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tv   Studio 1.0  Bloomberg  December 24, 2015 2:00pm-2:31pm EST

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xfinity's winter watchlist. watch now with xfinity on demand- your home for the best entertainment this holiday season. ♪ emily: he has been called the king of techtopia. peter thiel is one of silicon valley's most audacious and contrarian investors. he made his name founding paypal, then funding facebook. he is now is backing rocket ships, dna manipulation, meat grown in labs, and a start-up island off the coast. he has paid kids to skip college and start companies instead, in hopes of reaching a better future, faster. and building flying cars along the way. joining me today on "studio 1.0," the bold and controversial venture capitalist and now the author of a new book, "zero to one," peter thiel. thank you so much for joining
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us. peter: thank you for having me. emily: "zero to one," what does that mean? peter: it means doing something new. going to the first typewriter, the first word processor, the first car, the first airplane. doing something that has never been done before. if we are going to take our civilization to the next level, it will require new things. to invent new things. emily: what companies have taken us from zero to one? peter: facebook with social networking. google in search. emily: and yet, you argue for the last few decades, we have actually been in a tech slowdown. where are facebook and apple and google? have they not been innovative enough? peter: as a society, i would argue we have not done as much as we could have. you have had less innovations in energy and biotechnology, and not as many as we would like, transportation, we are not moving any faster. emily: one thing you tell aspiring entrepreneurs is don't copy mark zuckerberg and bill gates, why not? peter: the next mark zuckerberg won't be starting a social
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networking site, the next larry paige won't be starting a search engine, the next bill gates won't be starting an operating system, and so in some sense you cannot copy them because they did not copy somebody else. emily: you also suggest that they come up with one very important truth that very few people agree with you on. why is finding something that nobody agrees with you on the best way to get somebody to believe in you? peter: i think great companies, they have a sense of mission. they have a sense of where a good inventor has a patent and has good technology, and that is the best kind of business to have. emily: you say google is a monopoly? peter: it obviously is. they do not talk about the 98% of revenue that comes from search, which is where they have a monopoly. they have had to focus on all these other areas. ebay has a monopoly in the auction space. amazon has a monopoly of scale
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in e-commerce at this point. emily: is facebook a monopoly? peter: i would argue it is not as robust a monopoly as google at this point, because there are other places that pop up in the social networking space every year, you see a twitter or snapchat. all these companies emerge on an annual basis. emily: do you have any concern that companies like google could ever become too powerful that they would stifle innovation? peter: i tend to think this has not happened a lot in the technology area, because there has always been enough innovation to keep things flowing. emily: does that mean you think someday google, facebook, amazon, will not be as dominant as they are? peter: i think they will be dominant for a while, as i think they are all great businesses, but i don't think they will be dominant forever. emily: do you see one or the other becoming dominant than the rest? peter: it is always difficult to judge this, but if i had to pick one, i do tend to think of
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google as the one that is on an incredible arc at this point. emily: why? peter: i think the core search monopoly is powerful. and they are trying to extend it into all these other areas. emily: their monopoly is in search but they are exploring so many different things, robotics, google glass, self-driving cars. peter: as a business matter, they are all an attempt to extend the search monopoly. emily: what kind of project are you most excited about? peter: i think self-driving cars would change transportation as much as the development of the car itself. emily: you compare compelling startups, should they be like cults? peter: they should not be like cults, that is something that is wrong, but there is always an intense understanding that something is true that very few other people do. my paypal friend elon musk's company space-x believes that he has a unique set of ideas to motivate the people there and distinguish them from the rest of the world.
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emily: something else you say is that a messed up startup cannot be fixed. why not? peter: the foundations are incredibly important. if you get some of the first things wrong, it is extremely hard to recover. emily: i am guessing you do not think -- yahoo!, hp can they be fixed? peter: i would argue that hp and yahoo! are not even -- not really technology companies at all. they were technology companies, you know, in the 1970's and 1980's with hp. in the 1990's with yahoo! even though these were technology companies, they are
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bets against technology. emily: even though they are not technology companies, can yahoo! and hp be fixed? peter: there are all sorts of things we can do to streamline them. it is probably a mistake for them to radically try to reinvent themselves and become technology companies once again. emily: you do mention marissa mayer. what do you think her chances are of turning things around? peter: i think she is by far the best ceo yahoo! has had in a decade. she should not be evaluated on whether she invents something new. that is setting her up for failure. the existing businesses are really big, and if you can improve those incrementally and make those work, that is fantastic. emily: other than what you have written in this book, what are some things that you believe that very few people agree with you on? peter: certainly an issue i have been spoken about is this idea that college education has become something of a bubble. with a trillion dollars of student debt, we are not getting what we are paying for.
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and it needs to be rethought in a really fundamental way. emily: if you could start education over again, what would you do? peter: get rid of the word "education" to start with. emily: would there be no schools? peter: i think you would still have schools, but they would be very different. they are stuck in the 19th century. i think you try to figure out ways to make them individuated, where different students learn at their own pace. emily: you have the thiel fellowship. basically you give aspiring entrepreneurs money to not go to school, and to start companies instead. i know some of those entrepreneurs have gone back to school. why do you think that is? peter: most of them -- most of them have not. it was designed as a two-year program in which people could take a break from college. i think they have, across the board, found it to be an incredibly valuable learning experience. i went to stanford, i went to law school. i might do that again. emily: would you do it over? peter: if i did it again, i would ask a lot more tough questions, why i was doing it. emily: would you be where you
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are if you do not go to stanford where you met the paypal mafia? peter: you can never run these experiments twice. having met a lot people there was invaluable. but i wonder, had i gone to any other university, that may have discouraged me from going into tech. emily: what else would you may want to do? peter: i would be tempted to be a teacher. emily: the guy who wants to get rid of education would be a teacher. peter: i am not against learning, i am against education. emily: of the six people who built paypal, four had built bombs in high school. peter: i was not one of those four. [laughter] emily: who built the bombs if it wasn't you? ♪
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♪ emily: something that you talk about is the danger of founders becoming captive to their own myth. what is the myth of peter thiel and what is the reality? peter: the myth of all of these founders is that it is somehow
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singular and that they are somehow divine, omnipotent beings. any of these things that i am doing are not solo efforts. i have friends that i talk to a lot and people i talk to closely. emily: i am curious about your background, and what has shaped your views along the way. i know that you were born in germany and moved around a lot, you went to south africa and namibia. peter: i went to seven different elementary schools as a kid, and so i felt a little bit like an outsider and something of an insider. so there is some kind of a combination of outsider-insider perspective that shaped me a lot. emily: what were your parents like? peter: my dad was an engineer. my mom ended up being a homemaker after i was born. they were focused on education. emily: you were raised an evangelical christian and questioned things like evolution? peter: i still consider myself a christian and i think it is important to have a very different perspective on things, because it pushes you to either defend your ideas really well or to have a much deeper understanding of why they are wrong.
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emily: on paper you worked in a new york law firm and you worked on wall street. it sounds pretty standard. where was the contrarian in you? peter: you could see ahead what people would be doing a decade from now and there was a sense that i couldn't see myself as being happy doing this. emily: was there any event in life that triggered you to start down a different path? peter: it was a bit of an evolution. i could certainly point to late nights at the law firm where i was asking myself, what am i doing here? emily: with the paypal mafia, who do you call for what? peter: there is something about a set of my friends from paypal, there is an intense experience and i think those bonds will never quite be matched in their intensity. emily: the first line in chapter 14 is, "of the six people who founded paypal, four had built bombs in high school."
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peter: i was not one of those four. [laughter] peter: but i think there is something that always is quite extreme about the personalities that go in to starting up a company. emily: so building a bomb is a good thing? peter: having extreme personalities is a somewhat good thing. emily: who built the bombs? peter: i'm not going to -- choose four of the remaining five. emily: as successful as so many members of the paypal mafia has been, you have also said that paypal was a failure. why? peter: it was a failure in that we did not achieve our original vision of a completely new currency system. emily: what about bitcoin, does that get closer to what you imagine? peter: i am probably psychologically biased against it. i would be tempted to come up with reasons why nobody would succeed at it. emily: you think that chances of it succeeding are unlikely?
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peter: my sense of it is it is still slightly too cumbersome to work as a new payment system. emily: you were the first outside investor in facebook. did you convince mark or did he convince you? peter: i suppose some combination of both. the company was growing fast. they needed more money for computers. i convinced them i would be relatively hands-off. emily: do you worry facebook could get this off track or distracted? drones and peter: it is always a challenge. you have to do is things, because you are not in a static world, and you don't want to do too many. so you want to do just the right number of things. emily: palantir. customers include the cia and the air force, yet there is so much mystery around it. as i understand it, it is using data on a massive scale to solve problems from disease to terrorism. peter: right. and it is always an interactive problem.
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part of the data can be processed by computers. and part of it can best be analyzed by humans. one reporter who looked into it concluded that it was used in the bin laden raid and was critical in connecting all the dots in fighting bin laden. emily: do you think you could stop the next 9/11, or has it already? peter: i don't think we are going to do it by projecting military force throughout the world, i think we will do it by sort of very cleverly uncovering these conspiracies before they come together. emily: some have expressed concern that your clients could use palantir to do evil things? do you worry about that? peter: there is always a two edged part to these technologies. technologies are never intrinsically good, there is always a question of how they can be used or abused.
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i think there are a lot of checks in place. emily: someone described it as plugging into the matrix. peter: one government agency that gave us a bunch of data, we uncovered a terrorist plot they had not suspected. this led them to conclude they had to reclassify data as classified. emily: would you say it has helped thwart multiple terrorist plots? peter: i suspect that is true. emily: what is the craziest sector that you might enter that we would not expect? peter: one that we started to look at the margins that is wildly out of fashion is the nuclear power industry. is it possible to build safer, cheaper, better reactors with all of these new technologies? and when you look at the technologies, it actually looks like the answer is definitely yes. i am very worried about the regulatory issues with it. but i think it is worth tackling that some more. emily: i want to talk more about
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your vision of the future and man versus machine. you're not so worried that computers are going to take our jobs? peter: not anytime soon. i think -- i think technology has generally freed people up to do other things. emily: at some point though, you said in the 22nd century, computers could become smarter than us. peter: there is always an interesting sort of debate. will artifical intelligence actually get smarter than humans and how will that change things? i don't think that will happen for a long time, but i think our political and cultural problems, i think it is like having extraterrestrial landing on this planet. if we had aliens landing on this planet, we would not ask the first question, what does this mean for my job? we'd ask, are they friendly or not friendly? emily: what is the most audacious question you have pondered about how humans could potentially survive in the future?
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peter: we should give nuclear power very serious consideration, it does not create greenhouse gases. emily: is mars going to be first? peter: there are a lot of things about mars that make it the natural other planet, in the system, yes. emily: you ponder several other different futures, including human extinction. what are the possibilities about that? peter: just think about it. what are the right things we need to be doing? what are the technologies we need to develop? we need to stay focused on that and i think our prospects are very good. emily: one of the things you have invested in is a startup island off the coast. what is your vision there? peter: this is a very small-sized project. is it possible to create some new community that we could start a new society that would have very different rules and be able to govern itself? this is still far in the future, but it has pulled in a lot of people. emily: so you imagine this being another country? peter: it would be another country, and it would cost tens of billions to build, more capital than i have.
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emily: you think that you may live to be 120. peter: i certainly hope to, yes. ♪
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♪ emily: you have been portrayed on the hbo show "silicon valley." this island has been portrayed on the hbo show "silicon valley." have you watched it? peter: they would dispute they were portraying me. emily: he is called peter gregory. he invested in an island.
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peter: they would still dispute that. i think the character gives a compelling portrayal of someone who is passionate about the future, determined to make things happen. people that are driven, slightly crazy. i think overall it is a positive show. emily: can you really grow meat and leather in a lab? peter: yes, i think the problem is if somebody will actually eat it. this idea that failure is ok is one of the more destructive memes in the valley. i think that failure is always a problem. it's -- when a company fails it is always a tragedy. it is often damaging for the people who go through it. emily: what is your biggest failure? peter: there are some things that have worked better than others. but, on the whole, i have always been resilient. i always have come back. emily: i know you have thought a lot about the extension of human life. and you think that you may live until 120. peter: i certainly hope to, yes. emily: what are you doing differently? are you taking immortality pills?
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peter: i have invested in biotech companies. i think on the nutrition side, there are some very basic things that can be done. you should not eat sugar. that is the one nutritional rule. emily: do you not eat sugar? peter: i still do, but not so much. emily: what do you need more of? peter: i do the paleo diet. that does not get you to 120. the caveman diet does not get you to 120. you need new technology and innovation for us to have a longer and healthier lives. emily: like what? peter: we need cures for cancer, alzheimer's, find ways to restore organs when they are falling apart. just, you can go through the ways bodies break down. the main, drastic thing i am doing, is i am on hgh, the human growth hormone stuff, on a daily basis. emily: really?
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what is the benefit of that? peter: it helps maintain muscle mass, so you are much less likely to get, like, bone injuries, arthritis, stuff like that as you get older. there is a worry, does it increase your cancer risk. emily: you are not concerned about that? peter: i am hopefully we will get cancer cured in the next decade. the other thing that is happening is all of the stuff on the biome level, where you have as many bacteria inside of you as you have cells. hopefully we can reset your bacterial ecosystem. you can look at people who are super healthy, you can figure out what ecosystem they have and replace yours with theirs. emily: peter thiel, thank you so much for joining us today on "studio 1.0," it has been great to have you. ♪
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