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Co-Founder of PayPal Peter Thiel: Society Is Hostile To Science and Technology 238

dcblogs writes Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, billionaire investor and author, says "we live in a financial, capitalistic age, we do not live in a scientific or technological age. We live in a period where people generally dislike science and technology. Our culture dislikes it, our government dislikes it. The easiest way to see "how hostile our society is to technology" is to look at Hollywood. Movies "all show technology that doesn't work, that ... kills people, that it is bad for the world," said Thiel. He argues that corporations and the U.S. government are failing at complex planning.
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Co-Founder of PayPal Peter Thiel: Society Is Hostile To Science and Technology

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  • by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @06:17PM (#48097485) Homepage

    Yes, hostile to tchnology like spell checkers....

    • Yes, hostile to tchnology like spell checkers....

      Spell checkers? Dang, it's not every day one gets Nazi'd by a Hogwarts graduate...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Obviously, most of society loves those technologies that make their lives easier.

      What people don't love is anything that requires of them a higher level of mental effort. Things like safe password management, for example. Similarly, if being of above-average intelligence means you can more greatly utilize available technological resources to give yourself greater success, then everyone really hates that, and hates you while they are at it. For example, they don't want to have to learn to code, because th

  • by cyberspittle ( 519754 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @06:20PM (#48097511) Homepage
    When high tech companies offshore cash to avoid taxes, it is no wonder people don't trust the technology. They don't trust the technology companies.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Are they hostile towards coffee? Because last I checked Starbucks was the biggest offender.

    • When high tech companies offshore cash to avoid taxes, it is no wonder people don't trust the technology. They don't trust the technology companies.

      Yes, and isn't it ironic that the very reason they don't like technology companies that do this is because of their capitalistic goals to increase financial wealth.

      Perhaps it's not so much irony as it is proving his point dead on.

      • Most of the people i see bitching about tech companies or any company for that matter who offshores cash to avoid taxes seem to object on the grounds of "fairness" and "governmentbis good except when it gets involved over seas". It typically isn't about cApitalistic financial anything.

        I don't see any irony or point being proven.

  • Sometimes movies don't show us technological failings, but human ones. The Minority Report shows us advanced technology (to the point that the UI was praised, and is basically duplicated in shows like Agents of Shield) and shows us human failings.

    On the other hand, implementation of technology has become a corporate thing. And as corporations have shown us, they're working in their interests, not ours. They'll release buggy or vulnerable products. They won't patch or fix those problems without being
    • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @06:29PM (#48097597)

      And don't forget the scary parts.

      Almost every week you read about another "hacked" company that just lost your credit card number and all your identifying information. Hope you changed all your passwords.

      Will the people who "stole" your credit card ever be caught? No.

      Will the people who decided NOT to protect it ever be punished? No.

      Is there anything you can do? Aside from using cash everywhere? Not really.

      • For everything else, there's Dogecoins.

        • by khasim ( 1285 )


          Okay, that made me laugh.

          But that requires that the average person trust someone they can't even name with keeping their money safe. And the money is just a bunch of zeros and ones. If the "hackers" can take your real money can they take your imaginary money?

          Will the government take your real stuff because you got imaginary money from a "terrorist"?

          Will you end up in court one day because your kid is accused of sharing a song and now you owe $50,000 in penalties?

          The benefits of technology are not being ev

      • by johanw ( 1001493 )

        Then don't use that primitive system of credit cards and pay cash. Added advantage is that you can't be spied uppon by a money trail.

    • On the other hand, implementation of technology has become a corporate thing. And as corporations have shown us, they're working in their interests, not ours.

      Corporations work with the same interests that anybody else does. That is to say, they can be anything from assholes to being very benevolent.

      Even when they are working for their own interests, that isn't a bad thing. When Nokia invented the smartphone, they weren't intending on giving it away for free, rather they wanted to make themselves rich. But that benefited everybody else as well in the process; it eventually lead to technology being so cheap and available that anybody can have it, even the most poo

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        I'm sorry, I do not trust the benevolence of corporations. As to even the poorest being able to afford the products that corporations offer, I disagree with that concept as I've seen first-hand people neglecting their needs in order to pay for their wants. I've seen acquaintances fail to pay their rent on-time because they spent the money on a high-end video card. I've seen people with cable TV subscriptions and Netflix and smart phones fail to pay their gas bill and have it shut off.

        People don't make
        • I'm sorry, I do not trust the benevolence of corporations.

          You can equally say "I do not trust the benevolence of strangers" for all of the same reasons you just listed. The only difference with a corporation is that it is much easier to build capital with large pooled resources, something that is rarely achievable as an individual.

          That $35 Indian smartphone for instance.

          That's not a very good example. I think it's more likely that the design teams encountered problems along the way and as they were running out of time and budget on their design project, they just had to release what they had. This is a

    • On the other hand, implementation of technology has become a corporate thing.

      Unlike 100 years ago, when anyone with a trowel and some perseverance could grow iPhones in their home garden, and communications satellites were built by village artisans.

      Or we could go back in time to, say, the 1940s, when the development of computers and rockets was being driven by one of the ugliest wars in history. Not to say that it wasn't necessary, but do you really think that would be an improvement over Apple and SpaceX?

    • I've been a software developer for longer than some slashdotters have been alive, sure programming is a creative exercise, to quote Knuth it's both an "art and a science". However a programmer is merely using technology, not creating it. If you don't agree, think about the music world, is a good composer creating new technology or merely using it skillfully?

      It's also hard to see how anyone but a megacorp or government could build a chip fab plant or a HDD factory. Take a look at those two commodity devic
  • by sanosuke001 ( 640243 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @06:23PM (#48097543)
    I would say that they distrust it, not dislike. It is also expensive to implement over something that has been used for decades and since they see things more short term than long term, the savings aren't seen so upgrading is deemed not worth the cost and training.
    • by Collective 0-0009 ( 1294662 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @08:30PM (#48098457)
      I agree that it's distrust. This started a while back, when it started becoming obvious that technology was going to replace a lot of jobs. When robotic arms become a reality (and now they have eyes too!) and start moving the material onto the machine you used to load, then people start thinking about it differently. But they still loved it because it had only replaced the most menial jobs and was actually thanked for eliminating these tasks at home and work.

      Then it started doing things better than the best craftsman. And faster. While craftsmen numbers fell, machine repairmen numbers did not keep up (otherwise what's the point?). This is when distrust began. But it was only a few that had been replaced and they were not heard as the technology had brought great fun and even provided quite a few other jobs.

      But lately technology is replacing many different types of jobs. Salesman, accountants, and general office help (which ironically was only ever a job thanks to technology) joined the ranks of the blue collar machinist as those that had been replaced by a computer. At this point distrust is growing among many, but still the new gadgets and joys - and affordable too - are keeping dislike to a minimum.

      And this is only from one perspective. The next would be the interruptions it brought.
  • by sgage ( 109086 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @06:25PM (#48097555)

    This Thiel character has been all over the place these past couple of weeks - talk shows, opinion columns, etc. He is a real techno-cornucopian cheerleader, but does not seem to be a particularly deep thinker.

  • Plot line (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @06:25PM (#48097563)

    The man simply doesn't understand the need for conflict in a plot. If you have a movie about a super computer, there needs to be something to work against. The computer takes over or fails spectacularly. This in no way indicates that this is society's view of computers.

    • Or, in some cases, eventually figures out how to make tea.

    • by Kelson ( 129150 )

      Who's to say the super-computer or robot can't be the good guy? Or the hero's ally? Conflict has two sides, and technology could just as easily be placed on either. If movies place it more often on the bad side, that says something about, if not culture in general, at least the culture of people making movies.

      • BIcentennial Man. Short Circuit. Iron Giant. Aliens. Star Trek. Transformers. I was addressing his myopia.
      • Did you see "Transcendence"? (I know, not a lot of people did). How about "Her"? (Great movie). These are both post-Terminator films, in that super-human intelligence is portrayed in a positive light.
        • Not entirely. "Her" was perhaps the most even-handed I've ever seen, but as such the AI managed to also be selfish and inconsiderate. But at no time did one question whether it was going to slaughter everyone and start looking for John Conner. Perhaps it did the best at showing how the failings of intelligence are from the intelligence, rather than the underlying technology.

          "Transcendence" doesn't fit, the entire plot hinges around the intentions of the AI, and whether it is good or bad. However if anything

          • But in Transcendence the end-of-movie plot twist was (SPOILER ALERT!) that, after playing the typical terrifying-and-dehumanizing AI trope throughout the film, it turned out that the AI was actually benevolent and people would be better off just going with it. At least that was my take on what it was saying.

            And I have to give a movie props for going on an unconventional or outright dubious premise and conclusion. Limitless and probably Idiotocracy fall into that category for me too.

            • "Not in the slightest bit. I enjoy working with people. I have a stimulating relationship with Dr Poole and Dr Bowman. My mission responsibilities range over the entire operation of the ship, so I am constantly occupied."

              "Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over."

    • I disagree.

      So many movies and TV shows have inept, complacent, or downright evil scientists creating technologies that either lose control or are specifically for enacting violence. Or they mishandle something and a plague starts. Or a technology-driven society encroaching on one who's in touch with nature or a hundred years in the past.

      And it's usually either a dumb "everyman" who stumbles into the situation and rises to the occasion -- maybe a military guy with a heart of gold -- and saves the day without

      • Your logic doesn't track. People enjoy a good murder mystery, yet murders are actually uncommon.
        • Your logic doesn't track. People enjoy a good murder mystery, yet murders are actually uncommon.

          Stories are all about exploring the unknown without actually having to experience it. I'd even say violence is a common thread in stories for a similar reason as evil science/tech -- people are certainly hostile toward it.

          • Stories are all about exploring the unknown without actually having to experience it.

            That holds true even for the evil machine movies as evil machines don't actually exist.

            I'd even say violence is a common thread ... people are certainly hostile toward it.

            Point given. I'll narrow my focus. Slasher films that place the audience in the killer's POV. People watch many of those (they outnumber evil machine movies) and yet the emulation of that behavior is extremely rare.

        • You don't live in Midsomer, do you?

  • People fear and then hate what they do not understand. If you're not interested in how the world works you're not gonna learn, and will just default to anger and scaremongering in your interactions with it, because emotions you do understand.

    • That's part of it. People also frequently partake in shooting the messenger, so when researchers come along and say "This thing we're all doing is having these negative consequences, and we are going to have to stop that thing", they end up learning what Socrates must have felt like as he put the hemlock tea to his lips.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @06:26PM (#48097575)

    Our leader removed the minister for science! He has reduced funding for our science organization CSIRO ( The one that invented wifi among many other successes ), condemned renewable energy and promoted coal, destroyed our manufacturing sector and is pushing to make university only for the rich. All in the span of a year, impressive really.

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @06:36PM (#48097639)

    Just as plausible as his assertions.

    • They created PayPal to circumvent government intereference in money exchanges *cough avoid taxes*. And now he's shocked and dismayed that governments aren't spending enough on infrastructure?

      It's no shock that the government is hostile to idiotic billionaires who both want to promote tax evasion while also expect a well funded government's services in order to profit further.

  • One where technologically capable individuals fight back against brutish peers. The technologists could be portrayed as smart and kind, but socially marginalized and not particularly attractive.

    We could call it, I dunno, "Revenge of the Science and Technology People". Truly a story for our decade, it could get the word out that society is hostile towards the people involved in science and technology.

    • Or we could call it the Foundation Series.

    • by Animats ( 122034 )

      "Real Genius. (1985) [wikipedia.org]

      • Unfortunately, Real Genius suffers badly from horrific acting (the young teenager and the girl, not to mention most of the others), some terrible scenes (the water party takes the cake), and an unappealing 1980's shooting style that dates the movie badly.

        But, the movie holds a very special place in my heart, I love it. Actually, it holds a very special nostalgic place in my heart, my memory of watching it a lot of times a long time ago are special to me.

        About a year ago I tried to watch it again, and withi

    • and not particularly attractive.

      Hey now! Some of us are solid 7's.

    • One where technologically capable individuals fight back against brutish peers.


  • People like technology when it works - but notice when it fails. If it works, it becomes assumed as part of life - and no longer noticed; the more one thinks about the internet, the more incredible it is.

    Part of the problem is that real science is HARD. Most people can't cope and avoid it at school. They dismiss us as geeks - not least to cover their own failure to master the subject. So there's a built up frustration that comes out when it does go wrong... not healthy - but perhaps inevitable given that
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They dismiss us as geeks - not least to cover their own failure to master the subject.

      Large parts of the nerd and geek culture can be surprisingly anti-science too though. As you say, it is inevitable that most people will not master fields, even those of interest, and one can't physically master them all. But when you take someone who has an ego, possibly for good reason because they do have above average knowledge in some areas, and given them a superficial view of something, they can really run with it at times. Just look at some of the more difficult science topics that end of on Slas

  • Robocop showed *both* sides ... killer robots, and technology used to help a person put an end to corruption.

    Technology is *tool*; it be used or abused.

    * A fire can be used for light & heat (i.e. camping), or to burn someone.
    * A gun can be used to protect or to hurt.

    Lastly, Technology is NOT the problem -- people _misusing_ it are.

    • * A fire can be used for light & heat (i.e. camping), or to burn someone.

      Give a man a fire and he's warm for a day, but set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life. - Terry Pratchett

  • by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @06:47PM (#48097731)

    I always misread their slogan, just for an instant.

    Theil may be right that society as a whole is hostile to science but he is fundamentally missing the point: society is more interested, accepting and pro-science than it has ever been in the past. Sure, there are lots of nays but they are fewer than there were before. That's what is important. Look at the positive and move forward.

  • by Tokolosh ( 1256448 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @07:09PM (#48097897)

    "...corporations and the U.S. government are failing at complex planning."

    Mathematically, the world is a "chaotic" place. It is axiomatic that complex planning will fail. So those not familiar with the field, think of "butterfly effect" or "Black swans".

    So inevitable planning failures are blamed on technology.

    The best solution, proven empirically, is laissez-faire. I concede that "best" means different things to different people.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ratl ( 578933 )

      Sorry, your statements are not as axiomatic as you think.

      If the world is mathematically a chaotic place I would love to see the mathematical prove for that. So far we got no further to say the world is complex and there are some chaotic processes. Chaotic would be akin to the claim that any fraction of a number, say Pi must eventually repeat itself or follow a descernable pattern. The other is saying (much less strict) it is a really long string of numbers, that might have come about for reasons that may be

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @07:13PM (#48097919) Homepage

    This is the guy behind PayPal talking. Before PayPal, he traded derivatives. After PayPal, he ran a hedge fund. He says "We live in a financial, capitalistic age, we do not live in a scientific or technological age," said Thiel. "We live in a period were people generally dislike science and technology. Our culture dislikes it, our government dislikes it."

    He's pointing out that runaway capitalism and finance is the problem. He ought to know.

    We used to have a simpler, and more locked-down, financial system in the US. Banks accepted deposits, lent money, and handled cash. They weren't allowed to buy and sell stocks. Trading derivatives was definitely out. Brokers did stock transactions for others; brokerage firms didn't trade much for their own accounts. There were mutual funds, regulated by the SEC. Houses were financed mostly by savings and loan companies, which were mostly local and sent people out to check on building sites.

    This worked well until the Reagan years, and the beginnings of financial deregulation. S&L and bank executives wanted the freedom to take more risks with other people's money. Within a few years of S&L deregulation, the savings and loan industry tanked. Within a few years of bank deregulation, the banking industry tanked. There's kind of a pattern there.

    • This is the guy behind PayPal talking. Before PayPal, he traded derivatives. After PayPal, he ran a hedge fund.

      Wow, no wonder he thinks people hate technology. It's not technology, it's him. They hate him.

  • Maybe people are catching on to the fact that a lot of what passes for advanced technology these days only amounts to the arrangement of pixels on screens.

    Previous waves of technologies liberated us from hard work. The Internet wave, while impressive, has not really been able to do that.

    And no, sites that help wealthier people buy services such as cooking, cleaning and driving from poorer people don't count, since the work is still done by a human. I'm talking about machines or devices that physically make

    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      Perhaps you've been missing the stories on how robots will replace 1/3 of workers in 20 years? Robotics is slowly climbing the "unskilled labor" curve, able to do more mindless repetitive tasks for us. Of course, people fear change, and so just like every automation revolution that has dramatically improved our live, this will have it share of Luddites, but one way or another people will be excited.

      Effectively free unlimited internet pron? People are exicited about/by that, mere "arrangement of pixels on

      • robots will replace 1/3 of workers in 20 years [...] Of course, people fear change [...]

        I'd rather say they fear loosing their job. Originally the idea of the robotic revolution was that everyone would have his own robot who does all the hard work for him. That didn't work out so well now, did it?

        As long as 1% of the population owns 35% and the top 20% of the population own 85% of a nations wealth, it is not very surprising that people oppose to change that gives the richest 1% even more money - money which according to their own theory (Principle of Diminishing Marginal Utility) should be pre

  • We just hate PayPal.
  • Wasn't Galileo sufficient enough an example?

  • Movies "all show technology that doesn't work, that ... kills people, that it is bad...

    Movies also often show people doing bad things. Does that mean our society also hates people? (Letting the sick and poor die is arguably a sign of such.)

    But in general, for any drama you need an antagonist. Sometimes that antagonist is a person(s) and sometimes technology. Happy rainbow movies rarely sell.

    Plus, it's fun watching sparks fly out of machines. Unrealistic, but fun. Blood and guts are too unpleasant to watch i

  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @07:41PM (#48098103) Homepage

    "We live in a period were people generally dislike science and technology."

    US people maybe. Canada has over 60% approval for sciences.

    But what do you expect? Canada also lacks the billions of dollars it took for corporations to convince you science is bad.

    • You make nonsensical assertions, US is far more a driver of science and technology on planet earth than Canada could ever hope to be. What does Canada do for science, beer yeast genetics?

      • Canada looks big but they have fewer people and less area to produce $$$ for funding. Plus they probably can't ever have high productivity because that is something that doesn't go with being the #1 or #2 nation to live in.

        The global economy and banking system which control everything are not pro-science. For their population and GDP, Canada probably beats the USA. It doesn't help that Canadians easily cross over to the USA college system and end up staying here despite the lower quality lifestyle. Guess

  • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @07:55PM (#48098223) Journal

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Those who wield technology are, therefore, akin to magicians. People are amazed by magicians but they also don't trust what they don't understand.

    Most people don't understand the commitment required to be a good technologist, they just want you to fix their computer during the dinner they invited you to. How may times have you heard the "I'm not very good with computers" line? Even more how many time have you met someone with "the next great idea to make millions" and all they need is some dumb monkey coder to do the actual *work* for them? The general expectation is that you'll do it for them but just watch their face if you ask them to tile your bathroom or do a similar amount of *work*.

    I think Thiel is right. I'm uncertain if people actually deserve a gift like information technology and the internet which is powerful enough to enslave or free humanity. Frankly people are so vapid and apathetic they are simply driving us to a technology driven dystopia from the sheer weight of idiocracy. The worst thing about it is that myself and every technologist I know is being dragged along, kicking and screaming, with them - fully aware of the consequences.

    • Perhaps it's the technologists you hang out with. Those I know don't feel that way. I also think you're conflating charlatan's with everyday people.
  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @08:02PM (#48098271)
    i like good science, i hate pseudoscience

    i hate high tech hardware that is locked down for my own good, maybe bought an Android tablet for the specific purpose of wiping android off and putting a vanilla Linux distro on it like Debian or Gentoo or maybe Slackware, and most tablets wont boot from other sources, and even if you mount it as a removable storage device and manually delete everything you can on it once it reboots the dang system gets replaced with a fresh copy (system on a chip???) i dont know for sure but i really hate tablets because nothing can be done to them and i got to run the OS that comes with it, and google store is packed full of crappy spamware, ok rant over because i am digressing, thanks
  • by Subm ( 79417 ) on Wednesday October 08, 2014 @08:36PM (#48098509)

    Movies "all show technology that doesn't work, that ... kills people, that it is bad for the world,"

    What do you mean? We elected it governor of California.

    • If the Terminator comes from the future, let's be realistic! He'll show up with lots of bloatware. Not only will ke kill you, he'd go through your social media accounts to track down and kill everyone on Facebook that you ever went to high school with. He'd also check your mail, handle phone calls, self-install software updates from the future, keep track of your bank account, play second-person-shooter video games, autoplay video advertisements, and sound cool alarm tones to remind you of your impending ap
  • Hollywood movie plots don't prove anything except what is considered marketable entertainment.

    Last I checked the USA was ranked #1 in research and science.

    • When talking about culture in TV Nation where community has died and all that comes close is TV/Movies. We talk using movie metaphors, adopt phrases and new metaphors from the medium which sadly doesn't even come close to the past sources they supplanted.

      Advertizing controls people and they don't spend all that $$$ doing product placement, infotainment, endorsements, and advertizing if it didn't have a big impact. People only SAY they don't vote based upon the advertizing that goes on-- but they are lying

  • And that's why we steer clear of mobile phones, computers, digital watches and clocks, microwaves, cars, planes, xboxes, the internet ect, which has led to the lack of any tech industry in the US. Films attack technology because of the producers hatred of it and they stick to analogue film etc, CGI? what's that?

    Really, what a stupid thing to say. There are some luddites, so what.

  • You mean Agile development, like the free market, isn't the answer to the world's problems? How can that be? Just wait until I bring that up at today's standup. The scrum master will be aghast...
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Thursday October 09, 2014 @10:18AM (#48102357)
    When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s science culture was popular in the US. People looked forward to new discoveries and gadgets and careers in science. Big industry did need to be restrained by environmentalists and that did mostly work in the US. Then young people got seduced by higher paying jobs in finance, an industry that doesnt really create much else than money.

    When I travel in China I see the pro-science and technology attitudes of my youth. It i s refreshing.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas