Peter Thiel, the “techiest of tech evangelists”, is best known for making the “most celebrated wager in the history of venture capital”, says Barton Gellman in The Atlantic. In 2004 he met Mark Zuckerberg, liked what he heard, and became the first outside investor in Facebook, buying 10% of the company for half a million dollars. He cashed out most of this eight years later for about $1bn. But as well as making canny bets – and co-founding other multi-billion-dollar companies such as PayPal and the private intelligence firm Palantir – Thiel has come to articulate the “purest distillation of Silicon Valley’s reigning ethos”.
He longs for a world where “great men are free to work their will on society”, unconstrained by government or regulation. For a while he funded “seasteading” projects – efforts to build autonomous floating microstates in international waters. But after years of talk and no progress, Thiel withdrew his funding and bought a 477-acre former sheep ranch in New Zealand instead. As a boy, he had believed that by now there would be colonies on the moon, flying cars, and cities in the ocean. Instead, the tech boom brought us the iPhone, Uber and social media: “none of them a fundamental improvement to the human condition”. Most of all, Thiel, 56, “longs to live forever”. He has given millions to Aubrey de Grey, the English gerontologist who believes the first immortal human has already been born. As a back-up, Thiel has also signed up to be cryogenically frozen, to await the emergence of some future society with the wherewithal and inclination to revive him. “And then make his way in a world in which his skills and education and fabulous wealth may be worth nothing at all.”