ASPEN, Colo. -- Two titans of industry took to the stage at a dinner and debate event here attended by a few hundred entrepreneurs and techie types, but the sparks that flew were more befitting of a program with a title beginning with "Real Housewives of..."
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and super-investor Peter Thiel took aim at each other over the seemingly benign topic of the role of technology in society on the opening night of the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, with moderator Adam Lashinsky of Fortune attempting to moderate, often in vain.
Schmidt opened the dialogue with a predictably optimistic take on how technology and access to information has increased productivity and quality of life worldwide. Thiel responded by commending Schmidt for "doing a fantastic job" as "minister of propaganda" for Google.
And so it seemed the gloves were off before they ever went on.
Thiel argued that while the tech sector has made remarkable strides in the areas of computers and software in recent decades, it has also seen a "catastrophic" failure in other areas such as energy innovation.
The PayPal co-founder and noted Libertarian firebrand continued to go after Schmidt and Google, criticizing the search company for not investing enough in innovation.
"Google has no idea how to invest in tech effectively," Thiel told the audience while Schmidt sat by, appearing both irritated and amused at once.
Thiel gave credit to Google for its many experimental projects, including those self-driving cars in Nevada, but said he believed Amazon was the only major tech company re-investing in innovation in a meaningful way.
"Google is out of ideas," Thiel said.
For his part, Schmidt repeatedly challenged Thiel's arguments and trotted out Google's many successes such as Android and Chrome, which recently became the world's most widely used browser. During the course of the conversation, the two often seemed unable to agree on the basic facts underlying the debate.
Even on subjects where it would seem unlikely the two could disagree, they managed to dig wide gulfs between each other. Schmidt called for more and better education, while Thiel proclaimed the inflation of an "education bubble."
Fortunately, Lashinsky failed to ask the duo for a consensus on the answer to "does two plus two equal four?" -- as the ensuing argument surely would have begun to unravel the very foundations of our universe.