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The Atlas Society Asks Peter Diamandis Transcript

The Atlas Society Asks Peter Diamandis Transcript

August 31, 2022

We honored Peter Diamandis with The Atlas Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award at our 2020 gala for his vision and shared his life story in our Draw My Life video, “My Name is Peter Diamandis.” Founder of the XPRIZE Foundation along with several ventures in the space tourism and communication space, Diamandis is also a New York Times bestselling author and co-author of four books: Abundance - The Future is Better Than You Think, BOLD - How to go Big, Create Wealth & Impact the World, The Future is Faster Than You Think and his latest book with Tony Robbins: Life Force: How New Breakthroughs in Precision Medicine Can Transform the Quality of Your Life & Those You Love. In speaking with our CEO Jennifer Grossman on March 16, 2022, Peter discussed the power of a positive mindset, the future of exponential technologies, and why Atlas Shrugged became his “bible” in his entrepreneurial journey. Watch the interview HERE or check out the transcript below. 

JAG:  Hello everyone. And welcome to the 96th episode of The Atlas Society Asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. My friends call me JAG. I'm the CEO of The Atlas Society. We're the leading nonprofit organization introducing young people to the ideas of Ayn Rand in fun, creative ways, like our graphic novels and animated videos. Today, we are joined by Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPrize which seeks to harness the competitive spirit to fund and solve global challenges from space exploration to carbon removal (a prize recently funded by Elon Musk), in addition to founding several ventures in space, tourism communication and the medical innovation space.

And of course, funding many more ventures through his Bold Capital Partners. Diamandis is the co-founder of the Singularity University out of which he started Abundance 360 --a year round mastermind and executive program. Peter is the New York Times best-selling author of four books. Of course there is Abundance: The Future Is Better than You Think; there is Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. There is my personal favorite, The Future Is Faster Than You Think—highly recommend, especially the Audible is very good. And, this latest one that he co-authored with Rob Hariri and Tony Robbins Life Force; How New Breakthroughs in Precision Medicine Can Transform the Quality of Your Life and Those You Love

Peter’s entrepreneurial accomplishments, his audacity, and his data-driven optimism made him the natural choice to receive The Atlas Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award in the fall of 2020, where he also courageously came out to support us at a time when most people were not doing events. He's also the subject of one of our most popular Draw My Life videos: “My Name is Peter Diamandis.” Peter, welcome. Thank you.

PD:  A pleasure to be here. First of all, it's a pleasure to spend time with you and your brilliance and thank you for that. And second to talk about the greatest power in the universe, the power of entrepreneurship -- capitalism -- and just the belief that you can change the world because we can and ultimately make the world a better place in the process.

JAG:  Yes and, I think it's the power of that mindset, which is so critical and so pivotal and where we're going to get to that because you can have all of the IQ points, you could have all of the connections, but, as we saw, today is actually March 16th, it's the two-year anniversary—two years— of when the lockdowns were imposed here in the United States. And of course, many places around the world, and talking about mindset, it was a time of real fear. It was a time of despair and loneliness and isolation. So not to minimize the devastation and the suffering, you were able to help. Being a part of your Abundance 360 community was really a lifeline for me. And the message that you chose to put out there early and aggressively was: this is the worst of times, but it's also the best of times. So, maybe you could tell us a little bit, looking back, what are some of the good things that came out of the difficult experience in the past two years?

PD:  So, first of all, to hit on the point you made, your mindset is the most important thing you have, right? It is. If you look at the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet, the most successful leaders on the planet, and you said, what enabled them? Was it the capital they had? Was that the technology they had? Or was it their mindset? I would say, hands down, it's their mindset. You can take away everything from them. And if they had kept their mindset, they would rebuild some significant portion of whatever was taken away. And so I think one of the things we don't do, and this is what I found so incredibly powerful about Atlas Shrugged, and The Fountainhead and a multitude of books that I had a chance to devour and enjoy was they shaped your mindset. Your mindset is the most precious thing you have.

PD:  And if that's the truth, the question is where do you get your mindset? Is it who you happen to hang out with? Was it who happened to be your teacher, who happened to be your parents, or your siblings? Because that's typically it. And, if our mindset is the most important thing we have, we should be actively asking the question, what mindset do I want and how am I going to shape it? And I think, in the random universe, that was one of the most important elements: I want this mindset and I'm going to shape it by reading these stories and embodying these characters. 

Now, when COVID hit two years ago, what was clear to me was it was beyond  a SARS Covi-2 viral pandemic -- it was a pandemic of fear because everybody had no idea what was going on and the markets were crashing and I, like everyone else, was asking where am I going to get some disinfectant soap or whatever the case might be, but what was not obvious and what I started writing about -- and I think what you're referring to -- is this event, this disaster, this unique societal situation is a clarion call reaching out to millions of scientists and physicians and nurses and engineers, not just millions, tens of millions out there. And while we see the immediate challenge, what we don't see are the echoes of people refocusing their time, refocusing their energy, refocusing their capital, and what then happened, months later, a tsunami of solutions coming in, right? So whether it was masks or ventilators or vaccines, going from an idea, we went from receiving the RNA sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in January to having a vaccine, at least by Moderna designed within 24 hours. And then within a year, it was put into production and receiving emergency use authorization, which is stunning.

PD:  For those who don't know how long this normally takes, it can be a five to 10 year journey, and it was stunning how fast it went. So I think the human race, when it needs to, can really focus and sometimes we need an existential threat. You know, I keep praying for an asteroid to be coming straight at us, but (laughs) with a few years notice -- I’d like the few years notice period part in there. And so we do really well, when we need to, when we're not caught up in the bullshit of politics and blaming other individuals.

Diamandis & Kotler: "The Future Is Faster than You Think"

JAG:  Also there is the fact that there was an unprecedented infusion of capital investment in the effort.

PD:  Absolutely. The White House and Congress and private investors just stood up and said, this is important to do. And, we can think about this in many different ways. One of the pandemics out there right now is lack of education, or human aging. I like to think of aging as a disease that we can stop, and potentially reverse. And you know this about me, JAG: I say the world's biggest problems are the world's biggest business opportunities, right? When you become a billionaire, help a billion people, and that's a beautiful coincidence of drives.

JAG:  Yes. And you also mentioned that some of the biggest opportunities are the rising billion, and you talk about all of the unbanked, the people that are in Africa, in China and India, that are not yet really in the commercial consuming economy, and that it's in your rational self-interest to find a way to meet their needs. And it will make you a very wealthy person.

PD:  I think so in such an important way.  It used to be that where you were born, the color of your skin, your gender determined everything: if you were born in the wrong village, there was no library, there were no books, there's no school, if there was an oppressive government -- you were screwed, no matter how brilliant you are. But today we're living in a world where when I talk about abundance, one of the books that you held up, thank you Vanna (laughs), one of the key phrases I like to say is that abundance is not about creating a world of luxury. It's about creating a world of possibility, right? It's where every man, woman and child has the ability to gain access to all the world's information which we do -- for free -- you know, massive computational power, or access to AI on the cloud, access to all the entertainment, and even educational content you could want. It's amazing. We're living during the most amazing time ever in human history.

JAG:  So I'm going back to my Vanna role here, but one of the things that struck me was how you described that in your first three books: Abundance, Bold, and The Future Is Faster than You Think, you described them as the exponential mindset trilogy. So in what ways do they tell different parts of the same kind of overarching narrative?

PD:  Sure. So Abundance was a realization that came out of the early days of Singularity University. It was the idea that technology is a force that takes whatever was scarce and makes it abundant over and over and over again. I'll give you a few examples, right? We used to kill whales in the ocean to get whale oil to light our nights. We ravaged mountainsides to get coal. Then we drilled kilometers in the ocean floor. Today we're living in a world that is bathed in 8,000 times more energy from the sun than we consume as a species in a year. One hour of sunlight gets us all the energy that the human species needs for a year. It's incredible. It's there, it's just not in a usable form, but that's what technology is doing. It's in the efficiency of solar cells and battery and other storage mechanisms, and we've got fusion coming.

PD:  So we're heading towards a massive squanderable abundance of energy. What would you think of as more scarce than a perfect 6, 7, 8, 10-carat diamond? And, well, it turns out that technology can make those perfect diamonds, not as simulacrums, but actual diamonds, absolutely perfect. There's a company called The Diamond Foundry that our friend runs. In one end of a machine comes methane, water, electricity -- out the other end comes perfect diamonds. This is also true for food, water, healthcare education: all of these fields are going to become more abundant, meaning they'll be digitized, they'll be dematerialized, they'll be demonetized and democratized. So that was Abundance. It's an ethos that we're truly uplifting society and have the ability to uplift society. Bold was a playbook. It was written as a playbook for entrepreneurs.

PD:  All these technologies are making you incredibly capable. What do you want to do with it?   For me the best thing about it is I've had thousands of entrepreneurs, in person or in emails or in conversations, say that the book inspired them and gave them a means to implement. And a lot of it is helping people connect with their massive transformative purpose, your MTP: Why do you exist on the planet? What are you here for? What's the impact you're going to have? And then what are your moonshots? What do you want to do with your intellect, your capital, your mindset, your relationships? It's great to wake up in the morning and have a passion and a purpose that makes your future bigger than your past. Right? I think that's one of the most important things, especially in my conversations around age reversal.

PD:  In The Future Is Faster than You Think it was, holy shit, it's moving fast. We're seeing an acceleration of the rate of acceleration. And, in that book I look at 10 industries and how they're going to be reinvented. My favorite industry that is broken that we reinvented is  insurance. You know, fire insurance pays you after your house burns down, right. Life insurance pays your next of kin after you're dead. Health insurance pays after you've gotten ill. So let's flip those models to having insurance actually prevent those maladies from occurring in the first place. It's alot of some of the things I'm working on now.

JAG:  Yes. And so we're also going to put those links to the books on all of the social media feeds, but also the link to the Abundance 360 community because, as I mentioned, being a part of that in 2020 really helped me. And we have an opportunity to actually talk to some of the people like the guys that founded Lemonade, which is a very innovative company and kind of a paradigm shift in how to approach risk mitigation. But for those who aren't as familiar with these terms, maybe we can personalize it. If you could share with the audience, what your MTP, your massively transformative purpose and your moonshot are.

PD:  Sure. First of all, a massive transformative purpose is something that can be all consuming, and it really needs to be something that you own and that you're proud of, and that you share with your family and friends and who people know who you are, and it doesn't have to be for your entire life, but it should be something that you're going to stick with for some period of time. And so my current MTP is to inspire and guide entrepreneurs to create a hopeful, compelling, and abundant future for humanity. I get my kicks out of helping entrepreneurs and really saying, you know, you can go 10 times bigger than you are, that what you're doing is extraordinary, but helping them see how they can create hope, which I think humans fundamentally need, a compelling future, so people see their future bigger than their past. And, finally, an abundant future wherein people are seeing a bigger opportunity for themselves. So, my moonshots have been multiple and typically I'm working on one or two for periods of time. My first moonshot was opening up private space flight, and I did that with the Ansari X Prize, and our $10 million competition there.

JAG:  Just to interrupt for a second, not your book, but another one, this is the story of it, which is Julian Guthrie's How to Make a Spaceship. It's kind of as close to a biography of Peter as you can get.

PD:  I always feel proud of that book. Julian did a beautiful job, and tells us a behind-the-scenes story of this epic eight year journey to fund a crazy $10 million prize, the multiple pitfalls, and actually having it won and launching the space industry. Anyway, my moonshot today is focused very much on age reversal, and it's: Can I bring to bear the resources and the capabilities to help reverse the human age 20 years? Now, first and foremost I want to add 20 or 30 healthy years to your life, but in addition to that, can we get you from 80 to 60 or 60 to 40. And that is a conversation that for the first time ever is sanely being had. And people are beginning to get excited about that. And it's huge.  Interesting a study done out of Oxford and London School of Business and I think Harvard as well has said for every single year of life, a healthy life added to the global economy is worth $38 trillion. So, I think adding a lot of healthy years to people's lives globally uplifts society. Anyway, that for me is super exciting.

JAG:  So we're going to get to questions. I can see them piling up and we are going to get to them, but I have just a couple of more, some that I think would be helpful in terms of explaining some of these concepts. In the Abundance 360 community, and in your books, you talk about emerging technologies that demonetize, dematerialize and democratize, and I still sometimes struggle with those concepts, so maybe some examples for the uninitiated.

PD:  Happily. So, whenever you digitize something, the story goes back to circa 1996, when a guy named Steven Sasson at Kodak labs came up with the first digital camera. The first digital camera didn't use film, didn't use film development. It basically was an early version of the cameras we have today, but this one took 0.01 megapixel images, and the images were recorded on a tape drive. When he showed this to the board of Kodak, they said, you're crazy. That's a toy for kids. We make beautiful high resolution images and they ignored the digital camera concept. They had the first-mover advantage, the patents, everything, and Kodak basically did not develop the technology. It eventually was developed and some 20-plus years later it drove them into bankruptcy when the digital camera basically got rid of almost all film and film cameras.

PD:  When you digitize something, you dematerialize it. On my cell phone, I don't have a physical camera. I have a dematerialized camera. I also have a dematerialized GPS and video camera and books and everything, anything that becomes ones and zeros becomes dematerialized. And when you do that, the cost of replicating something or transmitting something that's ones and zeros is effectively zero. So it's demonetized. And once it's demonetized, it's available to everyone on the planet with a smart device, and then it's democratized. So we have as many handsets as humans on the planet today and a child in the middle of Tanzania with a feature phone or a smartphone has access to all the world's knowledge, more than the president of a country did 30 years ago, maybe even 20 years ago, and access to huge amounts of educational content and health content. So it really is what I, when I talk about the rising billion, it's the billion-plus individuals being empowered by these technologies and ultimately making the world a much safer place and a much better place.

JAG:  And is it the scale of the democratized market that makes up for the demonetization? That's I think maybe where I was getting confused.

PD:  Yeah. So, when you demonetize something, for sure, what you're effectively doing is you're killing the revenues on that product. What makes up for it are two factors. The smaller factor is democratization. The bigger factor is business models. It's reinventing the business models that are now enabled on top of that very low cost. So, ultimately, if you can take what you've built as an entrepreneur and turn it into a platform where other folks can make money on top of what you're doing, for me that's one of the most powerful things you can do. You know, the number of companies that are built on top of digital photography for photo-sharing apps or whatever the case might be are massive, much larger than the original market for printing film. The challenge becomes that the company that's being disrupted, rarely is the company that’s the promised land because they're too stuck focused on what they're losing versus on what's now possible.

JAG:  All right, we're not going to get a chance to cover all of the many technologies and very exciting companies that you talked about, particularly in The Future Is Faster Than You Think. But I did want to talk about one, because at our most recent gala, we used a flying Tesla as a narrative vehicle to give our guests a tour of all the things that The Atlas Society was doing. And we chose it kind of tongue-in-cheek, in part, because our honoree last year, Peter Thiel had nine years ago famously complained, “You know, we wanted flying cars instead, we got 140 characters,” but in The Future is Faster Than You Think you actually used the case of flying cars to illustrate the point about how converging technologies are leading to new breakthroughs. So I'd love for you to share a little bit about what's going on there.

PD:  I opened the story with that at a conference I was keynoting here in LA. It was called Uber Elevate. This was Uber's flying car division that a friend of mine was running. It used to be, when I talk about exponential technologies, what I'm talking about is a massive increase in computation, sensors, networks, AI robotics, 3D printing, synthetic biology, augmented virtual reality, blockchain. You can go into nanotechnology and quantum computers and others, but it's a list of technologies that as the amount of computer power is increasing, the power of these technologies is increasing as well. And it used to be that you could be an expert in any one or two of those. And that was enough to differentiate you as an entrepreneur or as a company, but that's not the case today. Where the real action is, is the convergence of 2, 3, 4, or more of these coming together.

PD:  And as these technologies are coming together, they're enabling brand new business models. So the eVTOL, which stands for electric, vertical-takeoff, or landing vehicles, also known as flying cars, are a beautiful example of these converging technologies. What's converging -- new material sciences to make them lighter, what's called the direct electric propulsion DEP, which is the electric motors making these possible. Again, that's material science. That's also sensors. It's also the AI for controlling these multicopters, so that you're stable. And if something goes wrong, you have lots of graceful abort opportunities. You have GPS, of course, you've got a high bandwidth network communications and all of these things coming together create these new business models. And the business model here is rather than owning a flying car. It's an Uber-ized version where it's on demand. So JAG, I live in Santa Monica, you're in Malibu?

JAG:  I am, I could be there in five minutes if I had a flying car.

PD:  Yeah. And that's the thing, right? So we had the last couple events at Calamigos, also known as Malibu cafe. I love, love, love that place. Garrett Gerson, who owns it, is a dear friend. And when I go there for the weekend, it will take me sometimes 45 minutes to an hour to get there. But if there's something on the PCH that hits, traffic can be dead and you're stuck, and you've been there, done that, right? But I'm a pilot when I fly out of Santa Monica. Like you said, I’m over Calamigos or over Malibu in five minutes. And so all of a sudden what's interesting is that these flying cars are going to reinvent business models and markets. The old adage, location, location, location: if, all of a sudden, Calamigos or Topanga or Malibu is five minutes away and not 45 minutes or an hour away, it changes my desirability and therefore the relevant real estate value.

JAG:  All right, we are going to get to these questions, but I just had to ask you a couple more because as a writer, I guess my massively transformative purpose would be to spread the message of, of course, the great writer Ayn Rand and her characters, her stories and their themes. You dedicated this last book “to all those who have mentored and coached me during my life.” And, when we did your Draw My Life video, and we encapsulated your life story down into three minutes, I was just really touched by the relationship that you had with your parents, which is clearly a very close one, but also there were some divergences, I guess because you knew what you wanted to do, and there was just no stopping you, and what your parents wanted you to do. I do think you came to an interesting and probably very productive compromise, but among your mentors, you dedicate it to your parents.

PD:  Yeah. My parents were both immigrants from Greece, from the island of Lesbos. And, I grew up in a family where it was expected I'd become a doctor because my father was an OB-GYN physician. My mom could have been, she ran his office; but I was enamored by space. It was Apollo, and that scientific documentary called Star Trek that showed me where the future was going, and that was everything for me. During the day in conversation with my parents or when I was in school, I was going to be a doctor, but at night, my one secret desire I would go into space. And so, many years ago I wrote something called Peter's Laws that you've seen. One of them was “given a choice, take both.” So I pursued both of those as my desires and focused on space for 30 years, but have come back to medicine, obviously through my investments in the companies I'm building in longevity and health care. But yeah, there's a lot of incredible people who have mentored me—I include AynRand as a mentor and her writings. Just a list of men and women who helped shape the way I think. And, it really was important for me to realize the gifts I got from each of them.

JAG:  Well, for this audience in particular, and for those who didn't go to the gala or watch it online, maybe you’d just share, because it's a really interesting story, how you got introduced to Rand and the role that the book played, particularly on that first flight.

PD:  When I was at MIT as an undergrad, I started a space organization called Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). A few years later, Jeff Bezos would become the president of the Princeton chapter, which is how I met him. I was hanging out with a group of friends in DC, and I had one friend, Morris Hornick, come up to me and say, I have a very important book you have to read. I was like, okay. And he said, but you can't read it yet. You have to read another book by the same author first. So, he had me read Fountainhead first which I immensely enjoyed. And then he had me read Atlas Shrugged, and AtlasShrugged became sort of my touchstone, which I would read every couple of years just to reground and refocus myself.

PD:  And I've probably read it, I don't know, six or seven times over the years. When it came time for the original Ansari XPrize for space flight, which occurred in 2004, Burt Rutan had built this ship and was vying for the $10 million prize. Burt very kindly allowed myself and the XPrize to put some ballast weight on the ship to go into space. And so the question was what was I going to put on the Spaceship One on this historic trip. And I ended up putting in two books. One book was The Spirit of St. Louis, which was Lindbergh's autobiography. That was the causative drive. I just checked, actually three books, I'm sorry. The Spirit of St. Louis by Lindbergh; the second one was by one of my favorite science fiction authors, and it was The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert Heinlein. And the third was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Those were my way of saying what was important to me.

The Message of Alexander Graham Bell

JAG:  All right. Well, we'll take a few questions now. James on Instagram is asking: do you think we'll have a colony on the moon, if not Mars by 2050, or any thoughts that you have about the future of space colonization?

PD:  First and foremost, I put the probability high, but not from government efforts. I think it is going to be Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and private entrepreneurs who are going to enable this. I don't think governments have the risk appetite, or congressional funding bodies have the budget appetite. Starship, which is under development right now, is an extraordinary vehicle. Like I said, I've known Elon for 22, 23 years, and it is his MTP to make humanity a multi-planetary species and he will spend every dollar he has to make that happen. Starship will, hopefully, be operational within the next year. And I can imagine it landing on the moon in the next two to three years. Once it's in orbit, the ability for it to go and do a lunar landing mission is not that much more difficult. So his original goals were 2024, maybe that's optimistic, maybe it's ‘25 or ‘26. But that vehicle is able to bring a sizable down mass with it, including people, and return. So,It's going to be the workhorse. It's going to be the equivalent of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. And then Mars, again, not too far behind that. Can we see it by 2050, a thousand percent by 2040, most probably, 2035? I hope so.

JAG:  Alright. Okay. Anna Wakeman on Facebook is asking, what do you think is the biggest obstacle to the anti-aging movement?

PD:  I think the biggest obstacle is people not believing it's possible and having a stigma associated with it. I mean, clearly anti-aging, and I don't like the term anti-aging, more age reversal or longevity, it pokes a stick into a lot of challenges, the institution of retirement, of marriage, the institution of religion. If “till death do us part” means a hundred years, it's going to be a challenge for sure.

JAG:  Well, wonder how we'll disrupt…maybe we'll have to maybe go back to a Heinlein model.

PD:  Yes, (laughs) good with me.

JAG:  Okay. Let's see. AurelianGT on Instagram asks, technology's advancing, yes, doesn't it seem like we're entering a post-scarcity era where government policies have made it harder for goods to get to people?

PD:  Let's see, post-scarcity means abundance. It's like things are no longer scarce. And we have to realize how incredible the world is that we can get ripe fruits anytime of the year, almost any place on the planet. I think anytime there's a problem, I don't care if it's a government problem or societal, this is where entrepreneurs come in and solve problems. I define an entrepreneur as a person, a guy or gal who finds a juicy problem and solves it. And so I think I don't know of that many challenges, which cannot eventually be overcome. The end, sort of the end extension of abundance, there's a great book by a guy named Jeremy Rifkin called Zero Marginal Society and in the final result, I don't know if this is 25 years from now or 50 years from now, but it's in that time horizon, I have a nanobot.  I have a molecular robot that is able to rearrange atoms, and I have it in my hand. I let him borrow some atoms from my skin. And I make a few copies. I give JAG here a nanobot and a few to give to her friends. And then if you want something, you drop it in the soil and you say, can you make me an electric Ferrari or something? And it gets the designs from the web and an open-source copy. It might ask you for a kilogram of titanium or magnesium or whatever it needs. But this is the realization that everything is made of atoms. And, at the end of the day, the cost of something is the raw materials, the information and the energy for assembling it. That's the end extreme of abundance in the interim? We've got politics, we've got challenges, we've got things to solve.

JAG:  Okay. Another question, is the singularity near?

PD:  Hmm. So, Ray Kurzweil, who is a dear friend. I see him as a mentor of mine. We co-founded Singularity University. His book is right over here.The Singularity is Near came out in 2006. And it was the book that inspired me to reach out to Ray, to create Singularity University and the concept of the singularity borrows the terminology from physics. It's the notion that the speed of innovation is accelerating and constantly accelerating. And our ability to see what's next is going to become harder and harder and harder until we reach this effective event horizon where the speed is so fast that it is impossible to predict what comes next. The prediction is that the singularity will occur in the 2040s, right, 20 odd years from now.

PD:  I don't know about you, but I can feel the speed at which things are moving. Where the amount of capital flowing into the global economy is massive. We've had more IPO's and more unicorns and more ventures this year than twice what it was last year, and the cost of tech dropping precipitously. So it really is accelerating. I do believe that we will hit something like the singularity, the implications of it are interesting. Is it going to change anything I do, or you do? I don't think so. But we need to appreciate the extraordinary world we're in compared to bitching about it all the time.

JAG:  I completely agree with that. But at the same time, do you have some concerns when you're talking about these positive trends of technology getting cheaper, these huge capital inflows into investing in these new ventures and, as you cover in your book, some of the possible global existential threats to accelerating exponential change, do you worry at all about other kinds of maybe policy threats? When we hear from some extreme politicians that we need to have a wealth tax, that it's greed and it's people making too much money. I mean, all of the people that you talk about in your book aren't necessarily like Elon Musk, as an example. I mean, he's not taking his money and floating around the world in a yacht; he's pouring his capital back into these ventures.

PD:  There's no question, of course, I'm human and I have my own set of like, holy shit, where'd that come from? Right. Whether it's what's going on with Putin and Ukraine or just sort of a political manipulation of society. I describe myself as a libertarian capitalist, right? Which is, I think, the best way to create wealth is by making the world a better place. And the process is uplifting everybody. Am I concerned about nuclear weapons that we have, of course; am I concerned about AI? Not as much as others are. I think AI is one of the most important tools we're going to have for solving the world's problems. Am I concerned about it to some degree?

PD:  Sure. Is there going to be a toddler phase in AI where it doesn't know how strong it is and it screws up? Perhaps. When I think about it contextualizing in the world, I think about the following: I say between 1900 and today I think very few people wouldn't say that the world has gotten substantially better over the last 120 years—a massive reduction in global poverty, increasing access to food, water, energy, healthcare, education, all of these things. Right. But still over that period of time, we had World War I and World War II and the Spanish flu and the Vietnam War. And, you know, 50 to 100 million people needlessly dying from that. But yet we've had these massive, these perturbations, but it's been up and to the right. Hopefully we don't screw ourselves in the process, but I think our ability to become a multi-planetary species, our ability to deliver abundant, clean food, water, energy, healthcare, education, and respect the planet—I think all of these things are achievable. And, you know, I come back to it's really the John Galt figures, it's the individual who has the ability to enable that, make that happen.

JAG:  And you have taken an active role in trying to encourage individuals to make that happen, to come up with competitive ideas through the XPrize. We talked a little bit about the Ansari XPrize. And again, I encourage people to watch the Draw My Life video that we did because it was a moonshot and it was also a tale of perseverance when you will see the story of how many “no’s” he had to endure.  But, tell us a little bit more about some of the other XPrizes. What are some of the current funded prizes? What are some of the challenges you're thinking about tackling in the future?

PD:  Love it, happy to. Some of the active prizes right now, we have a prize called “Feeding the Next Billion.” We're asking teams to create, at scale, fish and chicken from either stem cells -- so these are cellular agriculture or plant-based -- and this is a competition that is really about hitting not only costs and production figures, but where it has to actually taste better than the original product. So, you know, as we're creating abundance on the planet, more people are getting wealth, they're desiring a much higher level of protein. And we can't continue to just grow more pigs and cows and chickens, or demolish the oceans, which you know, we've gotten rid of 90% of the large fish out there. So we need a better way to do it. Reinventing how we produce food, I think, is very real.

PD:  And I think we can make food products that are healthier, taste better, and are lower cost. We don't need to give up on those. So, that's going on. We have an XPrize active right now called “The Avatar XPrize.” And this is building a robotic avatar that  if I have my robotic avatar there in your living room, JAG, I can beam into it and I feel like I'm there. I can reach out and shake your hand or give you a hug, and you feel like I'm there. It’s sort of, as a user, I'm putting on a VR helmet and a haptic suit and I'm delocalizing myself, if you would. So that's ongoing, some of the prizes we’re working on right now, I mentioned this $101 million prize for Age Reversal.

PD:  One of the active prizes right now that we just launched is a $100 million dollar prize that Elon funded for gigaton carbon removal, asking teams to basically demonstrate at the multi-megaton level, tech that can extract carbon. And we're open to all different models, direct air capture, mineralization, ocean, whatever it might be, but it has to be scalable to the gigaton level. We have 1,200 teams competing for that. About a year ago or so I started a conversation with another Atlas Society award winner, who you know and love: Chip Wilson. And Chip is the anchor funder of our next prize, which is a $101 million Age Reversal XPrize. He wanted it to be bigger than Elon’s, $100 million dollar prize. He's kicked in half of the money and I'm raising the other half right now. Super excited about that.

PD:   Working on a wildfire detection and extinction prize, a prize to detect a wildfire at the moment of ignition and put it out within 10 minutes -- while avoiding a barbecue grill, or a boy scout, girl scout campfire. And then another prize we’re working on is a coral reef restoration prize because it's a mess out there. So those are some of the prizes. Have some other big, bold, crazy prizes I'm excited about. I like to think of it as the Neiman Marcus catalog for billionaires: what are the biggest problems that need solving? And can we inspire people to pursue them?

JAG:  As someone who lives amid the mountains of Malibu, whose house burned down because of one of these fires, and once again, the government solutions are not going to, at least here, are not going to save your house, I'll be watching that prize very keenly. What about energy? There's kind of the carbon capture, but, John Galt's perpetual energy…,

PD:  You have no idea how prophetic your question is. I'll mention this, but everyone has to keep it secret.

Objectivism & Technological Trends Panel

JAG:  This is not being watched by anybody (laughs).

PD:  It turns out back in the 1980s, there was a very famous set of experiments called the Fleischmann and Pons experiments for zero-point energy or cold fusion. It was on the front page of the New York Times and the price of palladium skyrocketed. And it was low energy nuclear reactions were another way of saying it. When the experiments by Fleischmann and Pons were not replicated, they were discredited. And, no one pursued it, no one followed it because there was this stigma associated with low energy nuclear reactions. Well, it was picked up by a group and funded. The research was funded within Google inspired by a particular group of Googlers. I'm not sure I'm at liberty to say who, and they published in Nature magazine, a series of articles basically saying, actually we think this is very viable and there’s a “there” there to be had. Now what's going on is there is a government program to begin funding that research. And we're in very serious consideration right now with another group about a very large, for lack of better term, cold fusion XPrize. This would be the closest thing to John Galt’s energy machine, but imagine being able to extract an almost unlimited amount of energy from the ether of space.

JAG:  That would be a game changer in so many ways: environmentally, politically, economically. So we'll be watching. We're just about coming up to the top. I have many more questions, but really, it's endless. So I really want to recommend that everybody check out Peter's books, check out Abundance 360. Peter, any final thoughts of things that are on your mind that we didn't get to?

PD:  Oh, no. I just want people to have a sense of absolute excitement about the world we're living in. This is the most extraordinary time ever to be alive. The only time more exciting than today is maybe tomorrow. We tend to idealize the past, but if you were going to trade life with the billionaires, those robber barons of a hundred years ago, it would suck. Despite the wealth you had, the things we take for granted today would be miraculous for them. So in a world in which you have access to all of the computational power, all the knowledge, access to experts globally with the click of a mouse, access to more capital than ever before, the question is, what do you want to do with it? What do you want to do with your life? What is it that would inspire you, and would make the world a better place? And I think at the end of the day, that's the most important message I can deliver. You can, you can make a dent in the universe. And we all should.

JAG:  I think that's such an important message. Particularly when you see so many people who are pessimistic and feel that things are on the wrong track, and not to minimize things that are not going well, I always liked to say that to be objective one must have perspective and I think that means to also take into account all the good things that we have going for us and the trends for better yet to come. So thank you, Peter.

PD:  My pleasure, JAG. Good to see you. And, looking forward to more conversations with you and The Atlas Society.

JAG:  Excellent. All right. I will be following up with you. Thank you.

Jennifer A. Grossman
About the author:
Jennifer A. Grossman

Jennifer Anju Grossman -- JAG-- became the CEO of the Atlas Society in March of 2016. Since then she’s shifted the organization's focus to engage young people with the ideas of Ayn Rand in creative ways. Prior to joining The Atlas Society, she served as Senior Vice President of Dole Food Company, launching the Dole Nutrition Institute — a research and education organization— at the behest of Dole Chairman David H. Murdock. She also served as Director of Education at the Cato Institute, and worked closely with the late philanthropist Theodore J. Forstmann to launch the Children's Scholarship Fund. A speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush, Grossman has written for both national and local publications.  She graduated with honors from Harvard.

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