Given the wealth concentrated in Silicon Valley, it's no surprise that tech CEOs and founders put their money toward the seemingly impossible, on land, on sea, and in space.
Technology's richest can't seem to stay away from wacky desires -- to live forever, to colonize other planets, to recreate the plot line of "Deep Impact," minus the apocalypse. Here's a quick tour of some of the most far-out pet projects of the tech billionaires club.
Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk isn't content with being a real-life inspiration for "Iron Man's" Tony Stark. No, he'd like to expand from superhero to secret agent, specifically James Bond. So he purchased a Lotus Esprit submarine from the 1979 film, "The Spy Who Loved Me," for $1 million at auction. He hopes to infuse it with some Tesla magic and a dash of millionaire mad genius.
"It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond in 'The Spy Who Loved Me' drive his Lotus Esprit off a pier, press a button, and have it transform into a submarine underwater. I was disappointed to learn that it can't actually transform," Musk said. "What I'm going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real."
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, the third-richest person in the US, is a man of endless ambition, luckily backed by a net worth of $41 billion.
So when Ellison, among the most devout maritime enthusiasts in the tech industry, earned the right in 2010 to dictate the rules and boat design of the America's Cup, he of course decided to turn the whole event into a financial arms race. He allegedly spent more than $100 million on the competition, and $500 million total over the last 11 years on his professional sailing pursuits.
But it all paid off when he won that really large trophy in a massive comeback. Forget of course that by mandating that competitors build and operate the massive, 130-foot-tall AC72 catamarans -- sailboats that move so fast they actually float above the water (and get people killed during training) -- only three other countries could afford to compete.
Peter Thiel, Facebook's first angel investor and a member of the PayPal mafia, is not too interested in reforming government. Rather, he wants to build a new one with The Seasteading Institute, a proposed society on the water that would aim to "test new ideas in government," presumably of the libertarian variety considering Thiel's public distaste for government meddling.
"We envision a vibrant startup sector for governments," the nonprofit 501(c)(3)'s Web site reads. "The world needs a place where those who wish to experiment with building new societies can go to test out their ideas." Sounds like a certain dystopian sci-fi film that came out this past summer, and also like a savvy solution to doing away with those pesky regulations and taxes governments burden tech companies with.
Apparently filming "Avatar" gave director James Cameron some ideas about exploring space for natural resources. While unobtanium is unlikely to be found in asteroids, Cameron still thinks mining the minor planets is a worthy endeavor. So too do Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt who, along with Cameron, invested in asteroid-mining company Planetary Resources last year.
While it sounds awesome, futuristic, and potentially positive for Earth's store of dwindling natural resources, the whole concept is driven by money. It's aimed at filling the night sky with asteroid gas stations so that Planetary Resources, and by extension its backers, can get rich by extracting rocket fuel and precious metals.
"We're in this for decades. But it's not a charity. And we'll make money from the beginning," co-founder Eric Anderson said at the time of the announcement. To reassure us of the obvious financial motivations, the NASA veteran made sure to point out where exactly space has been lacking: "We're out working in that field, to really open up the solar system for business."
Amazon's Jeff Bezos has dreamed of building things in space since he was in high school, when the Miami Herald's profile of the then-valedictorian described his dream of making amusement parks and hotels in Earth's orbit.
With Blue Origin, Bezos is making that dream a reality...sort of. The company has yet to build a spacecraft that meets NASA's standards or even test one with a human pilot. Especially not after one of its crafts exploded over the Texas desert two years ago.
Still, Bezos is likely to trudge on, even if it means wasting more money and butting heads with another tech visionary's outer space venture. Recently, Elon Musk of SpaceX called out Blue Origin over a dispute to use a NASA launch site, comparing the likelihood that Bezos' space tourism venture will create a usable spacecraft to finding "unicorns dancing in the flame duct."
In June of 2012, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison closed a deal to purchase most of Lanai, the sixth-largest island of Hawaii. He allegedly paid more than $500 million for 98 percent of the 141-square-mile piece of land. He also bought a Hawaiian airline for good measure. Did we mention that the island has a Four Seasons resort on it?
While $500 million is an eye-popping amount, and hands down Ellison's most extravagant purchase, the software king has always had an eye for extravagant estates. He built a $200 million home modeled after a 16th century Japanese palace in Woodside, Calif., owns 10 different properties in Malibu on a strip called "billionaire's beach," and purchased various properties in Lake Tahoe that cost him a combined $102 million.
Peter Thiel doesn't have time to waste fighting malaria and tuberculosis or preventing poverty. No, death is a problem that needs solving in Thiel's eyes, which is why he's set out over the last decade to finance anti-aging and life extension solutions in the hope that death will no longer be "just a part of life."
Thiel kicked off his search for youth with a $3.5 million gift to Cambridge's anti-aging researcher Aubrey de Grey. Since then, Thiel's Founders Fund has invested in about 14 companies whose focus involves anti-aging and life extension solutions.
"Probably the most extreme form of inequality is between people who are alive and people who are dead," Thiel told the New Yorker for a profile piece the magazine published in 2011. It doesn't get more valiant than fighting inequality.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a fondness for legacy, which is why he decided to bankroll a project to install a clock that will last 10,000 years inside a Texas mountain. The device's installation and multiple moving parts, one of which is seen above, cost Bezos $42 million.
The project, called the Clock of the Long Now, is not his idea. Bezos paid an organization, the Long Now Foundation, to follow through with the design originally conceived by Danny Hillis to make the timepiece a reality.
Still, Bezos would like to be remembered as one of the primary contributors to the millennia clock's creation. "In the year 4000, you’ll go see this clock and you’ll wonder, ‘Why on Earth did they build this?'" The answer, it seems, is because someone had $42 million to throw at an idea they fancied.