OCTOBER 31, 2013

Dr. Peter H. Diamandis


Founder and Chairman of the X Prize Foundation


Abstract: We are extraordinarily fortunate to be alive on this planet during a period of unprecedented, exponentially accelerating, self-directed evolutionary change. We humans have begun to incorporate technology inside ourselves. Humans themselves are becoming an information technology. Over the last decades mankind has suddenly started changing from a loose collection of 7 billion individuals to a new kind of perpetually morphing non-physical social tissue woven from densely interconnected arrays of mobile person-nodes.  


In this process we—humanity—are becoming a new organism: a meta-intelligence. As a species, as this new organism, we are becoming conscious on an unprecedented new level, in a new cosmic-scale realm.  


As we are going through the metamorphosis process of becoming this new meta-intelligence organism, we are going from evolution by natural selection—Darwinism—to evolution by intelligent direction. We are starting to direct the evolution of our biology and of our minds ourselves. Before long, this will result in our minds becoming independent from their original biological substrate—the biological human brain—the evolution speed of which has become far too slow to keep up with our exponentially increasing pace of innovation and invention. As we begin to liberate our thoughts, our memes, our consciousness from the biological constraints that we presently have, this will allow us to evolve far faster and ever faster.  


Beyond the great personal benefit of immortality, the species-level benefits of making our minds and bodies substrate-independent and non-biological include becoming a truly spacefaring species thanks to gaining the ability to travel near the speed of light while also remaining alive for far longer than the currently normal human lifespan. This will free us from the shackles of Earthly gravity and enable us to go explore and populate our solar system, our galaxy, our universe and what may be an infinite number of universes.  


Persons are now empowered more than ever before. As an individual I can now already tap into 'global genius' anywhere in the world. This trend is accelerating at an exponential rate and will result in us—jointly and severally—to become quite god-like with 'life-everlasting'. We will no longer have to die a physical death, enabling who we are—our mission, our purpose, our consciousness—to continue for a far longer time.  


When we—mankind—will become fully conscious and self-aware as a planetary-scale meta-intelligence ourselves, we will be able to look out into the universe in new ways, with new kinds of 'eyes', and see thousands or millions or billions of similar conscious planet-level entities that have come into being all around us in our galaxy and the myriad galaxies beyond our own.  


That all of this is happening during our lifetimes is powerfully extraordinary. That makes it so exciting to be alive right now. 





Good morning, everybody. It's a pleasure to be here.

So, I'm here with the perspective of running 3 organizations focused on the future. The first is Singularity University up in Silicon Valley, in which we're really looking at “what are the most powerful technologies on the planet?” The technologies that are literally allowing an individual, a small team, to do what only governments and large corporations could do in the past – the power, as we call it, to create a 10^9-plus impact – impact the lives of a billion people in a positive way. And we have a number of SU alumni and faculty in the audience, so I welcome you.

I'm here wearing the hat of Chairman of the X-Prize Foundation, which has the basic notion that there is no problem on this planet that cannot be solved. Period. Bar none. It really is the focused intent of human innovation to go and solve those challenges. And then I serve as co-Chairman of Planetary Resources, which is one of the companies on the cutting edge of “how do we bring the resources of our cosmos to our service?” If you think about it, the Earth is a crumb in a supermarket filled with resources.

So, I'm going to start actually off-script, because I am not one who believes in these dystopian futures. I'm someone who believes that we're heading towards an extraordinary future. And I want to take a moment to infect your minds with that meme, because I think it's very important. You know, we hear left, right, and center how the world is getting worse, how things are falling apart; you know, it's literally the result, as I speak on stages around the world, that we're living in a day and age that our news media is a drug-pusher. And negative news is their drug. And every device that we get – our cell phones, our smart phones, our laptops, our newspapers, our radios – we are fed negative news 24 hours a day, seven days a week, over and over and over again because our minds, on the plains of Africa hundreds of thousands and millions of years ago, evolved to pay far more attention to the negative news than the positive news. Because if we didn't pay attention to the negative news, we'd be out of the gene pool. You know, that rustle in the leaves wouldn't be the wind, it might be a tiger. And so our amygdala, an ancient part of our temporal lobe, literally screens everything we see and everything we hear looking for negative news. We hear it and we go “oh my god, what was that?!” We pay immediate attention, tenfold.


Open any newspaper and look at the number of negative stories to positive stories. “If it bleeds, it leads.” We also, as humans, are far better at seeing the negative dystopian futures than the positive ones. We see the dangers far, far away, but ultimately we do have the power to solve them in advance, and we do, over and over again. If you look at the last hundred years of humanity, it's been an extraordinary century, right? The human lifespan has more than doubled. The per-capita income of every nation on this planet has more than tripled. The cost of food has come down 13-fold; energy, 20-fold; transportation 100-fold; communications, over 1000-fold. And that wasn't just good luck that that happened, right? It wasn't political planning. It was the foresight of technology that enabled that future to really skyrocket through the cosmos. And guess what? Technology isn't slowing down. It's increasing. At an exponential rate. And it's for that reason that I fundamentally believe we are living into an extraordinary time ahead. Back on my script now. [Applause] Thank you.

So when I think about what's driving us in this area, it really is what I call compounded convergent innovation. So innovation over time has been the exchange of ideas. You have an idea, and I have an idea; we exchange ideas, and we now have 2 ideas. And it's the building of my idea on your idea that allows us to really increase. But what I don't hear folks thinking about and talking about enough is where this ability to exchange ideas is progressing. Because it used to be that what drove innovation was people moving from rural areas to urban areas, right? And we're growing towards a very rapid future of 50%, 75% of populations in urban areas, and when you're sitting next to each other, you can have conversations and exchange ideas, and all that moves things forward. But what's happening now on top of that, the compounded nature of this, is that people around the world are becoming healthier and more literate. And that allows more and more people to have ideas and to exchange their ideas.

So we have a couple of projects going on right now at the X-Prize. We have what's called the “Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize” and, with all due respect to Dr. Martin, while maybe transporter beams and warp speed aren't there yet, a lot of what Mr. Roddenberry created in Star Trek is, in fact, an exact road map for the future. And what we have in the tricorder here is the notion that you can build devices that are information devices that any mom in the middle of Nigeria, in the middle of the Bronx, could have to diagnose herself or her child at 2 AM in the morning to diagnose herself or her child better than a board-certified doctor. So we announced this competition, Qualcomm put up $10M, actually $20M, asking teams to build a hand-held mobile device that you can speak to; it's got AI on the cloud, you can cough on it, it can do RNA or DNA analysis on the pathogens in your sputum, you can do a micro blood prick, it can do your blood chemistry; and the notion is that for literally what is the plummeting cost of everything approaching free, everyone will have access to abundant healthcare. We announced this competition at the X-Prize Foundation, and we have now 300 teams around the world who have registered in the first year to compete for this. We expect a winner in the next 3 years.

On top of that we're getting ready this year, with my fingers crossed, to announce what will be an even more epic impact on the planet: a global literacy X-Prize. There are 880 million illiterate people on the planet. If we can create the software – you know, this is [Neal Stephenson book] Diamond Age – if we can create the software that a child who is completely illiterate can use to teach herself to read – and we're going to define literacy as coding as well – to read and to code? That would be transformative. So, if all goes well, we'll be announcing this X-Prize by the beginning of next year. And if you have a world of healthy and literate individuals, you have a world that's far more peaceful and far more innovative on every possible scale. [Applause] Thank you.

So where it gets interesting, though, is what happens next. Because what happens next, when you have a world that's healthy and literate and they're spending their time, instead of scraping by and living – now, those individuals, online? We had 2 billion people connected on the internet in 2010, that's going to grow to 5 billion people by 2020. Eric Schmidt just made a cryptic remark that he thinks all 7 billion will be on by 2020; we'll see what comes out of Google X from there. But if you have all these people now online, now they've got access to exponential tools. Now they've got access to cloud computing, AI, 3D printing, synthetic biology; and what kind of innovation occurs when you don't just have a few hundred thousand or a million people, but when you have billions of people attacking their problems with a tool set that only the greatest governments and philanthropists had before? Now it gets interesting.

It doesn't stop there, of course, because what happens next, after these people are connected, is the true connection of what I like to call the meta-intelligence. And let me go off my normal script that I speak about at X-Prize and SU, and talk about what my view and theory of where we're going as a species is.

One of the things that you find in our universe is that patterns repeat. Patterns repeat. And when I look at what has been the pattern of life, it's very interesting because on our earth some 4.5 billion years old, about a billion years after the earth formed, some 3.5 billion years ago, the earliest life forms, prokaryotes, evolved. And these prokaryotes were very simple organisms, right? They were gooey bags of cytoplasm with DNA floating inside them. And they reigned on this planet for the next billion and a half years. It was about 2 billion years ago that the first eukaryotic life formed. And eukaryotic life was essentially a single-celled organism, but with now technology embedded in it. And when I say “technology” what I mean is these eukaryotic life forms brought in to them, in a symbiotic form, mitochondria. Chloroplasts. Golgi apparatus. And these were basically organelles that enabled that single-celled life form to manipulate energy more efficiently, proteins more efficiently, information more efficiently. It had now a nucleus to contain its DNA. It ended up with mitosis for better processing of information. And so it went from prokaryotic life, very simple life forms, to eukaryotic life, life incorporating, if you would, biological technology into it. The next step was that this eukaryotic life became multi-cellular life forms. It happened about a billion years later. So we go from single-celled complex technology-enabled life, to multi-cellular life forms. What happened next was the rapid evolution to where, about 500 million years ago, half a billion years after the multi-cellular life form, we had the first simple animals. And then, a million or so years ago, us. And what are we? We are a collection of ten trillion cells, right? Your body has ten trillion cells in it, each of them a living organism. Each of them in service of the others. Each of them that make up you as a consciousness.

And when I think about where we are in this epic formation of humanity, I put us at the prokaryotic stage. We are those simple life forms, each individual, each simple in our capability. On the verge of incorporating technology into our being. On the verge of incorporating technology – the brain-computer interface, whatever form it might take – the technology that maybe some of you have in you already, whether it's artificial valves or hip replacements or corneal adjustments, whatever it might be, we're just at the very beginning of that incorporation of technology into our being. But what happens next, going from the prokaryotic to eukaryotic, is then the beginning of the multi-cellular life form. And as we begin to plug in to the internet, as we begin to plug in through optogenetics or portable implants or whatever it might be, and become a multi-cellular life form, THIS is where it gets interesting.


This is where, for me, I see the future going. Because as I see us transitioning from, literally, the prokaryotic form of life, to the multi-cellular form of life, I see us coming online as a meta-intelligence. Because I think that as we start to interconnect our consciousness, our beings, who we are, we're going to start to become conscious at yet another level. And that next level, whether it looks something like this, is what I believe is the ultimate form of our evolution. Because when we become conscious, interconnected, as a meta-intelligence, we're going to look out into this cosmos, and see many other meta-intelligences out there. You know, this is an image taken by the Hubble deep field instrument that looked in the darkest part of the sky, and every image you see there, I think except for one, is a galaxy. So we're living in a galaxy of a hundred billion stars, in a universe of a hundred billion galaxies, and we may have an infinite number of universes – but that's a different conversation.

And we're just beginning. We're just at the very beginning of reaching out there. And so I think that as a species, we are heading towards becoming conscious on a cosmic level as we begin to share our thoughts, and one of the things that will come out of this meta-intelligence, this interconnectedness that we have, is an extreme form of global peace. Because just like you don't take a knife and stab your own arm, even though each of those cells in your arm is, itself, its own individual life form, I think that as we become more interconnected, more and more interdependent, more and more transparent with our actions, our desires, our thoughts, that a normal consequence of that is going to be – again, as you are – as a human species, an individual.

So, one of the other thoughts I think about is that we have, during this time, the ability and, in fact, the obligation, to back up our biosphere. Everything that we know of “human” is here. Everything. Right there. We have my good friend Richard Garriott over here, one of my trustees and early founders of the X-Prize who traveled up to space and had a chance to see this image, as some 550 people on the planet have so far, hopefully many of you in the decades ahead; but think about it – just like the Library of Alexandria burned and lost all that, imagine if we were to have a catastrophic event here, whether it's an asteroid, a virus, whatever it may be – we have a moral obligation to back up this biosphere. And I think we have the ability, finally, to actually do that. And why I think about that, again in biological terms, is the budding of our planet. So we have collected in our Internet a lot of the sum total of knowledge which can, in fact, be duplicated and put on. We now have the ability to go into the forest, the Amazon, and actually get the DNA sequence of every insect, animal, plant life on this planet. We have the ability during our life times right now to actually catalogue life on this planet and back it up off the planet. And I think that is an extraordinary, if you would, responsibility that we bear during these next few decades.

When I think about what's going to fuel humanity in our exponential growth off this planet, it's going to be resources, and one of the companies that I've had the honor to co-found with another good friend, Anderson, is the company called Planetary Resources, which looks at the notion that our cosmos is filled with resources. Resources that will sustain our continuous growth off this planet. Sometimes those resources come barreling down on the earth. This was this impact in Chelyabinsk in February of last year. This had the impact of some 30 Hiroshima bombs as it exploded over the skies that day. And, of course, we're living in a cosmos that is filled with these resources, 1.5 million rocks that we know of over a kilometer in size, some 600,000 that we know of that come near the earth, and some 600 million that orbit the sun. But when I look at these in a different light, they're very valuable. As it turns out, a 75-meter carbonaceous chondrite asteroid, about the size of this room, has more hydrogen and oxygen on it than was used to fuel all hundred and thirty-five space shuttle missions. So think of these as orbiting gas stations, if you would, to fuel our continued expansion. And a 500-meter LL chondrite has more platinum than was ever mined in the history of humanity. Of course, when you're in space, the nickel and iron is going to be much more interesting to you than the platinum, but the platinum will actually fuel the economic growth as we move forward.

I give one fun example of what drives our investors in this: this one asteroid, 2011 UW158, if you add up the current market value, is about a $5 trillion asteroid. It comes by the earth every 2 years, conveniently [audience laughs], and it's definitely at the top of our list as an asteroid that we're going to be going at. If I haven't mentioned, the company Planetary Resources is a company to identify, visit, claim, and ultimately mine these asteroids to bring back the materials to earth.

We're building these Arkyd space telescopes. We're in production right now. The name “Arkyd”, by the way, is from the Star Wars universe – it was the name of the company that built the imperial probe droids. We're mass producing these space telescope buses. These are the actual space craft that will be going out to the asteroids. They will be going out in a flotilla, about half a dozen to each asteroid. They have on-board lasers for turning around back at the earth and communicating data back to the earth, and actually using the laser as well to vaporize part of the asteroid to look at the spectral analysis.


So, a really great compact, state-of-the-art space craft that we're going to be flying. We're actually going to be launching the first one of this for public use. We launched a Kickstarter campaign to make one of these space telescopes, so if you supported the campaign, it's mid-way through, thank you for that. A friend of mine, Jason Silva, called it “extending the optic nerve of humanity.” So, we're at a point in time where, imagine having these kinds of space telescopes extending out through the cosmos that any school kid could go and control and look through. We truly are living in an extraordinary time, a time in which the technology that individuals have to impact the world is being democratized. The costs of things are being demonetized, and everything is being democratized. We have more and more people coming online with powerful technology; we are extending human reach beyond any limitations we've possibly had, and, for me, the rate of innovation of this planet is going to skyrocket.

I'm going to, if I could, take a few of the minutes I have here, really to have a dialogue and a conversation with you and with our Twitter stream, so I'm going to take a few minutes for questions, if we could here, that I have left on the clock, on any of these subjects. And I'll happily repeat your question or such.

[Question from audience] So the question is, are the problems that we're having problems that are handled by private enterprise or problems that are handled by government? The challenge I have – of course I think governments have to address these things – the problem I have, and the challenge I have, is that the rate of change is going so fast, and the rate of innovation is occurring at such a rate, that I do not believe any of our existing governing systems can handle it. I don't know if you guys agree or disagree with me [applause] – I'll take that as “agree” - but if you think about it, in the Bush 43 administration, foetal stem cell research was made illegal. I'm not going to go into religion and politics and so forth, but all that meant was that the research no longer took place here in the United States. And US went from being #1 in stem cell research to being #8. And all of the researchers and knowledge moved to another country. You cannot regulate against a piece of technology. It isn't going to happen. We're living in a world of porous national boundaries. I think what we need to be doing, and what Dmitry put this conference together about, is having a preferred state of the future, of the vision that we have, and trying to aim towards it. And I'm one who believes that the capitalist engine is one of the strongest engines for making that happen [applause].

[Question from audience] So sea setting was the concept, and the notion is – it used to be that thousands of years ago, if you were a small group of rebels, and you wanted to go and start a place, and start a new government, and practice pure whatever form of religion, you could go someplace, and there was a chance there weren't natives there. That's done. Every piece of territory is claimed. So the question is, if you have three options: One, you try and create a small – you know, you create the calcium carbonate out of the oceans, and you create your own island, you claim independence, and that independence is only, unfortunately, as good as your allied nations willing to defend you, in the final result. The second option is to create a virtual world. We have folks like Philip Rosedale creating the next generation of Second Life, where you go and you live a virtual existence, which I think will be more and more the way people go and experiment with governmental systems and monetary systems and such. And the third option, which Richard, myself, and others are working on, is how do you get off this rock? And how do you go and follow the visions of Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, and Gerard O'Neill, and others, to create a vision of the future which humanity – and if you look at that, folks like Elon Musk, who's a good friend of ours, he has a vision of taking the Dragon capsule to Mars in the next 20 years, and giving people – I think he announced publicly his vision of a price point of a $500,000 round trip. It would be extraordinary. It would be extraordinary for 10 or 20 times that point. But we are now at a point where it wasn't government that created that private launch capability, it was private industry, and we now have the ability for, if you would, the first explorers to think seriously about going off-world and creating a multi-planetary species. And I think it's, again, a moral obligation for us to do that.

Audience member: So, great speech, I like this one even more than your usual. I agree with almost everything you say, except one thing. I actually empathized a lot with your vision about the future on a few points, except one thing. I think – and maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but – indefinite exponential growth in the usage of our natural resources, I think that's unsustainable, and I think we should promote resilience. I agree with visiting other planets and exploring space, but with a new mindset where we promote resilience and sustainability. Otherwise I fear that we are just exporting the wrong mind-set and our problems and we are bringing them outside.

Diamandis: Great question. So, let me talk about this. Of course, sustainability is a must, and it is something that, at a conscious level, is starting to pervade human consciousness now when it's taught in schools and so forth. Having said that, we also are blessed to be living on a planet – so when I talk about this in my book Abundance, I talk about the fact that when people think about energy scarcity, the fact of the matter is we are living on a planet that is bathed in 5,000 times more energy from the sun than we consume as a species. There's plenty of energy on this planet. The matter is how do you convert that energy into usable form, and the great news is production rates of solar are increasing at 30% per year at the same time that it's dropping exponentially in price. [Comment from audience] Absolutely, but again, what I started the conversation here with is, we see the problems way ahead, and so I have to believe that in even 50 years, we're going to be cracking a lot of new energy options, let alone 100 or 250 years. Let me talk about water scarcity, water wars. The fact of the matter is we live on a water planet. We live on a planet that's 2/3 covered with water. Yes, 97.5% of it is salt water, 2% are the polar ice caps, and we fight over a half a percent of that clean water that Dr. Martin was showing us, but again there are extraordinary technologies coming online, whether it's Dean Kamen's Slingshot or nanomaterials for filtration and such, I think that we have the ability as a species to knock down these problems. And the fact of the matter is, we are. At an extraordinary rate. It's just that people don't speak to these things. And we forget how good we have, even on a global scale, the life we have. Today the poorest people in America – the poorest of the poor, people below the poverty line – 99% of those people have flushing toilets, roofs over their heads, running water; 95% have televisions and radios; 88% have air conditioning and a car. And these are the poorest and most impoverished people in the United States. The kinds and queens 150 years ago, the robber barons, had none of those things. We are moving the poverty line. We forget these things. So we're living during a time where we're empowered. Sir.

Audience member: Thank you. When the Chemical Manufacturers Association concluded that they would support a treaty banning chemical weapons, they created a firewall between peaceful uses of chemicals, and stopped chemical weapons entirely. It's been a very effective regime. We're now at a point where many countries are pushing for a treaty to prevent the weaponization of space, and if the industries involved in space exploration, or exploiting space in any way were to do what the Chemical Manufacturers Association did, and said “we want a treaty to prevent space from being weaponized,” that would be an enormous step forward for everything that takes place on earth. Could you comment on that?

Diamandis: So I think that we're at an interesting juncture, which is what we take with us off the earth into space is going to be very telling. What languages do we take? What cultures do we take? What memes do we take? Of course, there's the potential for an infinite number of experimentation. But we can mandate – you know, I think ultimately we can say that we're going to not weaponize space, and I fully agree, I mean I think there's enough abundant resources, enough land to conquer, if you would, or take on, that you don't necessarily need that. But I think that we fight when we're looking for resources, looking for domination, but if we have a multitude, an abundance, a squanderable abundance that we will have in opening the space frontier, that that reduces, to a great degree, the need for this.

I am out of time. I do want to mention I am working with my publisher to give away a large number of copies of Abundance. We sold 100,000 copies last year. My goal is to get this meme out and to push a million. If you'd like that, please go ahead and text me your first name and email. I'd be happy to get you a copy of the book. Everybody, thank you very much, an honor and a pleasure to be here.


Our thanks go to our volunteers Giulio Prisco, Kim Solez, Chris Smedley, Philip Wilson, Xing Chen, including anonymous volunteers for their help with the transcription of Congress presentations.

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