The XPRIZE Foundation has a straightforward pitch: it organizes competitions in which the winning team gets a large cash prize for innovation breakthroughs.
Since launching its first competition in 1996, XPRIZE has awarded ~$300m including:
- $10m to invent a suborbital spaceflight craft (this was the first prize and the technology was licensed by Richard Branson to start his space tourism company, Virgin Galactic)
- $15m to create an open-source education software to teach children basic skills
- $20m to convert CO2 into products
Who is the mind behind XPRIZE?
Peter Diamandis: a graduate of MIT and Harvard Medical School, the 60-year old has spent decades at the cutting edge of technology. His efforts have attracted the leading minds in innovation with James Cameron, Larry Page and Ray Kurzweil all on the XPRIZE board.
Earlier this year, Diamandis partnered with Elon Musk on a $100m XPRIZE for carbon removal technology.
In addition to founding the XPRIZE, Diamandis co-founded Singularity University, runs a $500m VC fund and has launched 20+ companies in the longevity, space, and education industries. He also writes extensively on innovation (check out his newsletter here).
An area that Diamandis is spending more time on is human longevity, which he believes is one of the world’s biggest business opportunities (“if you want to make a billion dollars, help a billion people”).
In a recent interview with The Hustle, Diamandis covers the longevity opportunity and discusses a number of interesting topics from Bitcoin to the space race to common traits of successful entrepreneurs:
(The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity)
Why do we age?
Aging is a disease that can be slowed, stopped, and even reversed.
[Medical conditions] like cardiac, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. These are all correlated with aging. The more you age, the higher probability of these [conditions].
David Sinclair — a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School — deserves absolute credit [for bringing this concept to the public].
His book Lifespan is an amazing book which I promote more than I do my own books. If you haven’t read it, you should go out and get that book.
There’s a few things to point out.
First of all, look at 100,000 to 1,000,000 years ago when we were early hominids evolving on the savanna of Africa. You would go into puberty at age 13 because there was no birth control back then. So by the time you were 14, you were pregnant.
By the time you were 26, 27, 28, you were a grandparent. Your kids were having kids. Back then, food was scarce, right? There was no McDonald’s. No Whole Foods.
The worst thing you could do for the perpetuation of the species was steal food from your grandchildren’s mouths. The best thing you could do [for the survival of your progeny in a scarce world] was die.
So we didn’t really live past age 30. If you had a disease that would kill you in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, it was never selected against. We didn’t have evolutionary forces for a long-lived life.
The second thing [is genes]. I’m 60 now and have the same genes as when I was 20. Why don’t I look like I did at 20?
It turns out, it’s not your genome sequence. Rather, it’s which of your 30k genes is turned on and which has turned off. That is called the epigenome. “Epi” means “above the genome”. It’s a control and your epigenome determines which genes should be on and which should be off.
The challenge is — as you get older — some of the wrong genes are on and some of the wrong genes are off and that is principally what’s driving aging.
There’s a lot of different approaches to addressing [the root causes of why people age].
When I think about the biggest markets for entrepreneurs or investors on the planet, it’s AI and longevity (or biotech). There are no bigger markets.
I’ve long said that “the world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest business opportunities” and “if you want to make a billion dollars, help a billion people”.
Here’s one of the problems. Up until now, everyone considered aging inevitable, and just part of life. But what if it isn’t inevitable? What if aging is something that can be slowed, can be stopped. That would be extraordinary.
I spend a lot of time in [the longevity space]: 80% of my investments are in this space and I run a community called the Abundance 360 Summit, where I coach some 400 CEOs and leaders. The most popular topic is longevity every year.
What are the sub-verticals within the longevity industry?
There’s biotech, which is drugs, small molecules or cells being used to impact health.
Within biotech, there are 4 areas:
- Stem cells: Your stem cells are what we call pluripotent cells. These cells can go from a stem cell into any number of tissues (neurons, liver, kidney, cardiac, pulmonary lungs etc.) and differentiate those tissues.
When we are born, our placenta is an organ that generates all these stem cells. I think of it as a 3D printer that manufactures the baby. After we’re born, we have a large supply of stem cells and those stem cells are there to repair damage (make new skin, nerves, muscles or whatever is required).
But as we grow older, our supply of stem cells diminishes radically. Like ten thousand fold or a hundred thousand fold. So you have less stem cells in your body to really solve any damage.
- Vaccines: Vaccines have become very well-known in the last 1.5-2 years with COVID. One of my companies is using vaccines to stop Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart attacks and strokes.
We use a vaccine that turns your immune system on to create antibodies that target a specific protein in your body. It’s a way of treating chronic disease for pennies on the dollar (or a thousand times cheaper than other biologics).
- Gene therapy (CRISPR): One area of biotechnology that is moving at light speed is CRISPR gene editing. There are multiple CRISPR gene editing systems, which are becoming extraordinarily powerful in being able to do precise edits in your book of life.
Our DNA is a language of four nucleotides represented by ATCG. We have 3.2B from each of our parents. CRISPR allows us to go in there and edit and correct a single nucleotide, which a lot of times can be the cause of a genetic disease.
- Gene therapy (Adeno-Associated Virus): The other gene therapy — which is different from CRISPR — is to edit your existing genome using a robotic virus. Typically what’s called an Adeno-Associated Virus is used to deliver a new copy of a gene into yourself.
The gene could be an additional copy of what’s there. It could be a copy that’s a gene that’s missing or an alternate version of a gene that you already have.This plus genome sequencing plus genome writing is really moving at exponential speeds.
Then there is medtech, which is AI, robotics, sensors, networks, and so forth.
[I’m co-authoring] a book with Tony Robbins that comes out in February 2022 that looks at all of these things in very understandable language.
What age will someone be able to live to? And, in what time frame will this take place?
What I’m focused on right now is “how do I add at least a decade of healthy life this decade?”
Along with AI, the technologies that I mentioned (stem cells, vaccines, gene therapy) are making a dent in the longevity universe.
David Sinclair and George Church [a Harvard PhD geneticist] believe that we can get to 120 years old. Maybe 150.
Now I’m 60. If I make it to 120, I’m intercepting 60 more years of advances, and I guarantee you that we’re going to slay aging probably in the next 20-30 years at the outmost.
A phrase that I use from [futurist and Singularity University co-founder] Ray Kurzweil is “living long enough to live forever”.
Your job isn’t to make it all the way to 120. It’s to live an extra 20 years for the purpose of getting to the impact of quantum computing and AI on these areas.
There’s a concept that Ray Kurzweil has popularized: “longevity escape velocity”.
It’s the notion that today for every year that you’re alive, science is extending your age by a 1/4 year.
Now, the question is “when will we get to the point where for every year you’re alive, science is extending your life for more than a year?”.
Ray Kurzweil predicts that it’s within the next 12 years. And his predictions are pretty good. George Church has said he thinks it’s within the next 10 to 15 years. So it’s the same timeframe.
Ultimately, what wouldn’t you pay for an extra 20-30 healthy years of life.
This is not slobbering in a wheelchair. This is where you have the aesthetics. You look great. The cognition. You’re thinking clearly with the mobility to move around and enjoy those extra years.
And what would you do with an extra 30 years of healthy life or more?
What are the societal implications of people living to 120 or more? Is overpopulation a concern?
Let’s dismiss the overpopulation myth.
When the book The Population Bomb was written , things looked dire [on the overpopulation front]. This is like 50 years ago. Back then, the average was something like 5 children per family globally.
Today, we’ve dropped from ~5.5 children per family globally to a reproduction rate of ~2.4 children per family in the United States. We’re below the replacement rate — which is 2.1 children per family — in Japan. And many parts of Europe are below the replacement rate. China, India and Africa have all come down.
I was interviewing Elon Musk in April. We were launching a $100m XPRIZE he funded.
He basically said the biggest problems he’s concerned about is this notion of under population, with the human race going out with a whimper where we don’t have the labor to support our ongoing capabilities.
So, it turns out longevity is critically important to continue to have the labor there as [the population] peaks in 20 years and then declines.
One last thing: there was a study done by Oxford and Harvard recently that said for every year of life we add on the average, the global economy increases by $38 trillion. That’s the impact of one extra year of healthy life for the world.
When you’re at the top of your game and you’re earning the most and you’re able to make the best impacts and you’ve got the best relationships…[you don’t have to retire]. What happens if you’ve got the energy and vitality to not only go but accelerate.
Will longevity treatment be affordable?
Are these things going to be affordable for everybody? The kinds of treatments that we’re talking about don’t cost a lot and definitely will not in the volume we’re speaking of.
Ray Kurzweil tells a great tale.
He says, “you know, the cell phone came out in the 1980s and back then it was the size of a briefcase. It costs tens of thousands of dollars. And you drop a call every block in Manhattan. I mean, it really sucked. So, you know, back when it first came out, when it didn’t work well, all the wealthy people paid for it. And today, there are more cell phones on the planet than there are humans and they’re cheap and they work extraordinarily well.”
It’s always been the case that, yes, the wealthy will be the first movers to some degree, but by the time the bugs are worked out, it’s cheap and available to everybody.
How does longevity affect retirement?
One of the biggest challenges with longevity is that people typically plan to live until 80 or 90. What happens if you’re living for another 30 years [after you retire at 60]? What happens to Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security?
Well, I think we’re going to have to move the retirement age if people are healthier for longer. When Social Security was put in place, retirement age was set [based on the average age someone died, which is much less than it is now and in the future].
We need to realize we need to plan for a longer life. And that’s part of this future we’re moving into.
What is the bull case for Bitcoin?
[Since the start of COVID], everybody thinks they’re absolutely brilliant because their stocks, real estates and assets are all going up.
[These gains are the] result of pumping unlimited amounts of capital into the US and global economy to the point where it’s ridiculous and we’re devaluing dollars at a rate that people just don’t understand.
[Also, we’re moving to a place where we’re] living longer and we’re digitizing the global economy. I think Bitcoin is a fundamental cornerstone of a long-lived and exponentially digitized world.
One of the big questions is “how much should you invest?”. This is my humble opinion and I’m not an economist, but I’m moving as much of my dollars into Bitcoin. I’m probably 80% Bitcoin and 20% Ether.
When I can get 4%-8% interest rates on [crypto exchange] Abra for my crypto, rather than sticking it in the bank for 0% and deflationary pressures…that’s insane.
You often refer to the 6Ds of tech disruption. How does that relate to Bitcoin?
When you digitize something in the early days of that digitization, the first step in the progress is slow. It’s deceptively slow.
Take Kodak. The first digital camera was 0.01 megapixels. Next year, it was 0.02 megapixels. Then 0.04 and then 0.08. It all looked like zero to the executives at Kodak. And they ignored the digital camera. But 30 doublings later, it was a billion times better. Right? And you had 10 megabit cameras and film was dead.
When you digitize something, it’s slow and deceptive in the beginning, then it’s disruptive.
And then it demonetizes, dematerializes and democratizes access to products and services.
So that’s exactly what’s going on: Bitcoin digitized assets and capital. It’s been slow and deceptive. Over the next 10 years, it’s going to enter the disruptive phase and it’s going to demonetize and democratize all these areas.
Our brains are local and linear and we think in a local and linear fashion. Ultimately, you have to realize that (and this is worth memorizing) if you:
- Double something 10x, it’s a 1000x better
- Double it 20x, it’s a 1,000,000x better
- Double it 30x, it’s a 1,000,000,000x better.
So where are you in that process on that exponential road?
And there’s so much social pressure for [Bitcoin]. So much human justice pressure and so much convenience pressure.
Bitcoin really got a lot of its initial launch out of the 2008 financial crisis and crisis tends to cause industries to shift.
2008 was a critical time. You saw Uber and Airbnb, and really the early days of cryptocurrency being born there.
[Now] the COVID crisis, which led to massive inflationary pressures as capital floats into the global economy and is accelerating [the adoption of Bitcoin]. So I think Bitcoin is more necessary than ever before.
|Here is the full 6D framework from Peter’s blog:
Digitized: Anything that becomes digitized enters the same exponential growth we see in computing. Digital information is easy to access, share, and distribute—it can spread at the speed of the internet. Once a product or service can be represented as “1s and 0s”—from biotechnology to music—it becomes an information-based technology and enters exponential growth.
Deceptive: Once something is digitized, its initial period of growth is deceptive because exponential trends don’t seem to grow fast at first. Doubling .01 only gets you 0.2, then 0.4, and so on. At this phase, everything looks like “zero.” But exponential growth really takes off after it breaks the whole-number barrier. 2 quickly becomes 32, which then becomes 32,000 before you know it.
Disruptive: The existing market for a given product or service is disrupted by the new market that the exponential technology creates because digital technologies outperform in terms of cost and effectiveness. Once you can stream music on your phone, why buy CDs or records? If you can also snap, store, and share photographs, why buy a camera and film?
Demonetized: Money is increasingly removed from the equation as the technology becomes cheaper—often to the point of being free. Software is less expensive to produce than hardware and copies are virtually free. You can now download any number of apps on your phone to access terabytes of information and enjoy a multitude of services at costs approaching zero.
Dematerialized: Separate physical products are removed from the equation. Technologies that were once bulky or expensive—cameras, GPS, phones, maps—are now all in a smartphone that fits in your pocket.
Democratized: Once something is digitized, more people have access to it. Powerful technologies are no longer only for governments, large organizations, or the wealthy.
What would you invest $1m into today if you wanted that value to hold for 100 years?
There’s nothing else that I can think of [other than Bitcon]. I mean, maybe super high value real estate. But if you want something that’s got liquidity and transferability, there’s just one.
Will there be a crypto XPRIZE?
It’s always on the menu and the answer is we will [have one]. I’m just trying to figure out what would be the best there.
There is probably going to be prizes that we’re going to launch in which a token economy and cryptocurrencies are the solution that will win those prizes.
What is the history behind the XPRIZE?
In 1994, I get a book from a friend of mine. It’s called “The Spirit of St. Louis” and it was written by Charles Lindbergh. In this book, Lindbergh talks about the fact that in 1927, he flies from New York to Paris to win a $25k prize.
As I dug into this prize, I realized this guy, Raymond Ortega puts up $25k (which is today about $5-6m). He offers it to anyone who can fly between Paris and New York. And 9 different teams go after it.
They spend $400k trying to win the prize [which is] 16x the prize money.
I think, “Oh my God, this is amazing, you only pay for success and there’s no downside.”
So I came up with the idea of the XPRIZE and “X” was going to stand for the name of the person, putting up the $10m.
I launch it in 1996, under the Arc of St. Louis without having the money and without having the teams. I rolled the dice. I met Anousheh Ansari, who had just sold her company for $1.3B and was a fellow space cadet.
She funded the $10m prize and we called it the Ansari XPRIZE in her honor.
[It was won by Burt Rutan, who was funded by Paul Allen] in 2004. Richard Branson came in and bought the rights to spaceship.
What is the difference between SpaceX (Musk) and Blue Origin (Bezos)?
They have two independent visions that I both love.
So first and foremost, you know, Elon is enamored with going to Mars. He agreed to go to the moon first because that’s what NASA’s mission is. I think that’s the logical thing. The moon is sort of a way station or an interim fueling point [to Mars].
Starship can get there easily but Elon’s vision is wanting to build Starships to bring humans and supplies to Mars and really colonize Mars for the long term and build. I wish him all the luck.
I remember walking into his office one day and he was kind of depressed about what was going on. I said, “what’s wrong?” and he said “I just realized Falcon is not going to get us to Mars and I need to re-engineer what we’re doing from the ground up.”
And that’s what Starship came out of.
[I knew Jeff] when he was at Princeton. One of my mentors was a guy named Gerard O’Neill, a Princeton professor who ran the Space Studies Institute.
He wrote about how if you can mine the moon and asteroids for resources, you can build [space settlements called] “O’Neill colonies”. These are large cylinders, like 1km in diameter. When they rotate and they’re kept at the end, you could live on the inside of that.
The idea was you would have these 1 million-person population cylinders that were in free space, meaning they were not on a planetary surface that had gravity (like moon, Earth or Mars). They were cohabiting the sun with the earth and you could set up a civilization there.
When that civilization grew to 1 million people and it hit its population limits, you’d build another one. Like a bacteria, it would split and eventually this would be how the human race would expand.
Similarly, Jeff’s vision is to move all of the heavy industries off the planet and into space. Jeff describes it as a zone for light industrial [manufacturing].
[Elon and Jeff both have valid visions]. What we need is to really make space economically independent of the earth. Everything we hold of value on earth — like metals, minerals, energy, real estate — are in near infinite quantities in space.
What makes SpaceX so impressive?
[Elon is off the charts] brilliant as an engineer, as a designer and as an entrepreneur. What he’s accomplished [sending rockets into orbit] runs circles around the suborbital business.
It’s about 50x harder to go to orbit than it is on a suborbital flight. What Elon’s done with SpaceX and Falcon 9 and, now, Starship is extraordinary.
What is the common attribute across successful entrepreneurs?
If you think about the most successful entrepreneurs in the world — Anousheh Ansari, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos — what do you think was the most important asset they had?
Was it their money? Was it the technology they had? Or was it their mindset?
I posit that if you took away all their money and all their technology, but you kept their mindset, that they would regain a tremendous amount of success.
One of the things I realize is that very few of us actively shape our mindset. Our mindset gets adopted from your conversations with your friends. Or your mom and your dad. Or where you grew up.
Have you taken the time to shape your mindset? What mindset do you want? So I started realizing this is important because I adopted an abundance mindset and an exponential mindset and a longevity mindset and a moonshot mindset.
I realized I got those mindsets from my work with XPRIZE and the books I wrote and my work with Singularity University and Abundance 360.
Think about neural nets. [You can train one] to recognize faces or cats or dogs. You train that neural net in the AI world by showing it example after example after example.
So your brain is a neural net, too.
And we’re passively training the neural nets of our brain. When you’re watching CNN — what I call the “Crisis News Network” or the “Constantly Negative News” — you’re training your brain to be in a constant state of siege.
[Peter’s startup Futureloop is a media service that curates breakthroughs with one goal of exposing people to “exponential” developments in technology and science]
What are superpowers for the top entrepreneurs you’ve worked with?
- Elon Musk: “First-principles thinking. He can look at a system and say from first principles, this should be possible. [This] is how he reinvented the electric car industry, looking at what batteries could be, what they could cost. And also the launch industry, saying it should be possible to do this and then doing it.”
- Jeff Bezos: “I would say it’s building an organization that was data-driven and experimental. If I describe Amazon, it’s a data-driven and experimental company. It’s running thousands of experiments, looking at the data, and reinventing the algorithms. Also, Amazon’s business plan is so simple. It’s three short lines: give people more variety, cheaper, faster. That’s it.”
- Tony Robbins: “Tony’s superpower is passion and conviction and the ability to cut through a lot of the human BS to see what is truly driving you. What are your true motivations and then how you can hack those.”
- Larry Page: “I had the pleasure to get to know him over the course of a decade. He was on my board at the XPRIZE. He’s very hardcore on the science and engineering and — like Elon — a first-principles thinker.”
- Arianna Huffington: “I’d say for her it’s passion as well. She comes at everything with a high degree of passion and she’s a very strong business woman. Everything she’s done has been extremely successful. She also builds a great team.”
- Richard Branson: “First is charm. He’s one of the most charming men on the planet. He uses that to bring you in. And then it’s how he deals with risk. When he sold Virgin Records and created Virgin Atlantic airlines, people said ‘you’re insane to start an airline.’
When he bought his first 747 from Boeing, he reduced the risk substantially by getting them to agree that they would buy back the airplane a year from now at the same price if the business wasn’t [working] and that just reduces risk massively. He deals with risk extremely well and reduces the risk on his adventuresome deals.”