Did Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook and SpaceX, predict the rise of artificial intelligence?
- History of Peter Theil on A.I.
- History of Computers
- The State of A.I. Today
- How Accurate Was Peter Theil?
- Peter Theil's Four Future Predictions
Thiel first began talking about AI in the early 2010s. In a series of interviews and speeches, Thiel argued AI would play a major role in the future of technology, and would dramatically transform the way we live and work by automating many of the tasks performed by humans, including white-collar jobs like "data analysis and financial management". He predicted AI would become more sophisticated over time, leading to a future in which computers could perform many of the tasks people do now.
In his book "Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future", Theil looks back on the age of computers. He states in the 1970s and 80s computer technology was centralized due to limited access for few people, but after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s, he claims information had a "decentralizing tendency" which lead to the birth of the internet and made it possible for everyone to connect, bringing an age of decentralization.
But Theil goes onto suggest after the Patriot Act a new wave of centralization begun, and impacted his previous company PayPal. He also suggests the recent age of centralization allowed big tech monopolies like Google to act as digital governments.
However, in the wake of new decentralized technologies such as cryptocurrency and certain privacy improvements, he now predicts the pendulum could swing back in the near future, allowing anyone to act as their own bank and achieve the vision PayPal never could.
Theil argues if crypto is libertarian, AI must be authoritarian, and states, "this is why communist China loves AI and hates crypto" today. OpenAI's ChatGPT, the bot that sparked the modern day AI revolution, now faces competitors like Google's Bard and other AI startups. Microsoft even purchased a 49% state in OpenAI along with Theil himself.
One reason Thiel's predictions on AI were so accurate is his understanding of the exponential growth of technology. Thiel recognized that technological progress is not linear, but rather progresses in an exponential pattern. He realized as AI became more advanced, it would become increasingly difficult for humans to keep up. Thiel also recognized some would reap the benefits of AI more than others.
Another reason Thiel's predictions about AI were so accurate was his understanding of data. He realized AI would only become powerful once it had access to massive amounts of data, and predicted the tech companies that controlled the data would be the ones that come out on top in the AI revolution.
By the end of his book, Theil describes four possible patterns for the future of humanity.
The first, Recurrent Collapse, describes “the ancients saw all of history as a neverending alternation between prosperity and ruin". He states, "only recently have people dared to hope that we might permanently escape misfortune, and it’s still possible to wonder whether the stability we take for granted will last”.
The second, Plateau, suggests “the whole world will converge toward a plateau of development similar to the life of the richest countries today”. In this scenario, the future will look a lot like today.
The third, Extinction, tells of a large-scale social disaster so devastating we won’t survive it and says it is fueled by fears of "unprecedented destructive power of modern weaponry".
But the fourth scenario, in which "we create new technology to make a much better future [is the] hardest one to imagine"... until now. Theil describes this event as the “The Singularity", an attempt to name the imagined result of new technologies so powerful as to transcend the current limits of our understanding. Does this sound like the dawn of artificial intelligence?
Theil suggests, "The Singularity is near, it’s inevitable, and all we have to do is prepare ourselves to accept it”. He says, "we cannot take for granted that the future will be better, and that means we need to work to create it today”.
Peter Thiel's predictions on the rise of artificial intelligence and its impact on the future have turned out to be more accurate than most. With Theil co-founding OpenAI, the company responsible for sparking modern AI with ChatGPT–3, he may hold the secrets to the next phase of the A.I. revolution.
How accurate do you believe Theil was in his predictions? Which of the four future scenarios will be our outcome?