Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, is bringing together an impressive gathering of Silicon Valley investors to spread some interest in the future. As the original big financial backer for Facebook, Thiel has the respect of many of his venture-minded peers. Tonight, at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, he’ll play host to around 200 hand-picked movers and shakers at a special invite-only dinner referred to as Audacious Optimism. We got a hold of a partial expected guest list and were suitably wowed: Larry Page (co-founder of Google), Philip Rosedale (Second Life), Elon Musk (PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors), Dustin Moskovitz (co-founder of Facebook), Pierluigi Zappacosta (Logitech)…the list goes on. Those names represent many billions of dollars in investment potential. The aim of the evening seems to be exposing this monetary might to companies looking to capitalize on advanced technology like AI and regenerative medicine. That’s right, tonight’s dinner is ‘money meets the Singularity’ and the Hub is going to be there. I’ll give you a preview of what we’re expecting tonight, but stay tuned tomorrow for a review of everything that goes down. If money makes the world go round then Thiel’s dinner looks like it is about to give the technology globe a spin.
Audacious Optimism is planned to be a fairly straight forward event. After an hour or so of networking there will be a few opening remarks from The Thiel Foundation, and Patri Friedman of the Seasteading Institute. After that, we’ll be on to five minute “lightning talks” from organizations at the cutting-edge of technology. That list includes the SENS Foundation, Singularity University, Singularity Institute, Foresight Institute, Humanity+ (with Ben Goertzel), Santa Fe Institute, and Xprize Foundation (with Peter Diamandis). Each of these groups is looking to push the boundaries of science, politics, and/or society, and could provide disruptive (and hopefully positive) changes in the years ahead. After their talks, Thiel will give a few closing remarks and attendees will continue to mingle and connect until the event closes. Probably long after that as well – I’m pretty sure that mingling is the favorite pastime of Silicon Valley.
Just to make my own mingling more awkward tonight I’m going to kick the hornet’s nest here and say that I don’t think that these groups are actually going to be the sources for profound change in the years ahead. Is SENS going to bring rejuvenation to the masses, or will it be The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine? Sure, the Xprize is amazing, but it’s SpaceX that actually got into orbit. These companies may inspire and direct the works of others, but I’m pretty sure that they won’t be the ones doing the heavy lifting. I’m not passing judgement until I hear what they have to say tonight, but my gut tells me that it’s Craig Venter, Anthony Atala, Dean Kamen, etc who are going to be the big names in the history of the Singularity. These other groups, while great, are mainly think tanks. They’re important, but maybe not the most crucial place to invest. Or maybe they are, what do I know? Luckily it’s up to more successful and experienced businessmen than myself to decide where to put their money, and many of these people have made themselves rich by backing what other people considered longshots.
The Thiel Foundation, one of the nominal hosts of the evening, is an organization aimed at increasing freedom by combating violence, exploring new ideas about social hierarchies, and promoting science and technology. It has a history of damning social conventions and investing in whatever it thinks will best help humanity. Recently, Thiel announced that he and his foundation would be creating a fellowship specifically aimed at brilliant young entrepreneurs looking to drop out of school and start new enterprises. Watch Thiel discuss this ’20 under 20 Project’ with Tech Crunch in the video below. This is not a guy who’s shy about promoting the ideas that he believes in.
In fact, Thiel has a reputation as a sort of investment don. He’s credited with leading the “PayPal Mafia” a group of investors originating from (but not limited to) those who made money from the creation and success of PayPal. That group is generally thought to include the likes of Elon Musk, Ken Howery, and Luke Nosek, all who are planned to be in attendance tonight. Thiel’s even been immortalized by Hollywood. In the movie The Social Network, Thiel is the big investor that Justin Timberlake (Napster’s Sean Parker) secures for Zuckerberg. That part of the movie isn’t fictionalized. As I mentioned earlier, Thiel was the first major investor in Facebook, and owns a significant portion of the company. His Facebook share is likely to become more and more valuable in the future. Yet with his investment clout, Thiel can bring more money to bear on a project than his personal funds alone would suggest. Considering that he’s probably worth $1.2 billion on his own, that’s saying something.
Tonight promises to be a unique gathering of ideas and money. While it’s unlikely that checks will be written and deals made, we’ll probably see the start of many conversations that could lead to such transactions. Yet I hope the effect of Audacious Optimism will extend far beyond the particular investments that arise out of this evening. We need more than a fresh wave of capital injected into advancing technologies, we need the entire conversation about investments to shift towards a more radical outlook on the future. Silicon Valley has served as an incubator for some of the most successful new technologies in the world. Now, during relative economic hardship, it would be easy for investors to hold back and avoid the more daring scientific endeavors. That, I think, would be a mistake. Tonight’s evening could serve as a launching pad to get the Bay Area investment community to consider concepts that the mainstream population still considers science fiction. It could be a big night.
We’ll let you know how it goes down, tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a brief preview of what to expect from this evening’s attendees.
“Peter consistently puts his own money behind ambitious and far-reaching projects that in my opinion will make the world a better place. I have never met nor I have ever heard of another person like Peter, but I hope that tonight’s inspiring event will recruit a new generation of donors for these crucial causes.”
— Pierluigi Zappacosta
“These innovative, big-thinking nonprofits are woefully underfunded compared to the potential benefit they can bring to humanity. We need more visionary philanthropists like Peter Thiel who look to the long-term and invest in breakthrough technologies.”
— Patri Friedman, Seasteading Instittute.
“Silicon Valley is a place where people are focused on – and sometimes worried about – tomorrow. When it comes to building great companies, the world’s boldest technologists have been willing to challenge the presumptions of established interests in science, business, education and many other fields. Traditional philanthropy tends to deliver well-established solutions to more people , but the world also needs philanthropy that looks to the future, creating radical innovations. For those whose fortunes have often been built on disruptive and positive change in the for-profit sector, a similarly disruptive approach to philanthropy should have immense appeal.”
— Peter Thiel, The Thiel Foundation
[image credit: The Thiel Foundation]
[source: Quotes via Torch Communications LLC]