Peter Thiel founded PayPal, invested in Facebook, and recently wrote a book called Zero to One, in which he shares his thoughts on startups, running companies, and making investments. He now runs an investment firm which, asking is other activities, pays talented students to drop out of college and start companies. Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin is one recent recipient.
Here are a few thoughts from this interview, regarding Big Data.
Ezra Klein: That’s something I’ve wondered about a lot. So many of Snowden’s documents were contractor and middle-manager presentations about what the NSA was doing. I’ve often thought after reading them that if you got a leak of contractor presentations about HealthCare.gov six months before it launched, it would be amazing. I think there’s a tendency in the reporting of these revelations to assume the NSA as maximally proficient and living up to its own internal hype in a way that, in my experience, neither government agencies nor companies usually do.
Peter Thiel: It’s hard to judge but my sense is they’re quite good at getting data and they’re quite bad at finding any meaning or knowing what to do with it. I suspect that the bureaucratic momentum has pushed towards more and more data because, perversely, if you don’t know what to do with the data, the tendency is to just get more and more, even though that never actually solves the core problem.
I think “big data” is one of these buzzwords that when you hear it, you should almost always think “fraud,” because the problem is actually to find meaning within data. It’s to make big data small. That’s actually the core challenge. It’s not to collect more and more data.