Photo: Flickr/Fortune Live Media
Venture capitalist Peter Thiel and Google chairman Eric Schmidt hit the stage Tuesday night at Fortune’s Brainstorm conference in Aspen to engage in a good old-fashioned insult-swaping smackdown.The tech-elite attendees—Michael Dell was sitting front and centre, for example—ate it up.
Thiel and Schmidt are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Thiel is a libertarian; Schmidt, a Democrat. Both men are brilliant and articulate with very different visions of the future and the part tech plays in it. Thiel did most of the smacking.
Thiel says VCs since 1999 have failed to create really innovative tech. He quoted a page from his Founders Fund website: “We wanted flying cars. Instead we got 140 characters.”
“You do a fine job as Google’s administrator of propaganda,” Thiel said to Schmidt. Moderator Adam Lashinsky, a Fortune writer, chided Thiel. “You said you were going to be nice.” Thiel responded, “I said you do a fine job.” The audience laughed.
“Google is not a tech company,” Thiel said, arguing that Google does search and people think that no one else will come up with better search. “So investing in Google [is] betting against innovation.”
India, China and other developing nations have “zero need for innovation. All they need to do is copy things.”
Thiel on Google’s “world-class monopoly” in search: “It’s quite legal to have a monopoly as long as you don’t abuse it.”
“We’ve outlawed everything in the world of stuff and looks like Wall Street-style finance is in the process of getting outlawed. The only thing left is world of computers. If you are a computer, that’s good,” said Thiel. He added, that’s also good for Google, where “they like computers more than people.”
Thiel admitted that Google is doing more than lots of other tech companies like Microsoft on innovation, like self-driving cars. But says Google still has too much cash. “Google has $30 billion to spend and no idea how to spend it on tech.”
As for the Arab Spring, “You can say Facebook and Twitter” caused it, Thiel said. Schmidt interrupted: “I didn’t say that!” Thiel continued, “But it was the price of food. People were about to starve. Eric goes around and says .. let them eat iPhones.”
But Schmidt got a few barbs in there, too:
“Let’s just say that everything you just said is not actually true,” Schmidt said to Thiel. The audience laughed.
There are lots of “limits that are not cash” for getting new ideas off the ground, Schmidt argued—”limits of recruiting … many such limits.”
“America in the next decade can be completely energy independent,” Schmidt said. Thiel replied, “You are talking about the future.” Schmidt answered, “Yes, that’s my job.” Big laugh from the audience.
“We either have to decide financial institutions are private and can be allowed to fail, or they are public,” but we don’t just want to regulate “the games” they play, Schmidt said.
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