July 29, 2021

Peter Thiel and the Dream of the Immortal Man

In the summer of 2016, a strange information made the headlines of the American newspapers. Peter Thiel, the star Silicon Valley investor who made his fortune with PayPal, reportedly uses young teenage blood transfusions in an attempt to stay young forever! Accompanied by details as sordid as they are unbelievable, the news spread like wildfire across the Atlantic.

Simple rumor? Certainly. And as old as the world, moreover. Leonardo da Vinci was already going to buy from the executioners small vials of fresh blood taken from the corpses of those condemned to death; for centuries, the myth of the blood capable of ending death has fueled the imaginations of countless authors, starting with Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. And yet … If it is largely a fantasy, the rumor about Peter Thiel is not completely unfounded. In this year 2016, in fact, it has been some time since the billionaire embarked on a completely crazy project: to make man immortal.

Peter ThielAFP

In recent years, it has even been one of Silicon Valley’s favorite fads. The sign of the transition from a “theocentric society to a technocentric society” and which is in line with the aspiration of our societies to generate ever more efficient and healthier human beings, as sociologist Daniela Cerqui emphasizes. .

Stem cells

The first to take a real interest in the matter is a certain Aubrey de Gray. In 2009, this former computer scientist totally self-taught in biogerontology created in Mountain View, in the heart of California, the SENS Foundation (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence). Objective of this research organization largely funded by private donations? Extend indefinitely – at least up to 1,000 years – the duration of human life. The means to achieve this? To fight against tissue atrophy by transplanting organs cultured in vitro from stem cells.

The great figures of Californian high-tech are not slow to rush into the breach. In 2013, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, created Calico (for Californian Lige Company), a “start-up” specializing in research on aging, “The most fundamental unsolved problem for biology” as one of its official releases explains. Its short-term goal is more modest than that of SENS: to extend human life by twenty to one hundred years. But, in the long run, Calico’s goal is nothing less than “Kill death”.

Aubrey de Gray in 2005

Aubrey de Gray in 2005Rex Features / Rex / Sipa

From Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft – who, ironically, will die in 2018 at the age of 65 – to Larry Ellison, the boss of Oracle – who says he is “terrified of death” -, via Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook… all the stars of Silicon Valley are passionate about this challenge which has agitated Humanity for millennia.

Digital immortality

They are not the only ones. Emerging from its Californian cradle, the dream of the immortal man quickly gained new horizons. In the early 2010s, Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov, founder of the web-based media company New Media Stars, launched the Avatar project, worthy of the sci-fi film of the same name. Setting the bar very high, he intends to create by 2045 an avatar of the human being in which the brain of an individual would be transplanted at the end of his life, thus ensuring him an immortal consciousness. A project that received the remarkable support of the Dalai Lama …

Americans or Russians, these seekers of eternal life with their full wallets have, it is true, much more to lose than the average person. But something else drives them. All share, in fact, the same conviction: followers of transhumanism – this movement of thought which advocates the use of science and technology to improve the human condition -, they are convinced that technology, one day, will triumph. death, and that it will be possible to download his mind – and even his DNA – to a hard drive. Immortality in digital form: a dream – or a delirium – in which the new moguls firmly believe and in which they invest considerable sums.

Nugget financier

At the end of death and the birth of the immortal man, Peter Thiel also strongly believes. This American entrepreneur of German origin is less well known than Elon Musk, with whom he founded PayPal in 2000. With a personal fortune of $ 2.5 billion, he is nevertheless one of the richest men in the world. – it appears at 328e place in the Forbes ranking of 2018. Beautiful career that that of this figure of Silicon Valley, born in Frankfurt am Main in 1967 and arrived in the United States with his parents the following year. Brilliant – he became a nationally ranked chess player during his high school years – he joined Stanford University, from which he graduated in 1992 as a lawyer.

Four years later, after a brief stint in the United States Court of Appeal, he founded Thiel Capital Management, a multi-strategy fund. It was then, in 1998, that he met Max Levchin, a computer scientist of Ukrainian origin who had just completed his studies at the University of Chicago. Together, the two men have the idea of ​​creating an electronic payment system intended to promote the emergence of electronic commerce. Thus was born in 1998 the company Fieldlink which very quickly takes the name of “Confinity” and which above all, in 2000, merged with X.Com, the electronic payment company founded, for its part, by Elon Musk. This is PayPal’s birth certificate.

And the beginnings of fortune for Peter Thiel! In 2002, the entrepreneur sold his shares to eBay. Its 3.7% in the capital earns it $ 55 million. With this money, Thiel founded Clarium Capital management, a hedge fund initially endowed with $ 10 million. The man undoubtedly has flair: in 2004, he loaned $ 500,000 to Mark Zuckerberg, who is about to launch Facebook. The resale of his shares in 2012 brought him no less than $ 400 million. From Linkedin to Airbnb via Spotify or SpaceX, Thiel finances many other nuggets. Investments that make him a billionaire.

Education, floating islands and the end of death

But Thiel doesn’t just make money with, it must be said, unquestionable success. At the start of the 2010s, he displayed other ambitions. Like many of his Silicon Valley peers, he wants to “change the world”. Passionate about philosophy, convinced libertarian – a conception that places the freedom of the individual above all else – and a philanthropist, he intends to solve the great challenges facing humanity. To do this, he created the Thiel Foundation, whose mission is to promote science, technology and long-term thinking and to fund research without immediate economic benefits.

Education is one of the challenges for which the entrepreneur has established his own award for young visionaries under the age of 20. The future of civilization is another: dreaming of a stateless world, this Republican at heart – he publicly showed his support for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election – is convinced that the future of Humanity will pass through micronations implanted in international waters. To promote this idea, he funded the Seasteading Institute, which works on building floating cities that can escape state controls. Alongside education and the building of new paradises based on the absolute freedom of the individual, a third challenge mobilizes Peter Thiel’s money and energy: the abolition of death.

At the forefront of transhumanism

“I have always found it strange that one considers that the meaning of life comes from death. This idea is present in all religious and national myths. But I do not adhere to it. When we say like Hamlet’s mother: “All that lives must die”, it may be true. But it is a truth of nature that we must fight ”, Peter Thiel will explain to justify this commitment. He makes the entrepreneur the most prominent figure of the transhumanist movement.

Since the beginning of the 2010s, through its foundation and its scientific “armed wing”, it has funded the research of dozens of scientists. Starting with those of the young prodigy Laura Deming, Aubrey de Gray, and Cynthia Kenyon, the researcher who discovered the aging gene in 1993 and who, at the head of the scientific direction of Calico, is working on the extension of life through genetic manipulation.

Cynthia Kenyon in 2003

Cynthia Kenyon in 2003AP / SIPA

Like Aubrey de Gray, Thiel, fifty-one, is convinced that the first men capable of living a thousand years have already been born. And he intends to be among the elect. While waiting for his dream to come true, the entrepreneur has imposed a drastic sugar-free diet, inspired by that of prehistoric man, and stuffs himself with growth hormones. In case the results were delayed, he made arrangements to be cryogenized.

As for consuming blood, that is out of the question. For the moment anyway. But according to other rumors, Peter Thiel would have contacted the leaders of Ambrosia, a biotech based in Monterey, offering to rich individuals to pay $ 8,000 to receive, in the context of clinical trials, a liter of blood from donors under 25 … But the start-up has been in the crosshairs of the American authorities for several months.