Co-founder, PayPal and Palantir. First outside investor in Facebook. Billionaire. Author, Zero to One. Obsessed with living forever.
The weirdest idea anyone ever had about the future is that we should expect it to look like the past — but that’s what the reigning science of statistics assumes. Nassim Taleb has not been fooled; he is the single best guide to understanding uncertainty.
Today we take for granted what used to exist only in dreams. Francis Bacon dreamed of science and technology to make our lives better. We’ve gotten a lot done since, but ‘New Atlantis’ is still futuristic, especially for science fiction from 1627.
You can’t build new things just with technical know-how; you need imagination. Stephenson’s is boundless: This novel is not just the most entertaining book you can read about artificial intelligence and nanotechnology; it will inspire inventions your kids will use — or create.
Sonia Arrison’s ‘100 Plus’ was first published in 2011, but its message is evergreen: how scientists are directly attacking the problem of aging and death and why we should fight for life instead of accepting decay as inevitable. The goal of longer life doesn’t just mean more years at the margin; it means a healthier old age. There is nothing to fear but our own complacency.
René Girard is the one writer who has influenced me the most. Here he gives a sweeping view of the whole human experience on this plane — but it’s not just an academic philosophy. Once you learn about it, his view of imitation as the root of behavior is something you will see every day, not just in people around you but in yourself.
The book got a lot things right, but certainly there were things that didn’t quite happen, and you always have to ask yourselves why they didn’t. This whole category of past books about the future is a very interesting one, and that is one that I always recommend very strongly.
My favourite novel? The classic one I always give is Lord of the Rings. If you want something a little more intellectual, it’s probably The Master and Margarita where the devil shows up in Stalinist Russia, and succeeds, and gives everybody what they want, and everything goes haywire. It’s hard, because no one believes he’s real.
“What is it, I wondered, that makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle…and wait for someone to light the fuse?” Wolfe asks that question in his classic about the test pilots who became the first astronauts. It’s both a great history of the space race and a meditation on how to steel yourself to take risks.