Peter Diamandis recently spoke with The WorldPost about his new book, “Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World.” He is also founder of the XPRIZE Foundation and co-founder of Singularity University, Planetary Resources and Human Longevity Inc.
WorldPost: What differentiates this digital era of what you call “exponential transformation” from the earlier industrial era of “linear” change? Why is change so much more accelerated and expansive?
Diamandis: Industrial production was basically a one-for-one proposition. If you wanted to double your output, you doubled the number of factory workers or the amount of machines.
In the digital age, the marginal cost of replicating data is near zero and the marginal cost of distribution is near zero. You can produce and distribute an app, a document, or a service a million-fold or a billion-fold at almost no new incremental cost.
So today, any single individual can impact the lives of millions or billions of people without the huge costs of capital, as used to be the case.
The curve of change -- which I boil down to 6 “d’s” -- is exponential because culture makes progress cumulative. Innovation occurs as humans share ideas. You build on my idea; I build on yours.
We’ve gone from transmission of ideas through storytelling around the campfire to print to Kodak photographic film and now to digital. Anything that becomes digital -- biological, medicine, manufacturing and so on -- hops on to Moore’s law of increasing computational power, which he said would double every 12 to 24 months. This has remained true for the last 60 years when he first posited it.
Once a product or a service becomes digital, it is exponentially empowered. Thus, digitalization is the first “d.”
The second “d” is deception. Exponential growth usually remains hidden from most observers when it gestates in small increments before it starts doubling.
That is when disruption takes place, because any innovation that creates a new market disrupts an old one. We have seen how digital pixels replaced Kodak analog film cameras that needed photographic chemicals and paper. At its height, Kodak had 144,000 employees and a $10 billion market capitalization. Today, Instagram has the same market cap with only 13 employees.
Kodak’s fate is an example of another “d” -- demonetization. Digital pictures cost nothing to take or transmit once you’ve got a smartphone.
The smartphone is a prime example of dematerialization -- its functions replace in one small device the computing power of old IBM machines that filled whole rooms, landline phones, cameras and watches.
When the cost falls so dramatically with dematerialization, you get democratization -- smartphones are affordable to billions of people empowered now as never before with devices that were once only available to a few. Democratization is the logical result of demonetization and dematerialization.
WorldPost: In your book, you present a road map to the exponential technologies that will transform all of our lives -- infinite computing, artificial intelligence, 3D manufacturing, robotics, genetics, synthetic biology, nanotechnology and others. To take one example, how will 3D manufacturing work?
Diamandis: If you wanted to produce something by the old linear industrial means, you’d have to design it, build a prototype, get customer feedback, produce a mold and, to get prices down, you’d have to gear up to scale to thousands of items at least.
Then you’d have to store those items in a warehouse, send to distributional hubs when orders come in from retail outlets -- and hopefully get them into the hands of customers before the items was out of date or out of fashion.
It is a lengthy and logistically challenging process.
On the flip side, if you wanted to buy something from a manufacturer, you’d have to find a supplier that has it, perhaps place an order, and get it delivered to you, hopefully in a timely manner. Sometimes there are bottlenecks in distribution that throw a big wrench in the works -- for example, the recent port strikes on the west coast that backed up shipping for weeks.
As 3D manufacturing develops, this whole model I’ve described will be turned upside down. You will be able to design a product or a service digitally, upload it onto the Web and have that file available anywhere for printing.
So you could upload a design you did in your home to the Cloud, where it could be downloaded to anyone in China, India or the Bronx and printed on their 3D printer at home or at their local equivalent of a Kinko’s.
We’ve seen what has happened with Kinko’s. We used to go to Kinko’s in order to copy and reproduce documents and reports. Now, those photocopy functions moved to the home with high-quality printers.
The same thing will happen with 3D printers. You will be able to design, or download, the dress, the toy or the pottery you want and produce it in your closet.
WorldPost: The futurist Alvin Toffler called this “prosuming.” We will be both the producer and consumer at the same time.
Diamandis. Exactly that. We are exploding the number of innovators and creators around the world. Further, artificial intelligence will soon be able to understand what you are saying, what you are thinking about, what your desires are.
If you mix that with a 3D printer, you describe what you want, and what it looks like and go into an iterative process -- “I want it smaller, make it red, not blue,” and so on. AI will print it. You are manufacturing what you desire.
FROM NATURAL SELECTION TO INTELLIGENT DIRECTION
WorldPost: What about synthetic biology?
Diamandis: Today, the world of biology, which gives us our medicines and our foods, is based on the processes of nature over millions of years that created a diversity of organic molecules through the trial and error of natural selection.
In the future, we will reverse that process. We will go from evolution by natural selection to evolution by intelligent direction.
Now, by our own human trial and error science -- we can discover a protein or a carbohydrate that has attributes making it useful as a fuel source. With AI and other digital tools, we will be able to design those proteins and carbohydrates ourselves and fit our purposes -- whether as a vaccine, as a diet source or an energy source for cars, trains and planes.
In short, synthetic biology will enable us to think of the cell as a manufacturing platform for any particular organic material that we desire to produce.
CONNECTIVITY, NOT NEGATIVITY
WorldPost: Your view, then, is that the convergence of all these exponential technologies will lead to an “exponential transformation” -- a leap into a new order, singularity?
Diamandis: I don’t write about singularity in this book, or my previous book, “Abundance.” What I focus on are the next 10 to 20 years, in which I believe we are headed toward an extraordinary future where we will be able to meet the basic needs of every man, woman and child on the planet.
In 2010, 70 countries were in extreme poverty. This year that number is down to 35. In the next 20 years, that number is projected to fall to zero.
WorldPost: Isn’t there also a competing future out there? Exponential degeneration is also possible. After all those magnificent world expos of the industrial arts at the turn of the 20th century, WWI erupted in 1914 in three months, from June to August. Today signs of splintering are all around in revived nationalism and geopolitical blocs, ardent religious war. ISIS, after all, spread across the Mid-East in a matter of months.
Diamandis: Yes, we have ISIS. But the data overwhelmingly suggests the future I’ve been describing.
One big problem is that the news media has a grip on our imagination. The fundamental function of the news media is to deliver every piece of negative news to my living room in high definition over and over again. It's a drug pusher that fuels our instinctual addiction to paying more attention to negative news instead of positive news.
Sure, there are lots of problems. But the world is getting better in extraordinary ways we’ve never seen before. Though you wouldn’t believe it from the headlines, violence per capita of the global population is at its lowest point in history. Food, water, sanitation, health -- all have improved dramatically over the last century and will improve even more dramatically in the decades ahead.
We all tend to have this negativity bias. We need to balance that out a lot more and focus on connectivity, not negativity.