Singularity Summit 2011
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Speaker: Peter Thiel
Transcriber(s): Ethan Dickinson, Matt Cudmore
Moderator: Peter Thiel as I said is next. Peter is widely considered the most influential entrepreneur and investor of the last decade. He founded the online payments platform PayPal in 1998, and led the company until it was acquired by eBay in 2002.
Since then, his name has really become synonymous with success in Silicon Valley. In 2004, he co-founded Palantir Technologies, which provides advanced data visualization and analysis software for finance companies and governments, and in the same year he famously made the first outside investment in Facebook, which was a very good one.
As an investor, Peter has also funded user-generated content platforms LinkedIn, Causes, and Yelp, healthcare-sector startups Practice Fusion and ZocDoc, hard science startups including SpaceX, Halcyon Molecular, and Robotics, and recently even Spotify, which is now the most popular music application on Facebook.
Meanwhile, as a philanthropist, Peter funds life extension research of Cynthia Kenyon and Aubrey de Grey, and has created the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship, which is intended to nurture the tech visionaries of tomorrow.
Peter's upcoming book titled "The Blueprint," which he co-authored with PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and chess champion Garry Kasparov, warns of a coming technology deficit that could threaten global prosperity. He is here to discuss how the next generation of technology leaders can overcome this challenge. Please welcome Peter Thiel.
Peter Thiel: Thank you very much, always a privilege to speak to all of you. I just want to start with a few thoughts, and then make it as interactive as possible and open to as many questions and really get a discussion going.
I've been interested in a lot of these singularity technology breakthrough issues for quite some time. One of my co-founders from PayPal, Luke Nosek, I think he's in the audience somewhere, and I first became friends in 1996 when we were exchanging tips on how to really cure aging once and for all. Not just the 100 plus, but 100 plus, 200 plus, on and on. Luke was one of the instigators of PayPal. I remember we had the mid-'99, Luke thought maybe we should make PayPal the first company in the history of the world in which everyone would have a cryonics policy. [laughter]
Then over the last few years I became involved in this in a number of other ways. One of the things I want to reflect on a little bit is still how strange this whole singularity stuff is perceived to be, why I think it's strange that people think it's strange, and maybe why that is the case, why it shouldn't be the case, and what we can do. And those are maybe just the five topics, the four or five topics I want to go through.
Sort of an illustration of the strangest random personal story was when I first started underwriting Aubrey de Grey in '06. It was not a terribly large amount of money, in the scheme of these things it was a very modest amount, but got a decent amount of coverage. It was a front-page article on the San Francisco Chronicle, Aubrey had his long beard on it. My parents, who live in the Bay Area, freaked out and called me up and said "This is so embarrassing. What are the neighbors going to think?" [laughter]
And that's kind of the reaction we have for a lot of these things. It's worth reflecting on how exceptional this group of people here are in our society, and how little of a focus there is on this sort of science and technology outside of this group. It is in many cases not really a theme that we're focused on, discussing all that much anymore. You can identify all these anecdotal things, but one of the ideas I've been talking about a lot is that there's no longer much of a public discussion about what the future will look like.
So if you have a discussion about what will things look like in the U.S. in 15 or 20 years, not six months, not the financial discussion, which is does the stock market go up or down, is it a V-shaped recovery or a U or an O or a W or an X or whatever, [laughter] but a question about what happens in 10, 15, 20 years, how will things be radically different? That's not really a topic for much conversation.
I think this is very different from the 50s and 60s when you had a lot of debates about how things would to be different. There was of course the travel part, where people would travel faster and faster. In 1964 a Popular Science cover story was "Who'll Fly You at 2000 Miles Per Hour?" You have the Jetsons, the flying cars, the vacation trips to the moon. You had all sorts of other engineering ideas about how you'd build new cities, you'd have new engineering things, you'd have underwater cities, you'd turn deserts into forests, terraforming.
So there were all these different ways in which there was this very alive imagination about the future, and somehow there's been a shift away from that. You can anecdotally describe it in the decline and change of science fiction, which Neal Stephenson wrote a very interesting essay on that I think is really worth reading.
You can always take these things as far as you want to go, but you look at "Star Trek: The Original Series" versus "Star Trek: The Next Generation", and if you compare Spock with Data. In the original, Spock was half-Vulcan, but he was always trying to be fully Vulcan, he wanted to get rid of the emotional part, he wanted to be more scientific. Then by the time you get to The Next Generation, Data is trying to be less scientific, he's trying to become emotional. That's sort of a microcosm of the shift away from science.
Now, if you ask where do people have an idea of the future in our world, probably the most obvious is the emerging market countries, China being the case in point. But in some ways I think it's an uninteresting version of the future, it's basically in 20 years China will look like the U.S., in some ways they'll skip a few steps, they'll go straight to wireless cell phones, maybe they'll have high-speed trains and stuff like that. But for the most part, the future is basically straightforward copying of what works.
And that's sort of the globalization story, which is this very different story from technology. I think you can think of globalization as the x-axis, technology as the y-axis. Globalization involves copying things that work, and you go from one to n, and you move along the x-axis. There's a tremendous story about globalization that's going on in our world, and I think it's a good thing, and I think a good 21st century is one in which it continues apace. It's hard to imagine a good world in which globalization does not happen.
But if you think about the y-axis, which you can think of as vertical growth or intensive growth, or doing fundamentally new things, as the tech axis, that is a much lesser priority. We're very optimistic about globalization. People tend to be very optimistic about China. We tend to be quite pessimistic about technology. There are obviously some narrow exceptions in the Web 2.0 context, but outside of that, if you take say California as the paradigm of technology, that's probably not a place people are particularly optimistic about in general.
So there's this incredible bias, and I think it's worth reflecting on these as not just perpendicular axes, but almost substitutes, where if you're a talented person, are you going to do well by focusing on globalization or technology. You have to make a choice which way you want to do things. Do you want to copy things that work, or do you want to do new things. So in the 90s, when we hit the last really exciting time in tech, even though a lot of it turned out to be not quite real, it was bricks to clicks. In the last decade it was clicks back to bricks, as in Brazil, Russia, India, China. So we went from bricks to clicks to bricks. [laughter]
And there is a way in which that's where people think the most straightforward ways to do useful things are, and it's almost implicit in the way people talk about globalization. A linguistic point I always point out is that people talk about the "developing" and "developed" worlds. Which is a perfectly good thing for the developing countries to have a straightforward plan, but for the developed world, it's a weird anti-technological idea, because implicit in "developed" is that there's nothing more to do. So the way people talk about globalization is one where it is actually a substitute or an alternative to technology, and not a complement to it.
Now, why there's been this shift away from technological intensivity, towards just extensive growth, I think is much harder to speculate on. I think it's worth for us to reflect on a little bit. My basic candidate is that there is something about science and technology that is quite scary to people, and there is this widespread, not very well articulated sense that science and technology may just be this giant trap that humanity's created for itself.
There are parts of this that are very legitimate concerns. There's the environmental set of issues, where there is a worry that runaway technology will possibly destroy the planet. There obviously are all the military-type things, where the creation of nuclear weapons was this incredibly important event, maybe took many decades to really filter into the consciousness, but it at least put this counterpoint where science and technology were not simply positive in the way people had thought in the 19th and first half of 20th century.
If you go back, I was re-reading this New York Times op-ed, in 1945, the day after Hiroshima. It was sort of, "This was evidence of how the government could organize scientists to work harder, and faster, and get things done, and people who didn't believe in large government funding of science needed to think twice," and then ended with the quote "And the result, an invention," the nuclear bomb, "an invention is given to the world in three short years that it would have taken perhaps half a century for primadonna scientists if they had been left to their own," unquote.
Now whatever you may say of the merits of that or not, that's not the way people talk about this stuff anymore. And I think we have to be very aware that there's all this anxiety about how science and technology have progressed, and there are all these fears about how they may spiral out of control in one way or another. And that even though they're not often that terribly well articulated, this is probably a big background theme on why there's less of a push for it. People have become more skeptical, more nervous about it. Sci-fi has shifted to being more dystopian, it's about technology that doesn't work or that kills people, and not really about how you and your friend the robot are going to go for a walk on the moon. [laughter]
Now I keep still believing that this is fundamentally a very big mistake, and that we have to keep pushing on the science and technology side, and I think there's both a very optimistic version for this and a pessimistic version. I feel Sonia did a good job of giving one optimistic version, which is just that there are tremendous numbers of problems that we could solve, and make the world a much better place. The life extension set of debates is a very natural one.
There's all these health issues which have not been solved, and to say that we are at a point where the singularity has already happened and there's no need for any more innovation seems to me quite premature. Something like 40 or 45% of the people who get to age 85 end up having Alzheimers. That seems like a disturbing fact, and we should perhaps have a really concerted effort to do something about that, and to do something about every other disease, and to cure aging more generally. I think all these things are actually doable. They're not easy, but there's enough happening that it could all be done.
That's the hopeful part, but there's also the pessimistic side of this which is that if you don't do things, I don't think anything will work. I think the globalization story without technology simply does not work. If you just copy things without any innovation, you will basically have increasing conflicts over resources. That's in some sense a big part of what's gone wrong in the world, I would submit, over the last decade, is that we've had globalization without technology. If you have China copying the West and everybody getting a car in China, oil prices go up, food prices go up, and you start having increasingly conflictual human relations over things.
I think the core anti-technological writer in a way is still Malthus. When he wrote the essays on population in 1798, there were about 700 million people in the world, there are about 7 billion today. I re-read it about a year ago, and there are all sorts of objections one can make, but there is a certain logic to it, where if you do not work really hard on these things, you end up with serious scarcity, and scarcity leads to conflict. There is a way in which if we don't carry the scientific, technological vision through, that we started... We can't stop here, we have to keep going, and otherwise you just have chaos and conflict.
You take a look at the events in the Middle East over the last year. There's always an optimistic technological account, which is that they happened as the result of the Internet and the Information Age. Then there's always a more pessimistic account, which is that food prices went up by 30 to 50% in the last year, and that the Green Revolution in the Middle East was a result of the failure of the true Green Revolution of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, which increased agricultural yields by 126% in those 30 years, but has only done it by 47% in the years since then, barely keeping up with world population growth, and that it was the result in a sense of desperate people who had become more hungry than scared.
So I do think we are at this point where as globalization happens, we can't simply do things on the horizontal x-axis, we have to try to do a lot more on the y-axis. Where this gets done is, there is always the question who will do this, where will this happen. My sense for it is, as a first cut, sort of the search problem, if you define the question of the singularity as a problem in search and you're looking for where it's going to happen, first cut is that the singularity is you, it's near, but it's literally these people in this room here. If I had to bet on where the technologies are going to get developed that will solve these challenges in the decades ahead, I would put it maybe at a 50% chance that it will be done by people in this room, or that the people in this room will be involved in the companies or the non-profits or the efforts that do it.
So the one part I want to underscore is that I think we need to have a healthy dose of both pessimism and optimism. There needs to be some pessimism that things could be much worse if we don't work on it. There needs to be a healthy amount of optimism that things could be a lot better, that the "developed" description of the U.S. and Western Europe is misleading, because we could lose a lot of ground if there's no progress, and we could still be a lot better where from the perspective of 2100 we will be seen as an incredibly underdeveloped society.
It's not automatic, it can really go either way. It's up to a relatively small number of people who believe this is possible. The biggest lie that I think gets told about the singularity stuff is that it's somehow non-human or it has nothing to do with human beings. It actually is something that's going to be done by a small number of people working on it, and if we don't work on it, it won't happen, and I would encourage us all to get to work.
The question is not is the singularity... I think the question should not be what policies will lead it to happen, or anything like that, it's what can you do to make it happen. There's a version of the recession in the U.S. where the political debate is always "what can we do to end the recession, what policies should the government have to end the recession." I think it's always a better question to ask what can you do to end the recession. And I think in a similar way, instead of talking about what trends will enable the singularity to happen, we should ask the question what can you do to bring about the singularity. And I think the questions about the recession and the singularity, properly understood, are really the same question.
Thank you very much, and I'll just take some questions.
Man 1: My name is [xx] sent from [xx]. I like a couple of your ideas, especially about the thing that we, all we understand, what will happen from a technological perspective in 20, 50 years, and the second idea that entrepreneurs choose between copying ideas and developing new ones. So my question is, how to understand what will be hard in the short term in terms of developing new technology, especially what can be done by small startup companies in the technological sphere. Can you somehow elaborate on that?
Peter: Yes, okay, I could probably spend about an hour talking about this, so let me try to talk about it for three minutes. There's always a sense in which copying things seems easier than doing new things, and there certainly is an argument for a lot of incrementalism and copying stuff, and this is endemic in the Web 2.0 area. At the same time, there is a lot to be said for trying to do hard things that are not otherwise being done, and it's extremely important when you start a company how you get other people to join.
One of the generic questions I ask people who are pitching me on starting companies at the very early stage is, why is the 20th person going to join your company? First, second person it's cool, you get to be the founder, you get credit for it. Person number 1000, presumably the company's working and everyone's getting paid. But person number 20, that's actually really really tricky, and it helps tremendously to have a compelling mission, story, along the lines of "if we don't do this, nobody will."
A lot of the companies we've been involved with have had that sort of an incredibly compelling mission. The SpaceX company, which my colleague Elon from PayPal started, basically the pitch was "we're the only company, the only group in this world that's going to work on getting people to Mars." Some people don't think that's important, but there is a subset of very talented people who think that interplanetary travel is an important next step in technological progress, and they got just a phenomenal group of engineers. So if you think of it from the point of view of how to build a team of really talented people, it's actually the case that things that are hard or involve breakthroughs, it may be easier to have a really successful company in that, than in doing something incremental where you're competing with 100 different people, and it's not at all clear how one person is differentiated versus another.
I do think the caveat is, you have to have things that are doable in some time frame, so if it's 20 years if it's a non-profit, if it's 3 to 5 years I think it can be done on a for-profit basis. So the judgment call we make every single time is, "is this unique," which means that the company will have incredible value if it succeeds, and then "is the technology in the zone where it's at least doable." And if you can answer both questions, if you have a technology that is working, or close to working, and it's nevertheless hard enough or unique enough that nobody else is doing it, that's a combination for a phenomenal business model.
Man 2: My name is Sahil, and just building on the last question I guess, what do you say to people who are concerned that free markets and capital markets in America specifically are opposed to extrinsic growth, and that a lot of the good things that happened in the 50s and 60s people like to say were the result of government R&D spending that doesn't exist or is impossible today?
Peter: So the question is, what do I say to people who say that our capitalist system is anti-technological. I think the technology question is somewhat separate from capitalism versus socialism, and you can have a lot of different views on what the correct economic system would be, and how to encourage technology. I tend to be more on the capitalist side, but I think people can definitely differ on this.
I would say it's very hard in my mind for the government to play a big role in the singularity, because there aren't enough people in government who believe in it. So even if there was a way in which the government could do the Manhattan Project or the Apollo program, these things would be very hard to do today, because so few people actually believe in this stuff. That's why I think the governmental option is harder to pull off politically today than it was in the past.
The history on these things is complicated. If you look at the 50s and 60s, marginal tax rates were much higher, so they were like 70% in the 60s, so that suggests you could have higher tax rates and a lot of innovation. On the other hand, there was much less regulation, and so something like the FDA, you would never have even gotten the polio vaccine through if you had the FDA in its current form today. So I think if you think of it from a government control of the economy perspective, I would say that macroeconomic stuff has been deregulated, the microeconomic stuff is more regulated, and that's how I'd look at that debate.
Man 3: Yes, my name is Gorev [sp], I've been an entrepreneur for about ten years, and I'm a little confused about what the singularity really means for entrepreneurship, in terms of how much faster can things go. I mean, if you look at a company like Groupon and see how quickly things have ramped up in a mere two years, how quickly can things really go, and how can an individual founder or two or three founders actually keep track of things moving so fast? I don't know if that makes so much sense, but...
Peter: Yes, so, let me rephrase that question as, how can anyone say things are not going fast enough given how fast some things are going, [laughter] or how do you make things go faster if something like Groupon can be built as quickly as it was built? I think it's worth distinguishing different types of velocity. When people have great new ideas, the Internet and the Information Age means those ideas can be disseminated very quickly, and there are certain types of business models that can grow very very fast.
But I think there is still this very different question of actually coming up with the breakthroughs, the new ideas themselves. I don't think it's necessarily harder than it used to be, the super pessimistic argument is that it's gotten much harder because human brains aren't capable of going much beyond the frontier of current knowledge, so things like Fermat's Last Theorem is much harder than the Pythagorean Theorem, and there are all these places where it's gotten actually slower. I'm not sure that's true.
But I think the first part of it, where you come up with new ideas, which is the vertical y-axis, in my mind is about as hard as it's ever been, not harder, not easier. The x-axis, there are parts of it that can work really quickly, if you get ideas that work, but I describe those as two very different dimensions that are needed for progress in the 21st century.
Man 4: Hey, I'm Charles Parado [sp], what would you say the best motive is for starting a company, would you say it is profit or just interest in the technology itself?
Peter: The question, what's the best motive, is it profit or interest in the technology itself. I guess those are exclusive possibilities, or they're at least different, but it's not clear they're exhaustive. So I think the best motive is trying to solve important problems. Interest in the technology itself I think can easily veer away from tech and to something that's more just a pure science understanding, but not that impactful. Interest in profitability probably means that people will sell the company as soon as they get paid, so it's very hard to build anything up.
One of the anecdotes I tell about Facebook, that was probably the single most important and controversial decision Zuckerberg made, was to turn down the one billion dollars from Yahoo! in the summer of '06. So there's a way in which he was not really motivated by money, but he was also not motivated by just developing an abstract theory of social networking.
So I think there is a very different third possibility, which is people who believe there are important problems to solve, and are passionate about a particular way of tackling these. And it's not even necessarily the case that a start-up is the only way to do it. I happen to think it's a very good way to do it, but you don't become an entrepreneur for the sake of becoming an entrepreneur, you become an entrepreneur in order to solve a problem, and that's the bias, the mindset I would encourage.
Woman 1: Hi, my question is about something that I think when I think of singularity. At least right now I think of passive personalization, I think of implicit actions, so some of the stuff that Facebook rolled out, Siri, technologies like that. So when you brought up the potential threats of that, the first thing I think of is privacy. I wanted to get your thoughts on whether right now we should be thinking of creating the types of businesses that protect that, and what that even means right now, and if the pace of innovating for that particular case... because it does close a lot of loops for us, it makes things easier for us, but then whoever holds that data is a potential threat, so I just wanted to get your thoughts on that.
Peter: Yes, so, I think there is... this is again a long conversation on sort of how the Information Age is playing out, and it does seem to be playing out and heading towards a world where there is less privacy. My own view on it is that, at the margins we definitely have to figure out ways to protect privacy, and think that through. At the same time, there's a degree to which there's sort of this Luddite aspect where we can't just turn the computers off and shut everything down.
So I tend to think the critical thing is to somehow have a much more tolerant society. I'd be comfortable with a society where there's a little bit less privacy if there was a lot more tolerance, and the combination that I think is very dangerous is the one where we have less privacy and the same amount of intolerance we do today. I define tolerance in a lot of different ways, including a whole different range of things, but I'd sort of frame it in those terms.
Man 5: For someone like me who wants to run for public office, how can we, the political system address the drifting away from the science and everything, and what are your feelings on thorium energy? Because I went to a conference in New York this week, and they had a conference on thorium energy and the potential for it. Because they had one company, I think Flibe Energy based down in Alabama, that was working on it. I don't know what are your feelings on it if you've even heard of them or...
Peter: Alternative energy, is that the question?
Man 5: Yeah and then, someone like me who's running for public office, how do you address the drift away of science, so we can push it back to the way it was, or if there's some way to do it.
Peter: Yeah, I'm not a campaign consultant, I'm probably one of the worst people to ask about that sort of stuff [laughter]. I used to be very interested in political stuff, and I realized it just made people angry, and I shifted away from it in the 90s. The rough way I would try to approach it, with the caveat that I can't give you advice, would be to try to link it to the question of how do you make things better in our society.
And this is a very acute question. I think there is an opening for a conversation about technology and science that we have not had in 30 or 40 years. We've had a series of financial bubbles, the bubbles have ended, there's a question what do we do now. And there is an openness to the idea that the way forward has to be very different from the way it's been going. So I think there is at least an opening, even though it's weird and it's different, but people are probably more open to a range of ideas that are different.
I think the energy question is a very tricky one. The aspect that I'm interested in from more of a venture capital, Silicon Valley perspective that has political overlays, is why the clean tech thing has been such a catastrophic failure over the last decade. I'm in favor of solving the energy problem, I would like to see some of the alternative energy things work better, but we really need to understand why that's not worked that well. I have theories on it, my best one is that there's been a certain sloppiness about thinking about it. We need to focus on things that work, there's probably a coordination problem, there's a question of are things actually...
The energy challenge, I would submit, as with technology, you have to be able to do more with less. So alternate energy has to be cheaper, and until it is cheaper, it's going to be very hard to get it to work. If you had Amazon, as a computer company, if you had said in '96, "yeah it's going to cost twice as much to buy a book, and it's going to take you six months to get it, [laughter] but we're going to get subsidies that are really big, and that'll make the business work, and that's why you should invest." [applause] That would have been quite difficult to work. [laughter]
Maybe there are cases where it might work, and I understand the energy thing. There are externalities with the environment that are very different, and that make it very different. But I do think the acid test is, is it technology which is doing more for less, and it means can you make it cheaper, and until you can do that it's going to be really uphill.
Woman 2: What do you feel is the main thing holding us back, if it's not lack of ideas, is it funding, IP management, or this negative social outlook that you mentioned, and what should we do about it?
Peter: I think what we do is we just start doing stuff. So there are reasons that there's been progress, there are reasons the progress could be happening much more quickly. I don't think there's some sort of natural limit where there's nothing within reach, I actually think there are a lot of things that could be done. I don't think they're necessarily easy, but I don't think it's a reflection of the state of nature, that somehow there are no ideas left, or they've all been exhausted. I tend to think the critical thing is to encourage people to do it.
The why question is complicated. My speculative answer is that people have gotten a lot more scared about science and technology post-1945 with the Big Lag, there are probably a lot of other answers. But I think we have to come back to coming up with very compelling narratives on how we create specific technologies that really move the dial.
And we need to move away from a financial portfolio view of the world where it's nothing specific, and nobody can figure this stuff out, and the future is just a probability field that's completely indeterminate, which is the dominant way people think about the future. When you think of the future as being indeterminate and probabilistic, you don't think about the specifics. There are parts of the future that are probabilistic, so there's something to be said for actuarial math, there's something to be said for writing insurance policies, but there's also something to be said for calculus, and for making determinate plans, and that's the mindset I encourage people to go back to.
Man 6: Hi Peter, Dr. Braverman. Listen, how come we know now that 40 is sort of like half-dead, I hate to say to everyone, and 25 can be a third-dead. Why haven't we taken on a technological revolution for monitoring at home? Our toilets could measure blood in the stool, our oxygen changes of lung cancer could be picked up, our beds could pick up arrhythmia, skin cancers can be monitored through mirrors, and various things in your home including your diet, your knee, people are hurting their knees and hips.
You can actually come up with monitoring systems so they don't end up crippled, and yet we continue to allow disease, which human beings have no radar for, to just hit you by surprise. You can be worth 2 billion dollars, and you show up in my office, "I don't know how I ended up with this heart disease, I don't know how I ended up with this bad knee, I don't know how come I have a small tumor," and all these diseases are now 9/10ths advanced, when I could have found them at 20% advanced and reversed them so they could get into the 100 year lifespan.
Peter: I think that's another version of the why question. I think all the discussions on longevity, it's always bizarre to me that we're not doing more on preventative side, we're not doing more on an intervention-cure side, not more on a fundamental research side, not more on all these different levels. The speculative answer I've come up with, I'm not sure if this is right, but a lot of people have made their peace with death, and they've accepted that they're going to die, and it's actually psychologically disturbing for people to be told that they need to do stuff. [laughter]
I think that sounds like a batshit crazy explanation, but I think it is something really weird like that that's going on, and if you want to talk about psychological denial, as a phenomenon, probably the way people deal with death is the paradigm example of denial, and that's certainly one thing that we need to overcome.
One of the things I alluded to in my talk, I think we need both more optimism and more pessimism. We need pessimism that things can go wrong, and so you need to be scared that the future could be worse, and you need more optimism that things could be better, and that the future could be a lot better. And if you have neither optimism nor pessimism, if you think things are just going to be the same, and nothing is ever going to change, there's much less point in acting. So I think anything we can do to tell more of an optimistic and more of a pessimistic story at the same time, this is a little bit inconsistent, but I think that's a critical thing to motivating things, and that's certainly critical on the health side. Individually and society-wide.
Man 7: Hi, so I wasn't about to broach the topic, but you've broached it so I will. What do you do personally to stay healthy? Because I also believe in a very aggressive approach towards health. What do you do, if it's not too personal a question, and if it is, you can just speak hypothetically. [laughter]
Peter: I'll limit myself to things I do that are legal. [laughter] [applause]
I think the lowest-hanging preventative area still is just for people to focus on nutrition. If you look at these comparative studies of say Germany versus U.S., where I think there are ways in which the healthcare system is more socialized in Germany, probably less quality on the intervention side, everybody smokes. So it seems like you'd expect life expectancy much, much lower in Germany than in the U.S., but it's actually the other way around. I think one of the critical things is to really start with what people eat, and try to really eat healthy food. There's a lot of different theories on nutrition, but that's probably a starting point for people to think about really hard.
I think, to Dr. Braverman's question, I think there are all these preventative things that are mildly aggressive forms of intervention people could do earlier, that are not being done. There's probably a tremendous amount of value in getting a good doctor, and so how selective are people in finding their doctors, do people second-guess their doctors enough. I do think there is a degree to which you want to take responsibility for it, and it's just like we have to take responsibility for the singularity because it's not going to happen if we don't. There is a degree to which you have to take responsibility for your health, and it's not going to solve everything, but I think that's the initial mindset you should start with.
Man 8: Hey, I'm Robert. It seems that there is a change in what kind of web companies are being IPOed and what's being popular now, and I'm just curious, do you think that this is because of social attitudes on science, or do you think it's purely a technology thing, or something else entirely?
Peter: Well just to say one thing about the IPO market, it seems to me the reality of what's going on is that you can only go public if you have a meaningfully large company. So the big shift is the threshold for having an IPO is a lot higher. I think the Internet continues to be an area where there is a lot of innovation, it's an area we continue to look at, and it remains an area where people can build really great companies in a shockingly short period of time. So there are aspects of it that make it very interesting. The challenge is, do these companies represent enough of a breakthrough, and this is the recurrent challenge we always have in looking at Internet companies, where if they're too incremental, if they're too small, you end up with 100 copycat competitors, it's not differentiated, it's not that valuable.
I do think that there is a lot of room for looking at breakthrough technologies and many other verticals. There's a sense I have that not enough people are doing it, either on the investor side or on the entrepreneur side. We do think this is a great time to start building companies in many other areas.
Man 9: Hi Peter. I keep on hearing you say that the general public is really distrustful of technology, but how can you explain that iPad and iPhone sales are just totally off the chart?
Peter: Alright, so this is the Steve Jobs question. [laughter] Let's see. There are a lot of very cool things about the device. If Jobs were here he'd be saying that this is much more significant than the Apollo space program, than any number of other things. That may be true, that may not be, we should definitely ask about that.
The tricky question with Apple though, and I think one of the things that is great about it as a company, but is at least a little bit more challenging as a technology, is that a large part of it involves designing technology in order to hide it. So the experience of an iPhone, iPad, iPod, all these things, is that it's almost like magic, and it's something which fits the zeitgeist extremely well of a society which is actually not that technological, and where it's more a fashion statement or something like that, where the technology is very much hidden from view.
And of course the other issue with Apple is there is a very strange way in which it was so unique, and there was this incredible sense of loss with Jobs's death in the last few weeks. And I think he achieved tremendous things, and it's good that people appreciate that, and at the same time, there's always this negative undercurrent where it's like he was the only person in our society inventing things, and what does that mean. I do think we shouldn't be fully content with one person trying to build new devices, and we should all try to do more of that.