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And the Seasteading Institute, led by Patri Friedman, the grandson of famed economist Milton Friedman. It looks to establish distant ocean colonies to serve as laboratories for experimenting with new forms of government or “startup countries.”

“As innovators, you are the best at finding and nurturing the right big ideas that can change the world,” Friedman told the audience.

The history of Silicon Valley is filled with such ideas. The smartphone, the Web, the search engine, the personal computer itself _ these all seemed far-fetched until they became commonplace.

To raise money from the wealthy, it’s a time-honored strategy to flatter. Witness the names emblazoned across hospital wings and university buildings. But building important buildings has never seemed to especially interest Silicon Valley’s elite.

They have “the right kind of cultural DNA to at the very least pay attention,” said Greg Biggers, a longtime software executive who recently founded a startup, Genomera, that lets members conduct health studies using their own genetic data.

Biggers said Silicon Valley entrepreneurs would likely be receptive to Thiel’s unconventional message because they succeeded by not conforming to others’ expectations of what was possible.

“This is a roomful of people who bucked the system,” he said as he mingled, glass of wine in hand.

Charles Rubin, a Duquesne University political science professor and blogger who has written critically about some of the movements endorsed by Thiel, said these visions of the future align closely with the Silicon Valley outlook.

All share the view that “scientific knowledge and technical capacity will continue to increase at an accelerating rate,” Rubin said. “This is a core idea that practically defines what Silicon Valley is all about: ceaseless innovation.”

Thiel himself seems to thrive on flouting convention, sometimes in ways that have led to harsh criticism.

In September, he announced a program designed to discover the next Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, by paying $100,000 each to 20 young people under 20 years old to skip college for two years to learn about entrepreneurship.

Jacob Weisberg, editor of the online magazine Slate, excoriated Thiel for the program and what he sees as its underlying impetus.

Thiel’s philosophy demands attention not because it is original or interesting in any way _ it’s puerile libertarianism, infused with futurist fantasy _ but because it epitomizes an ugly side of Silicon Valley’s politics,” Weisberg wrote.

Thiel is not a traditional conservative _ he has donated to Republican candidates but also to California’s marijuana legalization ballot measure. But he does seem to believe in a trickle-down theory of technology.

Unlike the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured billions into providing basic health care for some of the world’s most impoverished people, Thiel said he wants to prioritize major scientific advances he thinks will spread to benefit humanity as a whole.

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