Big Think Interview With Peter Diamandis

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Question: Why do you believe we have a moral imperative to go into space?

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Peter Diamandis: If you stop and you think\r\nabout everything we hold of value on this planet, metal, minerals, energy, real\r\nestate, the things that nations fight wars over.  These things are in near infinite quantities out there.  If you believe that the developing\r\nworld deserves the same standards of living that we do in the developed world,\r\nthen to achieve that, they need resources.  They need the metals and the minerals to build the\r\nindustries and the buildings and so forth, and the energy.  The question is, do you continue to\r\nrape and pillage Earth, or if you have the ability to extract that information\r\nfrom outside resources, outside of Earth, then that would be a mechanism to\r\nuplift the bottom billion or so of society.  

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The\r\nother thing is that there’s a concept that a friend of mine, Elon Musk and I\r\ntalk about; we’re backing up the biosphere.  Go back to ancient history when the libraries of Alexandria\r\nburned and all the knowledge was consumed in those flames.  Today, we have built this pinnacle of\r\ninformation, both in the biosphere encoded in the genomics of plants and\r\nanimals and the billions of species on this planet and in the Internet where\r\nwe’ve digitized languages, information, and images and so forth.  The right sized asteroid coming in to\r\nsmack the Earth will destroy all of that. \r\nSo we have today, literally the technical capability to back up the\r\nliving Earth, if you would.  Back\r\nup Gaia digitally and to go and sequence the genomes of, not billions, but\r\nmillions of species and take that information and duplicate it off the\r\nplanet.  Such that if anything ever\r\nhappened, it’s resident there and preserved forever.  That sort of capability comes with it a tremendous moral\r\nimperative in my mind of being able to implement this. 

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So,\r\nthose are some of the reasons; to uplift society and to backup the\r\nbiosphere.  And the third and final\r\nreason is it’s in our genome.  We\r\nare as humans an exploring species. \r\nWe began on the planes of Africa and our need to explore that took us\r\ninto Europe, into Asia, and across the straights into the Americas, and so\r\nforth.  That drive to explore is\r\nresident in our DNA.  In fact, it’s\r\ngenetically, if you would, selected for because those who explore and move out\r\nthe widest and furthest have the least chance of having their genome destroyed\r\nby a local accident.  And so that\r\nis an evolutionary imperative.  We\r\nare not going to stop here on planet Earth.  We’re going to move out to other planetary bodies and I\r\nbelieve not going to into the planetary gravitational wells will build\r\nsocieties in O’Neal-like spheres and humanity will move out into the cosmos and\r\nprobably meet other societies that have done the same in millennia and eons\r\npast. 

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Question: How will space exploration change human society?

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Peter Diamandis: Something very\r\ninteresting has happened over the last hundred years that people don’t think\r\nabout which is that the frontiers that we have had started to shrink and\r\ndisappear.  It used to be that 100\r\nor 150 years ago, if you screwed up, you fucked up literally in one area, you\r\ncould go and start again someplace new. \r\nYou could go and start your life again without the stigma of what\r\nhappened.  There is no place you\r\ncan do that again.  There’s no real\r\nfrontiers. 

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The\r\nsecond thing about frontiers are; it allows the individuals who are best,\r\nwhether they’re men or women or minorities or whatever, to step to the\r\ntop.  So in traditional societies,\r\nold world societies, in the United Kingdom if you would; if you were born into\r\nthe right stratus, the right class, you had the ability to succeed.  But if you weren’t, you were stuck.  And in the frontier, it didn’t matter\r\nwhat your birthright was, where you went to school, what you did.  If you were the best, people came to\r\nyou.  So, that’s some of the\r\nelements of a frontier.  And\r\nfinally, in space what’s going to happen is the chance to truly explore in\r\ndifferent societal structures, if you want to practice a pure capitalist state,\r\nor anarchy, or socialism, whatever it is, you can gather the people around you\r\nwho you want to form that type of government and go and create your own space\r\nsociety on some colony and go and practice that.  And those who don’t like it can duplicate the genomics and\r\nthe knowledge systems of that colony and split and do it again.  There will be a Darwinian evolution of\r\ndifferent forms of society and different way of people trying it.  But go and try to start your own\r\ngovernment in the United States today and you’ll be squashed very quickly. 

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Question: Why is the government not working harder to open up this frontier?

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Peter Diamandis: One of the precepts of\r\nthe X Prize is you get what you incentivize; a very simple concept, but extraordinarily\r\npowerful.  And if you look to the\r\nroot of what the problems are, you always find out, well we don’t incentivize\r\nthat.  Well today what we\r\nincentivize, we incentivize a Congressman being elected every two years, a\r\nPresident being elected every four years, and a Senator every six years.  So, it’s what’s going to affect people\r\nright now.  What can I promise and\r\ndelivery in two years.  Space is\r\nnot a two-year objective.  It used\r\nto be, in the early ‘60’s, we had this eye candy of Mercury and Gemini and\r\nApollo and every year we would do something more and more and it met those\r\nneeds.  But the easy stuff has been\r\ndone.  And today, NASA calls stuff\r\nnominal instead of phenomenal, like it really is.  So I have given up that there is going to be a balance and\r\nNASA is going to do certain things and we are finally in a state of existence\r\nwhere small groups of individuals can do extraordinary things, funded by single\r\npeople.  Today, a group of 20\r\nindividuals empowered by the exponential growing technologies of AI and\r\nrobotics and computers and networks and eventually nanotechnology can do what\r\nonly nation states could have done before. 

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We\r\nsaw this in the first X Prize that we put together, the Ansari X Prize, where a\r\nspaceship won built by a small team of 20 individuals, Scaled Composites, led\r\nby Burt Rutan, funded by one individual, Paul Allen, did what only the United\r\nStates government could have done 40 years earlier.  We see that more and more coming up.

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Question: What was it that first inspired you to create this prize?

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Peter Diamandis: I’m a nine-year old kid\r\ninside and my passion has been all my life to want to travel into space.  I drank that Kool-Aid and I got that\r\nbug as a kid.  I saw Apollo going\r\non, on TV.  I was born in ’61, and\r\nI believed it was going to happen. \r\nI believed that once we got to the Moon, there was no stopping us.  But in fact, we did stop.  And it’s been literally 40 years since\r\nwe’ve been to the lunar surface. \r\nAnd I ended up realizing that NASA was unlikely to get me into space, or\r\nget me to the moon or beyond, and I needed some other way to drive this.  And I became very much, if I have to\r\ndescribe myself, I’m sort of a Libertarian Capitalist, and I was looking for,\r\nwhat’s the economic engine that’s going to drive us into space?  So, I received a book one day from a\r\ngreat friend of mine, Greg Marinak called, The Spirit of St. Louis, that\r\ntells the story of Lindbergh, and I had no idea that Lindbergh crossed the\r\nAtlantic to win a prize.  I thought\r\nhe woke up one day and just decided to go east.  But in fact, there was this Frenchman born in Paris, came to\r\nNew York with pennies in his pocket, Raymond Orteig was his name, became a bus\r\nboy, moved up and eventually bought the hotel he worked at, started a second\r\nhotel, and just after World War I, when aviation just started getting going, he\r\nbecame enamored by this idea of aviation. \r\nHe decided to put up a prize for the first person that could go non-stop\r\nbetween his birthplace and his new home, in either direction.  But if you knew about the trade winds,\r\nyou’d go East. 

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As\r\nit turned out, nine different teams from around the world, mostly the U.S.,\r\nmostly France, went after this. \r\nAnd the nine teams spend $400,000 to win this $25,000 prize.  Sixteen times the prize amount.  I went, oh my god.  I’m making notes in the margins about\r\nhow much money is being spent. \r\nAdmiral Byrd, the first guy to fly to the North Pole, for example,\r\nspends $100,000 to try to win this $25,000 prize and he crashes on takeoff\r\nbecause he overweighs his airplane with Champagne in China to celebrate when he\r\nlands in Paris, as if there would be no Champagne in Paris when he gets\r\nthere.  And the most unlikely guy\r\nto do this, Charles Lindbergh, who had been flying the mail for just a handful\r\nof years, makes this effort.  No\r\none would sell him an airplane; no one would sell him an engine because he was\r\nunproven.  Who is this guy?  I mean, for God sakes, we don’t know\r\nwho he is.  He’s going to kill\r\nhimself and set back aviation a decade. 

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Well,\r\nof course, he does just the opposite. \r\nHe makes the flight; 33 ½ hours later, he lands in Lebourget and he\r\nbecomes famous overnight.  And\r\nstill today, all school kids know his name.  But what hit me was not the efficiency of this prize, which\r\nwas amazing, right?  You put up\r\n$25,000; you get $400,000 spent to win it.  But that within 18 months of Lindbergh making this flight\r\nacross the Atlantic, something miraculous happened.  We go from, in 1927 when there were 6,000 paying passengers\r\nin all of the United States.  And\r\npeople who flew in airplanes were called aeronauts and dare devils.  This is Eric Lindbergh, Charles’\r\ngrandson.  He is a great friend on\r\nour Board of Trustees who tells us the story.  Went from being aeronauts and dare devils, 6,000 of them to\r\n18 months later where they were passengers and pilots and there were 180,000 of\r\nthem.  This 30-fold increase, this\r\nprize caused this dramatic change in the paradigm.  And that inspired me to create the Ansari X Prize for space\r\nflight.  And so that’s how it got\r\nstarted.

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Question: What fields have the potential to innovate with prizes?

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Peter Diamandis: One of my goals is to\r\nreinvent philanthropy.  Today,\r\nphilanthropy is a very unsophisticated, old world process where people who make\r\na shitload of money go and give it away and when they’re making their money,\r\nthey’re focused on 10x, 100x returns on the dollar.  Every dollar they use has got to be basically\r\nleveraged.  But then when they go\r\nand they give the money away, they’re happy with 30 cents on the dollar, ten\r\ncent – oh they really tried hard, too bad they didn’t do it.  That’s ridiculous.  You should command and demand the tenfold\r\nleverage on your dollars when you give it away as well. 

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So\r\nwe look for areas that are stuck, where there’s a stigma, where there is –\r\npeople have given up that there can be a solution for it.  You know, in the space business, space\r\nhad gotten very much to be the aerospace industry.  This is something that governments only do and it’s where\r\nthe Boeings and the Lockheed’s and the Northrop’s and so forth.  And there’s no way these small\r\ncompanies could do it.  The\r\nautomotive industry is the same way. \r\nSo, these industries have become old age and they’ve become\r\nossified.  They can’t innovate\r\nthemselves out of a paper bag sometimes. \r\nThis is where putting up a clearly defined measurable prize that says to\r\nthe world, “I don’t care where you’ve gone to school, what you’ve ever\r\ndone.  You do this and you\r\nwin.”  And it brings really\r\northogonal thinking to the table. \r\nPeople who don’t have the degrees, people who would never get a National\r\nScience Foundation Grant because they don’t have the education or haven’t done\r\nthe research, but they may have the most brilliant idea because they’re not\r\nstuck in the way they think. 

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It\r\nwas Henry Ford who said, “An expert is someone who can tell you exactly how\r\nsomething can’t be done.”  And it’s\r\ntrue. 

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Question: What is the process by which you build the prizes?

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Peter Diamandis: We bring prizes together\r\nin a number of different ways. \r\nFirst of all, we have our Board of Trustees who we built very\r\ncarefully.  It’s a large number of\r\nreally self-made innovators; Larry Page, **** Camen, Elon Musk, Ratan Tata from\r\nIndia, the Ansari family that funded our first Ansari X Prize are incredible\r\nindividuals.  And then we have our\r\nVision Circle, which hare our largest benefactors.  These are individuals like Sergei Brendon and Eric Schmidt,\r\nagain the Ansari family.  And these\r\ngroups, the Board of Trustees and our Vision Circle members get together twice\r\na year with us and we have a visioneering session and for two days we debate\r\nand we discuss what are the world’s biggest problems.  Where are they stuck from diagnosing tuberculosis in three\r\nhours in remote areas, to diagnosing cancer early, to mapping the ocean floor,\r\nto trying to deal with the ocean plastics issue, or reinventing education.  And we debate and we discuss what would\r\nmake a great X Prize. 

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We\r\nhave our X Prize labs.  We have an\r\nX Prize lab at MIT, at USC, at the University of Washington, and IIT,\r\nBombay.  And these are interdisciplinary\r\ngraduate level programs where young students that don’t know what’s not\r\npossible come up and say, let’s create an X Prize around this area.  And then the staff, the senior staff\r\nthat really is constantly thinking, so whenever I’m meeting somebody, I’m\r\ninterviewing them and saying, what do you think a great X Prize would be? And\r\nbrainstorming it over lunch.  So,\r\nthat’s sources for ideas. 

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Question: Why does this prize mentality work so well?

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Peter Diamandis: At the end of the day,\r\nthe people who end up funding our prizes are corporations and\r\nphilanthropists.  And they end up\r\nliterally, if you’re a venture capitalist, you’re interested in moving a\r\ntechnology forward.  You’ve got to\r\nchoose your horse ahead of time. \r\nSo, if you’re interested in water technology, energy technology, you get\r\nto choose between the three or four companies that you have insight into.  And you have to make a bet on them\r\nbefore they prove anything out. \r\nAnd you don’t know about the other hundred out there that might have\r\nmuch better technology.  And it\r\nseems really silly to me to do it that way. 

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When\r\nyou put up a large incentive prize, you get the entire world.  So it pulls out of the woodwork all\r\nhundred companies and you get to see them all.  And you automatically back the winner.  So, for me it’s a very logical, it’s\r\nhighly leveraged, typically 10 to 50 fold the amount of money you put up, you\r\ngot spent by the teams to win it. \r\nYou are creating brand new industry and you have full industry\r\ninsight.  And in the winning of the\r\nprize you create a brand new marketplace. \r\nInstead of just buying the product that you incentivized in the first\r\nplace. 

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You\r\nknow, Paul Allen, who backed Burt Rutan in a recent interview with Dave Moore,\r\nwho ran Paul Allen’s venture here. \r\nDave said that Paul Allen invested somewhere between $20 and $30 million\r\nand that he got probably 5 or 10x the money back by backing it in terms of the\r\nlicensing rights and the tax deferrals and the technology they developed and\r\nthe media and so forth.  So, in\r\nthis time when money is tighter and tighter and tighter, we believe that\r\nincentive prizes are extraordinarily efficient way for companies to drive\r\nbreakthroughs in their industry. \r\nYou’ve got companies like Netflix, and Cisco and others creating incentive\r\nprizes inside their company or in their area to drive.  You have to ask yourself the question,\r\ndo you have the smartest people in the world working for your company?  And if you do, you’re lucky.  But if you don’t, put up the\r\nincentive.  We get what we\r\nincentivize and cast it out to the world. \r\nAnd have someone who is absolutely brilliant who’s a 22-year old in\r\nIndia who says what about this way? \r\nAnd who revolutionizes the way you do business. 

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We\r\nbecome stuck in the way we think. \r\nWe have to.  We as the\r\nleader in the field has been doing what they do all of their lives.  And when someone comes through that is\r\ndoing something that is extraordinarily risky, they have a lot to lose.  And so their willingness to take the\r\nrisk is very low.  But when you bring\r\npeople in who’ve got nothing to lose, they are literally willing to risk their\r\nlives, that’s where breakthroughs come in.  The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a\r\ncrazy idea.  So, the question\r\ncompanies have to ask, or governments have to ask is, where do we allow crazy\r\nideas to bubble up?  Because if\r\nthere is a failure, what happens? \r\nSomeone gets blame.  There’s\r\na lawsuit, there’s a congressional investigation.  And so, those things shut down the creative engine. 

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And\r\none of the people who I have a tremendous level of gratitude for and excitement\r\nabout is Ratan Tata, the Chairman of Tata Industries.  They give out an award every year for the team in their\r\ncompany that took the biggest risks. \r\nThat’s going to drive innovation. \r\nSo, you get what you incentivize, and I do believe that the best way to\r\npredict the future is to invent is yourself.  So, that’s what we do. \r\nWe drive people to invent the future they want to create by\r\nincentivizing it. 

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Question: How cheap do you think space travel can get, and how soon?

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Peter Diamandis: One of the companies I\r\nco-founded is a company called Space Adventures.  And we are the only company, to date, to have flown people\r\nprivately to space.  We have flown\r\neight passengers to the space station going up on the Soyuz.  Dennis Tito was our first, Richard\r\nGarriott who is the Chairman of Space Adventures and a trustee of the X Prize\r\nFoundation for a second generation astronaut, and our latest was Gila\r\nLaliberte, the Founder and CEO of Cirque Du Soleil.  These people spend about $45 million to go up for 10 days at\r\nthe space station; incredible experience. 

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If\r\nwe could buy a seat on the shuttle, which we cannot, the cost per seat is\r\nprobably $100 million on the shuttle. \r\nSo, the Soyuz is somewhat cheaper. \r\nIf you went and had a super efficient system, the closest you would ever\r\nget down is probably in the $4 or $5 million per seat using existing propulsion\r\nsystems.  If your whole system is\r\nreusable and you flew it on a very frequent basis.  But if you go and you do the energy calculations of how much\r\nit cost to put you and your space suit into orbit, high school physics student\r\ncan do this.  It’s easy, it’s mass\r\ntimes gravity, times height to get your potential energy, and then ½ MV2\r\nto get your kinetic energy.  And if\r\nyou do that for you in a 200 kg spacesuit, it turns out the total energy spent\r\nover an hour is about 1.6 GJ.  And\r\nif you bought this off the electric grid at 7 cents a kilowatt-hour, the cost\r\nof getting you and your spacesuit into orbit is about $120.  So, the price improvement curve ahead\r\nof us is about $45 million to $100. \r\nThat’s a pretty big motivation. 

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Question: What are some key breakthroughs that we need right now? 

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Peter Diamandis: I’m not naïve enough to\r\nthink that we’re not going to have amazing physics breakthroughs.  I mean, technologically, we’ve been a\r\ntechnological species for a hundred or 200 years depending on where you measure\r\nthat.  So, I think there is much we\r\ndo not know.  But in the near term,\r\nI’m betting on a technology, which is very doable today.  In fact, I’m in the middle of talking\r\nwith a number of benefactors about creating an X Prize around this\r\nconcept.  It’s called beamed power\r\npropulsion.  And the concept is,\r\ntoday rockets haven’t changed in the last 2,000 years, since early Chinese\r\nrocketry.  You have a tube, you\r\nburn something inside, and hot gases come out one end.  That’s – they’ve gotten bigger and more\r\nexpensive and more elaborate, more efficient.  But they’re still the same basic concepts.  So, on of the X Prize ideas I’m excited\r\nabout that I really want to have is called beam powered propulsion. 

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The\r\nway it works is you have a source of energy on the ground, either lasers or\r\nprobably microwaves.  And that\r\nsystem is getting more and more efficient every year.  The price to generate a megawatt or a gigawatt of energy is\r\ncoming down year after year.  We’re\r\nlearning how to print it, make it more efficient.  And what you do is, you beam the energy to the rocket and\r\nthe rocket basically converts that energy to heat and heats up a working fluid,\r\nlike hydrogen, and then the hydrogen goes out the other end.  That can reduce the cost of space\r\nflight by 50 to100-fold, and it’s technology that can be done right now.  But no one’s doing it because no one’s\r\ndoing it.  And that’s where an X\r\nPrize really comes in if you can demonstrate something just enough. 

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Like\r\nfor example, with the original Ansari X Prize for space flight, we demonstrated\r\na ship carrying three people up to 100 kilometers twice in two days and then\r\nRichard Branson comes in and says I commit a quarter of a billion dollars to\r\ncommercialize that technology.  So,\r\nI’d love to demonstrate beam-powered propulsion.  And once that’s demonstrated enough, then new technology\r\nwill come in. 

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Question: At which point does the prize end and the marketplace to drive the\r\nidea begin?

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Peter Diamandis: Every prize that we\r\ndesign has to meet certain attributes. \r\nNumber one, clear and measurable; three people 100 kilometers, 100 mile\r\nper gallon or its equivalent car with X parameters, sequence 100 human genomes\r\nin 10 days.  The second thing is it\r\nhas to be addressing a grand challenge. \r\nIt has to be something which it could have a paradigm change on the back\r\nend.  The third is, if it’s\r\nproperly designed, when it’s won, the world is paying attention and it ignites\r\na new industry.  For me, the fact\r\nthat Branson was there committing the money and then all of a sudden people\r\nstarted buying tickets.  There have\r\nbeen over 1,000 tickets sold to fly into space, is what made this really\r\nexciting. 

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Yes,\r\nSpaceship One is hanging in the air at Space Museum, right above Apollo 11,\r\nnext to the Spirit of St Louis. That’s great, but the fact that we have an\r\nindustry going is what makes it awesome. 

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Another\r\nthing is, I am looking for prizes that are winnable in three to eight years in\r\nX Prizes.  If it’s less than three\r\nyears, it was too easy, more than eight years; no one gives a shit any\r\nmore.  The other thing though is we\r\nare now creating something called X Challenges.  X Prizes are these bigger $10 million or more, the X\r\nChallenges are a million level prizes that are more winnable in a year or two\r\nyears.  They’re about moving\r\ntechnology forward in a demonstrable fashion. 

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Question: In terms of ground transportation, what are some game-changing ideas\r\nout there? 

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Peter Diamandis: The paradigm I want to\r\nchange is that, you can have a car that is beautiful, manufacturable,\r\naffordable, safe, fast, and oh, by the way, does 100 mpg, or its energy\r\nequivalent.  Why wouldn’t you?  So, we put out this competition.  We had 135, 136 vehicles registered to\r\ncompete.  We whittled it down not\r\nto 51 vehicles.  They’ll be a few\r\nwinners, and at the end of this, besides having a few winners, three winners in\r\nparticular for the Progressive Automotive X Prize, my goal is there’s a new\r\ngeneration of cars.  And people can\r\nsay we’re living in a new day and age. \r\nA new day and age of cars that are beautiful, affordable, safe, and of\r\ncourse every car gets over 100 mpg, why wouldn’t it. So, that’s a game changer,\r\na change in the paradigm, a change in the kind of cars that we drive. 

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Another\r\ngame changer is another X Prize I am itching to get launched, and it is the\r\nAutonomist Car X Prize.  I think\r\n100 years from now, people will look back and say, “Really?  People used to drive their cars?  What are they, insane?”  Humans are the worst control system to\r\nput in front of a car. You know, we have these 100 mms delays, you know, our\r\nattention is on our PDA, we’re always in a rush.  We drive around in these 4,000 pound metal wombs, these\r\n4,000 pound containment systems to protect us from these 6,000 pound cars from\r\nsmacking us.  And you know, “I’m\r\ngoing to buy a large SUV because I scared about the other SUV’s.  I’m not going to buy this small little\r\ncar.”  And of course, they’re right\r\nin that regard.  But if we can\r\nbuild autonomous cars that are so smart, and so sensitive to what’s going on\r\nthat they can’t be hit, then you’re thinking.  When cars have the sensory systems around them, GPS\r\nintelligence, they’re looking at the world not only in visual spectrum, but\r\ninfrared, ultraviolet and everything else that’s going on and they’ve got\r\nreaction times in microseconds. \r\nNot a tenth of a second. \r\nThey’re a hundred thousand times faster.  Then you’re talking. 

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Three\r\nthings come out of it.  Today,\r\nthere are about 2 million major injuries, 50,000 losses of lives in the United\r\nStates alone.  You’ll get rid of\r\nthose, first and foremost.  If you\r\ncare about saving 50,000 lives, that’s one option. 

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The\r\nsecond thing is, cars will get a lot lighter because they’re not worried about\r\nit.  So, you don’t need 4,000\r\npounds.  1,000 is plenty.  And if you’re carrying around – the\r\nidea of a young thin woman who weighs 100 pounds driving herself around in a\r\n4,000 pound SUV is laughable.  So,\r\nshe doesn’t need that.  A thousand\r\npounds is plenty to give you all the the room and such.  So, you reduce the energy usage by a\r\nlarge factor. 

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And\r\nthe third is, all these autonomous cars know where all the other autonomous\r\ncars are.  They can fan out and\r\nthey can take the most efficient route to get you from one place, and you’ve\r\ngotten rid of traffic jams. \r\nEventually, frankly, no one’s going to own a car.  What you’re going to own is on your\r\nPDA.  The ability to say, I need a\r\ncar from here to here and you can say, I need a car now, in which case they’ll\r\ncharge you a premium, or I’m willing to pay 50 cents for that drive, in which\r\ncase the car willing to take your 50 cents – or I need a Ferrari because I’m on\r\na date.  And you’ve got this pantiplea of cars that you can choose\r\nfrom and you will own the ability to command transportation.  Not the need to have a car.  So, those are the futures there. 

\r\n\r\n

Question: What could the Federal Government be doing to advance this vision?

\r\n\r\n

Peter Diamandis: The Department of Energy\r\nhas come on as a major partner for the Progressive Automotive X Prize and I am\r\nextraordinarily thankful to them for that.  I think that there’s a lot more that the government can\r\ndo.  But it’s a start.  The idea of starting to envision the\r\nrules and regulations to allow for autonomous cars is a hard one to think\r\nabout.  When I did the Ansari X\r\nPrize originally, the rules and regulations to allow for private space flight\r\ndidn’t exist.  You could not\r\nlegally put a human and fly them into space.  In fact, you couldn’t bring a spaceship back.  All those spaceships we were sending\r\ncommercially into space were one way. \r\nYou sort of like, got rid of them. \r\nAnd most passengers, who go up, do want to come back down.  So, we had to go and change the rules\r\nand regulations.  And the momentum\r\nof the competition allowed us to do that. 

\r\n\r\n

I\r\nimagined there would be new rules and regulations on the autonomous car X\r\nPrize.  And I didn’t mention what\r\ntwo of the ideas for the autonomous car X Prize.  One is the first car to win against a top seated NASCAR or\r\nIndy car driver.  So, it’s really\r\nthe deep blue equivalent from the chess world in the automotive space.  And the alternate would be the first\r\ncar to go autonomously from LA to New York in under three days, obeying all the\r\nrules and regulations.  And I have\r\na heck of a time going through state lines and local police and all of that,\r\nbut – anyway, those are two concepts. \r\nLooking for, again, a dramatic demonstration of autonomy showing itself\r\nto be far more safe than worrying about whether the person on the street next\r\nto you is texting, or has had a drink, or is paying attention.

\r\n\r\n

Question: What could go wrong in our attempt to colonize elsewhere?

\r\n\r\n

Peter Diamandis: What can go wrong is that\r\nwe can become landlocked.  One of\r\nthe things that is going on right now is that we have this amazing debris cloud\r\nin space; orbital debris is what it is called.  Where you’ve had anti-satellite weapons blowing up\r\nsatellites, you have old satellites decommissioned and left in orbit and other\r\nsatellites smacking into them.  And\r\nevery time there is a collision, hundreds of parts break off.  And these components are traveling at 1,700\r\nmiles per hour so there much faster than a speeding bullet.  And there reaches a point at which all\r\nof this debris starts to grow exponentially and we will literally have this,\r\nwe’ll be locked in, or sending a spacecraft up to space to get through the\r\ndebris cloud will be taking your chances. \r\nSo, solving that is another X Prize that we’ve talked about. 

\r\n\r\n

One\r\nof the other major things, I think to really incentivize and open the space\r\nfrontier; we need to allow for ownership. \r\nYou know what opened up the American West?  It was the fact that you owned the real estate.  You owned the gold mines, the oil\r\nwells.  The creation of these, back\r\nthen, million dollar industries drove the railroads and eventually the airlines\r\nto provide this kind of transportation. \r\nSo, I’m extraordinarily passionate, for example, about the idea of\r\nasteroid mining in the future. \r\nAsteroids out there, we know them from those that have fallen on the\r\nEarth, there is a class of asteroids, sub-class of nickel/iron asteroids, which\r\nare 50,000 times more enriched than Platinum mines on earth.  Extraordinary wealth that can be\r\ncreated; the first trillionaire can be made in space.  The question is, do we have the structure to allow for the\r\nownership of these?  If we do, or\r\nwhen it’s finally created, we will have really, the impetus the real market\r\ncreation that will cause billions to be invested privately in space\r\ntransportation to gain access to the trillions that are out there.

Recorded on January 26, 2010

Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

A conversation with the Chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation.

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