Our Exciting, Weird, and Scary Future: Q&A With Peter DiamandisPeter Diamandis
Whenever the world seems hopeless, I find myself revisiting the 2012 don’t-worry-it’s-all-gonna-be-great TED talk from XPrize CEO Peter Diamandis (embedded below). Diamandis is a passionate proponent of “rational optimism,” and uses cold hard data to demonstrate how humanity is improving its condition thanks to technology.
In the decades to come—according to Diamandis—enhancements in things like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and robotics will lead us into strange, uncharted territories. For example, people may no longer have to work for a living; we’ll transition into being an extraterrestrial species; and aging—as we know it—might become a thing of the past.
That’s just to name a few.
Anyone familiar with the predictions of the often-correct (but sometimes wrong) tech prognosticator Ray Kurzweil will be familiar with Diamandis’ world view. In fact, Diamandis co-founded the Silicon Valley-based Singularity University with Kurzweil (though, as you’ll read below, it’s not an actual “university”—more of a future watching think tank)
This big weird—and hopeful—vision of the future was laid out in Diamandis’ previous book, the New York Times bestseller, Abundance. In his newest book, Bold, Diamandis explains how budding entrepreneurs can learn to not only anticipate these sea changes, but utilize them to create the next
In Bold, Diamandis explains how technology has opened access to powerful tools and will allow just about anyone to create the next world-changing, billion-dollar idea (if not trillion-dollar idea, but more on that below).
Big endeavors are something with which Diamandis has first-hand experience. Aside from the aforementioned XPrize and Singularity U, he is a driving force behind big, ostentatious enterprises such the self-described “asteroid mining company” Planetary Resources as well as Human Longevity Inc (HLI), whose goal is to “solve the diseases of aging.”
We were able to catch-up with Diamandis for a chat about his new book and and some of the other big changes he believes are coming. The conversation is edited for readability (though I will say that I learned he’s a bigStar Trek fan, has never heard of Orphan Black before, and is an Android user).
PCMag: You’ve mentioned in previous media appearances that in the not crazy distant future, we may see the first trillionaires.
The second place is in the life sciences. My other company I speak about in Bold is a company I co-founded called Human Longevity, Inc (HLI). Today there are six to seven trillion dollars a year spent on healthcare, half of which goes to people over the age of 65. In addition, people over the age of 65 hold something on the order of $60 trillion in wealth. And the question is what would people pay for an extra 10, 20, 30, 40 years of healthy life. It’s a huge opportunity. These are areas where we may see significant wealth creation.
PCMag: One of the things you don’t touch on too much in the book are all the people who aren’t entrepreneurs. As things like AI and robotics develop and give businesses the ability produce big ideas, there will be a diminishing need for a human labor force to support it. What does the future hold for all of us non-entrepreneurs and CEOs?
So I think we’re heading towards a world where people will be able to spend their time doing what they enjoy rather than what they need to be doing. There was a Gallup poll that said something like 70 percent of people in the United States do not enjoy their job—they work to put food on the table and get insurance to survive. So, what happens when technology can do all that work for us and allow us to actually do what we enjoy with our time?
PCMag: Let’s talk about developing a big ambitious venture like Planetary Resources –now that won’t make money for many decades…
PCMag: Oh, I stand corrected.
You know, Elon [Musk] has a plan to go to Mars, but you wouldn’t say it’s going to be 20 years before he makes money sending people to Mars, because he has a business that he builds on the way there. Same thing for us.
Speaking of Elon Musk—he has talked about his fear about artificial intelligence. So have Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and a lot of other future watchers. Why don’t you share these same fears about AI?
My concern is with AI on the way to development—when you have a partially developed AI that is like when you have a three- or four- or five-year-old kid who doesn’t understand his own strength; doesn’t understand that when they’re pounding on something, they’re damaging it. The thing I take solace in is that the majority of people who are experts in the AI field don’t have that concern.
You mention you have young children at home. As a father of a toddler myself, I’m interested to know how you guide them towards a future in which you believe computers will take on most tasks and human skills will be de-valued.
So, I’ve thought about what is most important for me to teach them. And I have come down to two things: One is to help them find out what they are most passionate about. Because passion trumps everything. Because passion drives you.
And the second is curiosity. We live in a world where you can do more and more and more because of things like AI coming online and other things, so you should always want to look to the horizon because you will have the ability to use more and more tools. And if it’s driven by a true passion as opposed to something your parents told you to do then you’ll want to do it all the more.
So passion and curiosity are the most important things in my mind. Everything else is secondary.
As one of the co-founders of Singularity University, how convinced are you that “The Singularity” will happen as Ray Kurzweil predicts?
Having said this, do I believe that we massively underestimate the future because we’re linear thinkers? Absolutely. We’re co-evolving with technology. We’re beginning to incorporate our bodies, we’re beginning to generally increase our capabilities. I believe we that we are going to create more and more intelligent machines and we are going to be interfacing our bodies with our machines. I think Ray is not someone I would bet against with his predictions.
Do you think there are things which are inherently human that a computer will never be able to do?
There are going to be people who—no matter how creative the art is, no matter how compelling it is– won’t accept it. I love the fact that there are companies that [use technology to] create perfect multicarat diamonds. But if it’s a synthetic diamond, it costs $20. Is it less meaningful than the blood diamonds you dug out of the ground? People are like “no, I only want the diamonds with the imperfections.”
It will be interesting to see how this all develops. These are the things we are going to be battling, discovering, redefining society with. But it’s not 50 years or 100 years from now. It’s the next couple of decades.
Jumping to the XPrize, one of the most intriguing is the Lunar Xprize in which the first team to land a privately funded robot on the moon will win a $30 million purse—are you confident that any of those teams will be able to independently send a machine to the lunar surface?
Since Abundance came out in 2012, has any more data come out that has made you more or less optimistic?