There is a great article in the magazine ‘The New Yorker‘ in the November 28, 2011 issue about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur called Peter Thiel. He is a Stanford university graduate, was a math prodigy and a brilliant chess player, has studied at Stanford Law School, runs a hedge fund and a venture-capital firm, founded PayPal and was a major investor when Facebook started. The article is titled “No death, no Taxes”. It talks about Peter Thiel’s background, his influences, his beliefs, his way of doing business, what his friends think about his views and his hopes for the future.
What really catches the reader’s eye and makes him/her wonder is the content at the start of the article which talks of what was expected of science and technology in the future by people from the past and what it is in reality today.
The article says: The top twenty-five sci-fi stories in 1970 mostly went like this: “Me and my friend the robot went for a walk on the moon.”
What humans living decades and centuries before us thought about how we in the present times would turn out (from the technological perspective) leads to mixed emotions arising out of us. We are proud that humanity has achieved so much for us to enjoy right now but there is also amusement, pity and sadness when we look around us to realize that we did not meet some of their high expectations. We look at them as if they are wide-eyed, innocent children still believing in Santa Claus and fairy tales. We shake our heads and in our minds, we say, “Tsk! Tsk! You poor hopeful child! Wait till you grow up.”
The article informs us: Thiel’s venture-capital firm Founders Fund has an online manifesto: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters“.
Peter Thiel seems correct in mentioning that over the past few years, progress has been made in leaps and bounds regarding gadgets fitting inside the palm of our hands and in the virtual world (the internet). But where are the larger (larger than life?!) things people before us dreamed of? The robots who serve us life-long, underwater or floating cities, the biological break-through that makes us immune to all diseases, the uniform body-suits that are temperature controlled?
Perhaps, we are a bit impatient. All those things from science fiction of the past are still just that: science fiction, but for the present. Maybe they will achieve reality only in the future for which we have to wait for a long time. In the meantime people like Peter Thiel will play a part in the whole process by investing in and encouraging biotech and robotics start-ups and companies.
The necessities of the near-future are different, as the article mentions. The scarcity and equal distribution of energy and water/food are urgent issues that need to be looked into in present times and people like Thiel offer scholarships to people who want to improve the world by trying to resolve these problems. On the other hand is his contribution to the progress of robotics and biotech which may reduce jobs for humans and also lead to population explosion.
It’s fun to watch videos like the ones below. But even though we may laugh at those people’s imaginations, somewhere at the back of our minds is a nagging feeling: “Dude, where really is my flying car?”