February 18, 2018 – Through an array of photos, charts, and videos, engineer and physician Peter Diamandis led Richmond Forum attendees through his optimistic view of the future. A future, he says, that is better—and closer—than you think.
“We’re living in a science fiction world,” he said on Saturday in reference to the recent SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket test launch. “You tell me what can’t be done.”
Diamandis’ mission to turn science fiction into science fact has led him to begin 20 organizations with far-reaching goals like exploring and inhabiting other planets, mapping individualized genomes for health research, developing autonomous vehicles, and encouraging and mentoring the next generation of great thinkers.
It has brought him into collaboration with well-known innovators whom he counts among his friends, like Elon Musk, J. Craig Venter, and Jeff Bezos. He gained national attention when the incentive competition organization he founded, X Prize Foundation, awarded $10 million to Forum alumnus Burt Rutan for his work developing SpaceShipOne, a private spacecraft capable of achieving sub-orbital spaceflight.
To Diamandis, it doesn’t matter where or how an idea originates, or how impossible it sounds, but where that idea might lead. As he tells his Singularity University students, “The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.”
What drives the breakthroughs of Diamandis’ organizations and others like them is the power of exponential change. They take advantage of the rapid evolution of technology to disrupt industries and reinvent the way we live. Companies invested in their old ways of doing thing like Kodak, Blockbuster, and department stores give way to newcomers, Instagram, Netflix, and Amazon, that have adopted exponential technologies as a foundation for doing business.
The implications of exponential change reverberate far beyond the corporate world. Humanity is entering an era where every single person on the planet is connected via the Internet and a global network of devices and sensors. Access to knowledge will be at unprecedented levels and 4.2 billion new voices will be added into the global conversation. New voices will beget new ideas and thus further innovation, exponential growth, and discovery.
The promises of new technologies—autonomous vehicles, gene mapping and editing that leads to an extended human lifespan, increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence—are enticing, but raised questions from the Forum audience.
Many attendees wanted to know what effect advances in AI would have on the future of work, and whether there is a danger in machines becoming too smart. Diamandis discounted the sci-fi trope of AI as villainous, and instead believes that it’s “the greatest tool we will have to solve all of our problems.”
As far as jobs, technology has always displaced and shuffled workers around the job market. The U.S. used to be a largely agrarian nation, and now farmers make up 2% of the population. If autonomous vehicles put Uber drivers out of work, he proposed, perhaps the drivers would become overseers of the driverless fleet.
For all of Diamandis’ optimism, he has gotten some pushback, notably from former President Bill Clinton when Diamandis gave the closing keynote at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2014. “Why are you so optimistic about the future?” the former President asked, “Don’t you read the papers?”
“Respectfully, I’m positive about the future because I don’t watch the news, and I look at the data,” Diamandis replied. The data tell a positive story: poverty is the lowest in history, mortality rates are down, life expectancy is up, and we are living in the most peaceful time in human history.
With that data in mind, it’s a simple proposition for Dr. Diamandis to believe in a future of prosperity and abundance, because the path is already leading in that direction.
Written by Thomas Breeden for The Richmond Forum
February 17, 2018