Financier and philanthropist Peter Thiel is keen on thinking about the future and he is gathering together some of his 200 fellow entrepreneurs and techies to encourage these philanthropists to donate more money to scientific pursuits that could lead to big breakthroughs in medicine, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, among other fields.
“We’re living in a world where people are incredibly biased toward the incremental,” said Thiel, explaining that he wants to challenge his peers to pursue more “radical breakthroughs” in their philanthropy by supporting nonprofit exploration of technological innovations that carry at least the promise of major advances for the human condition.
“Obviously there are a lot of questions about the impact of these things,” he added. “If you have radical life extension, that could obviously lead to repercussions for society. But I think that’s a problem we want to have.”
The list of expected attendees of this summit is not public knowledge but the word out there is that tlist such figure as capitalist Pierluigi Zappacosta, a co-founder of Logitech, and Infoseek founder Steve Kirsch will be there.
Thiel’s interest in radical life extension is nothing new. He has already invested in companies working in biotechnology, space exploration and data-mining software for government intelligence agencies. His philanthropy, guided by a strong libertarian bent, includes support for the Human Rights Foundation, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
“Peter is a contrarian. He kind of specializes in picking and backing the right ideas, many of which aren’t accepted yet,” said Patri Friedman, a friend and co-founder of the Seasteading Institute, which wants to experiment with new forms of government in communities built on floating platforms — outside the jurisdiction of any current nation’s territorial waters.
“You have to take risks in order to make a breakthrough,” added Friedman, a former Google engineer and grandson of economist Milton Friedman. “That’s what works for Peter as a venture capitalist, but he’s frustrated that it doesn’t seem to be happening in the philanthropic sector.”
Friedman’s organization is one of eight nonprofits that will be making brief presentations to Thiel’s audience. Other presentations will be made by representatives from Humanity+, which we have discussed here in previous blog posts – promotes the idea that high-tech prosthetics and other scientific advancements can enhance human physical capabilities; the Foresight Institute, which focuses on the potential for medical and manufacturing advances through nanotechnology, or building things at the atomic level; and the SENS Foundation, which sponsors research into prolonging life by reversing the damage caused by normal aging.
Thiel acknowledged that there are plenty of deserving charities struggling to meet more immediate needs, such as food, shelter and education. He said those causes are important, but he thinks the majority of philanthropy is already focused in that direction.
“One of the things that’s gone strangely wrong in the United States is that the future is not really being thought about as a major idea anymore.”