More to Peter Thiel than meets the eye
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.