Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University

Back to the Future: Will we create enough new technology to sustain our society?

Peter Thiel

Palantir Technologies; Thiel Foundation; Founders Fund; PayPal co-founder

March 25, 2015, 5:00pm-7:00pm
Science Center C, 1 Oxford Street


Recent discussions about the role of technology in society have oscillated between very short term worries ("what are smart phones doing to our brains?") and very long term nightmares ("will artificial intelligence replace humanity?"). Left out of these discussions are the next twenty years: our horizon for making concrete plans. The most important question for this medium term might be: will we create enough new technology to sustain our society? Instead of taking it for granted (or doomed), we must go back to the future and build it ourselves. Video of this lecture is located here.


Antoine Picon

G. Ware Travelstead Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design

Margo Seltzer

Herchel Smith Professor of Computer Science and a Harvard College Professor at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Samuel Moyn

Professor of Law and History at Harvard Law School

Moderated by

Sheila Jasanoff

Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies

About the speaker

Peter Thiel is an entrepreneur and investor. He started PayPal in 1998, led it as CEO, and took it public in 2002, defining a new era of fast and secure online commerce. In 2004 he made the first outside investment in Facebook, where he serves as a director. The same year he launched Palantir Technologies, a software company that harnesses computers to empower human analysts in fields like national security and global finance. He has provided early funding for LinkedIn, Yelp, and dozens of successful technology startups, many run by former colleagues who have been dubbed the “PayPal Mafia.” He is a partner at Founders Fund, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has funded companies like SpaceX and Airbnb. He started the Thiel Fellowship, which ignited a national debate by encouraging young people to put learning before schooling, and he leads the Thiel Foundation, which works to advance technological progress and long-term thinking about the future. Despite his criticism of the education bubble, in Spring 2012 Peter taught a class in the Computer Science department of his alma mater Stanford University. He has now revised and rewritten that class to make the new book called Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

About the poster image: A cropped, modified version of Joseph Stella’s The Bridge (1922).