Peter Thiel isn't so sure self-driving tech is a good investment

Connie Loizos
Peter Thiel isn't so sure self-driving tech is a good investment

Billionaire investor Peter Thiel doesn't like investing in trends, he's fond of saying. It's a mantra he repeated this week at the Future Investment Initiative, an investment forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he took the stage with journalist Maria Bartiromo.

Asked about where he's investing, he noted that he's looking outside of Silicon Valley largely, but he suggested he doesn't put much stock in "buzzwords" like SaaS software or virtual computing or augmented reality or artificial intelligence. "Even though these trends may or may not happen, as investments, they're dangerous," he said. In fact, "when you hear buzzwords, you should run away as fast as you can." Otherwise, you're left dealing with "many companies of that kind, and many competitors."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Thiel feels the same way about self-driving technologies --  even while his venture firm, Founders Fund, is an investor in the ride-sharing company Lyft, whose future would seem to depend on its ability to become a self-driving company at some point.

Thiel did say, however, that he will make one exception to his own rule. He said he's willing to look at trends that "aren't on anybody's radar."

In fact, one trend that he suggested is hiding in plain sight and merits far more attention than it receives today -- perhaps because it's simply less sexy than self-driving cars or flying taxis -- is good-old telecommuting and how its inevitable rise will change the landscape.

Indeed, asked about the future of transportation, Thiel seemed to suggest there might not be much need for it, at least, not by individuals needing to get to their jobs.

Said Thiel:

Certainly, just the shift to companies like Uber or Lyft, which I'm invested in, is itself a big change. The self-driving car trend is an important trend for the economy; it will change consumer behavior tremendously. If you had self-driving cars, you could have a longer commute because you could work in the car.

I'm not sure it's a good investment [emphasis ours], because there are a lot of companies doing similar technologies in self-driving cars and it's hard to know how differentiated they are.

The transportation-related technology that I wonder about more than self-driving cars is, is there some way to do an end run around our broken transportation systems, and the IT version that people have talked about for decades is telecommuting.

So, will there be some way that you won't need transportation at all, and you can just do your work remotely? For a variety of reasons, this hasn't worked for the last 30 to 40 years and it hasn't worked for one reason or another [including concerns that] when people work from home, they don't work as hard, that a lot of the value of work comes from talking with people.

But I think we're starting to see more of this telecommuting in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, where people are finding small teams of developers outside of Silicon Valley. There are ways to allocate the work to different people.

So . . . telecommuting, that's a trend that's worth exploring a lot more, that's underrated.

Funding of car technology-related startups reached an all-time high of $1.6 billion during the first half of this year, according to data from CB Insights.

You can check out more of Thiel's chat with Bartiromo here.

Unfortunately -- and possibly as a condition of his appearance -- there was no talk about his work with the Trump administration, his continued involvement with which has kept Thiel in the headlines for much of 2017.