Earlier this year, we learned that early Facebook investor Peter Thiel didn't believe in higher education, and thanks to a just-published New Yorker profile, we now know that he also doesn't believe in death. What a contrarian! For the straight and narrow Americans out there, it gets even grittier. Thiel, pictured above with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, also invested in the development of anarchic off-shore colonies — "sea-steading" — through a nonprofit slash Randian fantasy founded by Milton Friedman's grandson. He wrote a big check for the Singularity Institute which, in New Yorker writer George Packer's words, "is preparing for the moment when a machine can make a smarter version of itself, and aims to insure that this 'intelligence explosion' remains 'human-friendly.'" Over the course of ten pages, including one full-page, full-color portrait of Thiel sitting on what appears to be a massive Ottoman made from the fur of exotic animals, Packer describes Thiel as nothing less than a genius and nothing more than a ginger-haired math nerd trapped in a billionaire's lifestyle. This is probably best communicated through Packer's slight but unavoidable focus on Thiel's voice, especially his stutter. Packer writes:
His most striking feature is his voice: something metallic seems to be caught in his throat, deepening and flattening the timbre into an authorita- tive drone. During intense moments of cerebration, he can get stuck on a thought and fall silent, or else stutter for a full forty seconds: "I would say it's—it's— um—you know, it is—yes, I sort of agree—I sort of—I sort of agree with all this. I don't—um—I don't—um—there is a sense in which it's an unambitious perspective on politics." Thiel expresses no ill will toward anyone, never stoops to gossip, and seldom cracks a joke or acknowledges that one has been made.
One can't help but suspect Packer is cracking a quiet joke about Thiel the wannabe robot whose actually a noticeably imperfect human. The bulk of the profile, however, focuses on the wannabe robot element of Thiel's personality and ambitions. We hear little about Thiel's background as a hedge funder, but we learn a lot about his quirky branching out as a venture capitalist. The quest for immortality can be best summed up with one quote. Thiel told Packer, "Probably the most extreme form of inequality is between people who are alive and people who are dead."
The profile is worthwhile but for non-subscribers is hiding behind a paywall. Here's your executive summary of the executive would-be cyborg with a passion for libertarian politics and more than a vested interest in the future of mankind:
Everyone finds justification for his or her views in logic and analysis, but a personal philosophy often emerges from some archaic part of the mind, an early idea of how the world should be. Thiel is no different. He wants to live forever, have the option to escape to outer space or an oceanic city-state, and play chess against a robot that can discuss Tolkien, because these were the fantasies that filled his childhood imagination.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.