- Peter Thiel called out Apple’s and Google’s links to China this week.
- The billionaire tech investor issued warnings about bitcoin, TikTok, and AI.
- Thiel said he wanted to restrict US investors’ access to Chinese markets and vice versa.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The billionaire investor Peter Thiel said bitcoin could serve as a “Chinese financial weapon,” criticized Apple’s and Google’s connections to China, and suggested TikTok should be banned in the US at a virtual event held by the Richard Nixon Foundation this week.
Thiel, the vocal libertarian who cofounded PayPal and Palantir and sits on the board of Facebook, also expressed concerns about technology theft and artificial intelligence, and he called for greater restrictions on Chinese investment in the US and vice versa.
The event was called “The Nixon Seminar on Conservative Realism and National Security,” and the topic of discussion was “Big Tech and China: What do we need from Silicon Valley?”
Here are Thiel’s 17 best quotes from the seminar, lightly edited and condensed for clarity:
1. “Shockingly little innovation happens in China. But they have been very good at copying things, stealing things.”
2. “I criticized Google a few years ago for working with Chinese universities and Chinese researchers. And since everything in China is a civilian-military fusion, Google was effectively working with the Chinese military. One of the things that I was sort of told by some of the insiders at Google was they figured they might as well give the technology out the front door, because if they didn’t give it, it would get stolen anyway.”
3. “I had a set of conversations with some of the DeepMind AI people at Google. I asked them, ‘Is your AI being used to run the concentration camps in Xinjiang?’ and they said, ‘Well, we don’t know and don’t ask any questions.’ You have this almost magical thinking that by pretending everything is fine, that’s how you engage and have a conversation, and you make the world better.” – A DeepMind spokesperson told Insider: “This claim is entirely false. We have never worked with the Chinese military and have been clear since DeepMind was founded that our research and technology is intended for use in ways that are beneficial to society.”
4. “If you look at the big five tech companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft all have very, very little presence in China. So they aren’t a naturally pro-China constituency. Apple is probably the one that’s structurally a real problem, because the whole iPhone supply chain gets made from China.”
5. “We need to call companies like Google out for working on AI with communist China. I also think we should be putting a lot of pressure on Apple.”
6. “At Facebook, during the Hong Kong protests a year ago, the employees from Hong Kong were all in favor of the protests and free speech. But there were more employees at Facebook who were born in China than who were born in Hong Kong. And the Chinese nationals actually said that it was just Western arrogance and they shouldn’t be taking Hong Kong’s side and things like that. The internal debate felt like people were actually more anti-Hong Kong than pro-Hong Kong.”
7. “TikTok is problematic because it has this incredible exfiltration of data about people. You are creating this incredibly privacy-invading map of a large part of the population of the Western world. It is a fairly powerful application of AI in a certain sense, as they find ways to make it especially addictive and figure out what videos to show you to keep you watching more and more. It doesn’t seem that if you shut it down, it would be an economic catastrophe.”
8. “In a totalitarian society, you have no qualms about getting data on everybody, in every way possible. That makes AI a very tricky technology, because there are a lot of ways we don’t actually want to apply it in the US or West.” – highlighting the Chinese government’s use of AI for large-scale facial recognition.
9. “People often say crypto or bitcoin is a vaguely libertarian technology. If crypto is kind of libertarian, AI is kind of communist.”
10. “Even though I’m sort of a pro-crypto, pro-bitcoin maximalist person, I do wonder whether bitcoin should be partly thought of as a Chinese financial weapon against the US. It threatens fiat money, especially the US dollar, and China wants to do things to weaken the dollar. If China’s long bitcoin, perhaps the US should be asking some tougher questions about exactly how that works.”
11. “An internal stablecoin in China – that’s not a real cryptocurrency. That’s just some sort of totalitarian measuring device.”
12. “Make it harder for Chinese investors to invest in the US, and perhaps we should also make it a little bit harder for American investors to invest in China. We have US investors that invest in China and become a big constituency for open capital flows. I think a decent part of the Wall Street crowd is pretty bad in this regard. I would dial it back on both sides – making it harder for US investors to invest in China is an almost equally important part of this.”
13. “China doesn’t like the US having the reserve currency, because it gives us a lot of leverage over Iranian oil supply chains and all sorts of things like that. You can think of the euro in part as a Chinese weapon against the dollar. China would have liked to see two reserve currencies.”
14. “One of the very strange dynamics in Silicon Valley is people don’t do very much with semiconductors anymore. One of the weird problems with 20 years of intellectual-property theft, and where IP doesn’t really have as much value as it used to, is that you learn not to invest in things like that.”
15. “People are too anchored to doing things that worked in the past or copying some model. Building a new search engine was the right thing for Google to do in 1999. It’s probably not the right thing to do today. It’s very hard to compete against Google by doing the exact same thing they are doing.”
16. “You can think of big tech as something that’s very natural. It’s maybe unnaturally big. It’s unhealthy. It’s too strong. But there’s something in the nature of tech to be big. Big science is actually an oxymoron. If you have some giant science factory, there’s probably not much science going on at all.” – criticizing science as becoming overly institutionalized and dominated by large corporations.
17. “Deplatforming President Trump was really quite extraordinary. That does feel like you really crossed some kind of Rubicon where you declare war on maybe a third, 40% of the country – that seems really crazy.”