Very depressing analysis from Peter Thiel–investor in immortality, nanotech, seasteading, and libertarian politics–about our immediate technological horizons. Especially grim for those of who read too much Robert Anton Wilson in the early 1980s and began beliving in a "jumping Jesus" phenomenon in which our knowledge and mastery of the world would begin doubling in quicker and shorter increments, and whose retirement plans thus depended on the allegedly around-the-corner world of endless techno-wizardry that make energy production and matter manipulation as cheap as a value meal.
Thiel was debating Google's Eric Schmidt at the "Fortune Brainstorm Tech" conference in Aspen the other day. Thiel is making a dog-that-didn't-bark argument, basically saying that if there were rich horizons for technological progress, shouldn't Schmidt's Google be using its huge cash piles to explore them?
I'm Libertarian, I think [technological stagnation is] because the government has outlawed technology…I think we've basically outlawed everything having to do with the world of stuff, and the only thing you're allowed to do is in the world of bits. And that's why we've had a lot of progress in computers and finance. Those were the two areas where there was enormous innovation in the last 40 years. It looks like finance is in the process of getting outlawed….
[Google]has 30, 40, 50 billion in cash. It has no idea how to invest that money in technology effectively. So, it prefers getting zero percent interest from Mr. Bernanke, effectively the cash sort of gets burned away over time through inflation, because there are no ideas that Google has how to spend money….
if we're living in an accelerating technological world, and you have zero percent interest rates in the background, you should be able to invest all of your money in things that will return it many times over, and the fact that you're out of ideas, maybe it's a political problem, the government has outlawed things. But, it still is a problem….
the intellectually honest thing to do would be to say that Google is no longer a technology company, that it's basically ?? it's a search engine. The search technology was developed a decade ago. It's a bet that there will be no one else who will come up with a better search technology. So, you invest in Google, because you're betting against technological innovation in search. And it's like a bank that generates enormous cash flows every year, but you can't issue a dividend, because the day you take that $30 billion and send it back to people you're admitting that you're no longer a technology company. That's why Microsoft can't return its money. That's why all these companies are building up hordes of cash, because they don't know what to do with it, but they don't want to admit they're no longer tech companies.
Technologists and business analysts who can poke holes in Thiel's pessimism, please do. Schmidt didn't do a very good job at that, in my reading.
Link via Marginal Revolution.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.