Remember when Bill Gates was the enemy? Ahhh the 1990s–It’s almost like they never happened. Yet, Microsoft still carries with it the Evil Empire reputation it gained from 20 some odd years of suspect business practices and ultimately being declared a monopoly by the FTC…sort of.
Since software broke free from boxes in the Web 2.0 era, Microsoft’s power has waned and Bill Gates put himself out to pasture as a philanthropist. I suspect Bill Gates discovered what we all do–he’s going to die. Perhaps even more depressing, he’s not going to be able to spend all his money before he kicks the bucket. So, Bill Gates has admirably chosen to spend the rest of his life giving away his vast wealth to charitable causes of personal interest: malaria, polio, that sort of thing.
This is in direct contrast to the new generation of rich tech elite. Recently I read this article about Peter Thiel–billionaire venture capitalist and one of the earliest investors in Facebook. Many of his new investments are in biotech–in particular, investing in companies that are trying to cure death.
Bill Gates’ sense of his own mortality is so old school. The Silicon Valley investor class has also realized they can’t live long enough to enjoy all of their wealth. However, instead of spending their fortune on bed nets they are trying to become immortal. The cokeheads will live forever. Time enough at last.
In the same interview, Peter Thiel criticizes modern investors for building trivial technologies that don’t move humanity forward. He waxes nostalgic about the 1960s Space Program and contrasts it with today’s meaningless web 2.0 developments (many of which he is personally responsible for).
I think Peter Thiel is trying to eliminate one of the greatest innovators of all time: death. Just imagine if you could become immortal, but it was really expensive. We’d still be living under the yoke of 16th century kings who want to burn you at the stake for believing in heliocentric orbits.
Plus, your unpredictable expiration date is great motivation for getting stuff done. Steve Jobs’ premature death was a wake-up call to a lot of people putting off things they want to do until some nebulous future date.
It’s not all bad. I’m sure the advancements biotech companies create while slaving away to discover the fountain of youth for their overlords will trickle down into medicine for the rest of us. After all, we’re just now starting to see the benefits of a few decades of stem cell research.
Still, I can’t help but think the human lifespan is in a sweet spot for innovation. Live too short and you’ll never accomplish enough to evolve (fruit flies)–live too long and you’ll put off accomplishing anything for generations (whales–a bunch of slackers). Let’s keep dying, it’s good for the human race.