man of the people

Peter Thiel Makes a Nakedly Political Play in the New York Times

Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Silicon Valley billionaire/enemy of the free press Peter Thiel published an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday, warning about the danger of developing AI in China. The primary target of his attack is Google, which has committed the unpatriotic act of “starting an A.I. lab in China while ending an A.I. contract with the Pentagon.”

Thiel argues that AI is military technology, useful “to gain an intelligence advantage, for example, or to penetrate defenses in the relatively new theater of cyberwarfare, where we are already living amid the equivalent of a multinational shooting war.”

For Thiel, Google’s decision to work within China, but not work for the Pentagon, is naïve. The idea of a “borderless” world supported by the foundation of the internet is a pipe dream for elites in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. He calls this idea parochial, “that of fortunate enclaves isolated from the problems of other places.” He adds:

In the 1950s, the cliché was that “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” Google makes no such claim for itself; it would be too obviously false. Instead, Google says it is “committed to significantly improving the lives of as many people as possible” — a standard so vague as to defy any challenge.

Maybe there’s some truth to what Thiel is saying about the Silicon Valley bubble, but it all comes across as pretty rich coming from a guy who is using his Silicon Valley billions to help the country by promoting seasteading, suing journalists he doesn’t like into bankruptcy, supporting the presidency of Donald Trump (I guess they have false populism in common), harvesting the blood of the young to stave off death (allegedly), and buying himself New Zealand citizenship (just in case things go south!) and swearing allegiance to the Queen. Thiel, as far as I know, hasn’t spoken at length to any press outlet except for the New York Times in years.

[Supa Hot Fire voice:] But he’s not an elite cosmopolitan.

That Thiel makes no mention of the fact that he sits on the board of Facebook as he attacks its biggest competitor seems like a pretty big omission. The Times editors also clearly saw no issue with describing him simply as “an entrepreneur and investor.” Facebook is also heavily invested in developing artificial intelligence (it’s gonna use AI to fix all of society’s problems and build a global utopia lol) and has been trying to crack the Chinese market for years. Read in this light, Thiel’s op-ed feels like an indirect effort to force Google out of China, either through shame or indirectly spurring political intervention. It seems to me that Thiel thinks if Facebook can’t have China, Google can’t either.

Peter Thiel Makes a Nakedly Political Play in the Times