Peter Thiel in 2015 on AI fears, Buzzwords, and Ideas over Process

In 2015 Peter Thiel joined Jason Calacanis for a wide ranging conversation at the LAUNCH Festival.

The discussion on AI fears being overdone jumped out given the recent turbulence at OpenAI. Speculations ran rampart that Ilya Sutskever, Chief Scientist at OpenAI, had seen something in the latest ChatGPT model that spooked him. Was it AGI? Was ChatGPT sentient? We still don’t know.

And yet such fears aren’t new in the world of AI.

In the summer of 2022 Google fired an employee who claimed its AI technology was sentient. And in 2015, after the DeepMind team showcased its AI technology to private investors, some investors were spooked by the technology and it’s potential to disrupt humanity.

Here are some highlight quotes from LAUNCH Festival conversation between Peter Thiel and Jason Calacanis.

AI fears being overdone

We had an LP meeting at Founders Fund where Demis (CEO of DeepMind) had spoke, and I remember one of our investors jokingly told me afterword that he felt it was the last chance he had to shoot and kill him for the sake of humanity.


I suspect the fears are a little overdone at this point, full strong AI is somewhat further away then people think. That being said, it would represent a shift that is really drastic for which we don’t have a great conception.


Reframing the worry about technology

In general people frame the worry about technology that it is happening too quickly, too disruptive, too dangerous. And what I worry about is much more the specter of stagnation, things are not changing quickly enough, we don’t have enough growth, and that’s where you have real challenges. In a world without growth everything becomes a zero sum game, I get ahead by you falling behind, and that becomes a much nastier world.


Be weary of buzzwords

You want to be careful about buzzwords. If I said I’m building a mobile platform for SaaS enterprises to do big data in the cloud, a proliferation of buzzwords. All these buzzwords are a tell, like in Poker, that the company is bluffing and it is undifferentiated, because we have heard the buzzwords before, and so if you’re the nth company in a well-established category, that’s problematic.


Conversely the things that are underrated, there are no buzzwords, it doesn’t actually fit into any preexisting categories, and you have to be open to listening to those.


Formula for a company

If you ask what is the formula for a company. It’s some combination of number 1, talented team that works well together, the internal dynamics matter a lot. Number 2, a good product/technology. And number 3, a good business strategy. And somehow you want all 3 to line up. If you have those you can have a great company, even if you screw up a lot of stuff.


Idea over process

There are all sorts of processes people focus on. I think the reality is most of the companies in Silicon Valley are somewhere between really badly managed to badly managed. If you looked at these companies from an MBA process, there are all these things that are being screwed up in enormous ways, and it often doesn’t matter, because you have this kernel of a good idea.