There are few individuals with the potential to be as polarizing as Peter Thiel. The co-founder of PayPal, staunch libertarian, and billionaire venture capitalist has lately made headlines because of his growing connection to the infant Trump administration. Thiel has thrown his philosophical and economic weight behind many projects over the years. They run the gamut between exciting and downright strange, and have equally varied degrees of success. One thing’s for sure, though: No one can fault Thiel for lack of trying.
Let’s take a look at some of Peter Thiel’s strangest projects:
In 2011, Thiel pledged $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute, “an organization dedicated to launching small countries on oil-rigtype platforms in international waters.” There is no other way to foster the creation of a “new society,” says the Institute, other than by exploring the creation of these small (at first), artificial landmasses. Ideally for Thiel and the Seasteading Institute, these new societies would be libertarian utopias of freedom and technological innovation.
Unfortunately for Thiel’s investment, it doesn’t look like the Libertarian Island idea’s going to float. The Seasteading Institute has since realized that it’s actually really expensive to build an offshore nation entirely from scratch. Over the past year and a half, money and interest in the project has reportedly dried up as the newest version of the endeavor is much less sexy than its original conception. The Seasteading Institute explained, “The high cost of open ocean engineering serves as a large barrier to entry and hinders entrepreneurship in international waters. This has led us to look for cost-reducing solutions within the territorial waters of a host nation.”
Electing Donald Trump
Despite being a member of the overwhelmingly progressive Silicon Valley community, and an out gay man to boot, Thiel became a major financial backer to Donald Trump in his bid for the presidency. He pledged in October to donate $1.25 million (sounds like a familiar amount, right?) to the Republican presidential candidate and even spoke at the Republican National Convention when Trump was nominated.
It remains to be seen whether Trump’s election will benefit Thiel, but at least the president-elect proved to be money better spent than Libertarian Island.
Heading back into the realm of science (or maybe science fiction), Thiel is a frequent donor to Breakout Labs, a science startup notable for its many inventive, if far-reaching, projects. Among them are wearable, disease-diagnosing patches and building an artificial tornado.
Thiel is also a backer of bioprinted meats, which some say are a cheaper, safer, and more energy efficient alternative to the current meat industry.
Furthermore, Thiel is a Transhumanist, which is essentially a big word for someone who believes that death will not always be a fact of life (Suck it, Benjamin Franklin). Transhumanists believe humans can escape death through science. They want to use the process of cryogenic freezing to preserve bodies until they can be reanimated at a later date by the super intelligent AI that humans hopefully will invent at some point. Basically, the ultimate goal is to see a fusion of humans with technology, along with a redefinition of what it even means to be a person.
To that end, Thiel has donated extensively to organizations like the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, a think tank dedicated to the safe study of future A.I.s.
As a libertarian, Thiel takes personal privacy very seriously, and views it to be a critical component of life in a free society. Stemming from this value is the libertarian belief, shared by Thiel, that the criminalization of certain drugs — like marijuana — is a bad policy. With that in mind, Thiel has also helped fund starup Leafly. The website has been not inaccurately dubbed the “Yelp for weed” and is designed to both provide a service to smokers and help normalize the recreational use of marijuana in American society.
Also derived from his desire to preserve personal privacy — especially his own — were Thiel’s efforts to put an end to Gawker via Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the website. It was revealed earlier this year that Thiel was funding Hogan’s suit to the tune of about $10 million. He apparently did so because years prior Gawker published a number of stories commenting on the fact that he is gay. In his opinion, the publication committed an egregious violation of his privacy even though it was already fairly well known.
Hogan won his lawsuit and Gawker filed for bankruptcy, so chalk up another win for Thiel. This was a costly one for others, though, setting what many believe to be a bad precedent for the freedom of the press.