent, chair­man, or part­ner of Mithril Cap­i­tal, Founders Fund, Y Com­bi­na­tor, Clar­ium Cap­i­tal, Valar Ven­tures, and many other ven­ture cap­i­tal out­fits.

His Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies, val­ued at US$20 bil­lion, is used by US spy agen­cies and the Depart­ment of De­fence. He named Palan­tir af­ter the ‘‘see­ing stone’’ in Lord of the Rings.

Thiel was a big-time fi­nan­cial sup­porter of the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists and the Hu­man Rights As­so­ci­a­tion. He founded stu­dent pa­per, The Stan­ford Re­view, and he pro­motes gay rights. He’s a very ac­tive lib­er­tar­ian, con­tro­ver­sial­ist and con­trar­ian.

But hey, this is a science col­umn. What is Peter Thiel do­ing here? Well, quite a lot.

He has in­vested huge sums in in­nu­mer­able sci­en­tific in­sti­tutes, such as the Methuse­lah Foun­da­tion. It is try­ing to ex­tend hu­man longevity and he has in­vested US$6m in an at­tempt to re­peal the in­evitabil­ity of death. He plans to have his body pre­served in liq­uid ni­tro­gen for fu­ture res­ur­rec­tion.

Thiel has do­nated money to the Ma­chine In­tel­li­gence In­sti­tute, which fo­cuses on the ‘‘sin­gu­lar­ity’’, the day when ro­bots be­come smarter than hu­mans and ei­ther re­main as our slaves or pro­mote them­selves to be­come our masters or do away with hu­man­ity as we will be sur­plus to re­quire­ments.

He has in­vested US$2.2m in the Seast­eading In­sti­tute to re­search and set up per­ma­nent au­ton­o­mous cities in in­ter­na­tional waters. Ear­lier this year, the French Poly­ne­sian Gov­ern­ment signed an agree­ment with the Seast­eading In­sti­tute to cre­ate the le­gal frame­work for build­ing a vir­tual float­ing state near Tahiti.

Thiel also set up Break­out Labs, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that funds longterm, blue-sky re­search too rad­i­cal to at­tract tra­di­tional fund­ing. The labs are into stem cell and Alzheimer’s re­search.

The Thiel Fel­low­ship is a non­profit phil­an­thropic agency that an­nu­ally awards US$100,000 to 20 peo­ple un­der the age of 20 to de­velop their ven­ture ideas.

Thiel has a soft spot for New Zea­land, hav­ing vis­ited us four times, in­vested $147m in the suc­cess­ful New Zea­land tech­nol­ogy com­pany, Xero, and do­nated $1m to vic­tims of the Christchurch quakes.

With such ex­tra­or­di­nary charm, vi­sion, wealth, power, con­nec­tions, in­flu­ence, and the prospect of mu­tual ad­van­tage to him­self and to our­selves, it would have been very hard for our Min­is­ter of Im­mi­gra­tion to turn down Thiel’s bid for cit­i­zen­ship.


Peter Thiel has in­vested huge sums in in­sti­tutes like the Methuse­lah Foun­da­tion, which is try­ing to ex­tend hu­man longevity.

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