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TED2012

Peter Diamandis: Abundance is our future

February 28, 2012

Onstage at TED2012, Peter Diamandis makes a case for optimism -- that we'll invent, innovate and create ways to solve the challenges that loom over us. "I’m not saying we don’t have our set of problems; we surely do. But ultimately, we knock them down.”

Peter Diamandis - Space activist
Peter Diamandis runs the X Prize Foundation, which offers large cash incentive prizes to inventors who can solve grand challenges like space flight, low-cost mobile medical diagnostics and oil spill cleanup. He is the chair of Singularity University, which teaches executives and grad students about exponentially growing technologies. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
(Applause)
00:15
(Video) Announcer: Threats, in the wake of Bin Laden's death, have spiked.
00:18
Announcer Two: Famine in Somalia. Announcer Three: Police pepper spray.
00:21
Announcer Four: Vicious cartels. Announcer Five: Caustic cruise lines.
00:23
Announcer Six: Societal decay. Announcer Seven: 65 dead.
00:25
Announcer Eight: Tsunami warning. Announcer Nine: Cyberattacks.
00:28
Multiple Announcers: Drug war. Mass destruction. Tornado.
00:30
Recession. Default. Doomsday. Egypt. Syria.
00:32
Crisis. Death. Disaster.
00:34
Oh, my God.
00:36
Peter Diamandis: So those are just a few of the clips
00:39
I collected over the last six months --
00:41
could have easily been the last six days
00:43
or the last six years.
00:45
The point is that the news media
00:47
preferentially feeds us negative stories
00:49
because that's what our minds pay attention to.
00:52
And there's a very good reason for that.
00:55
Every second of every day,
00:57
our senses bring in way too much data
00:59
than we can possibly process in our brains.
01:01
And because nothing is more important to us
01:04
than survival,
01:06
the first stop of all of that data
01:08
is an ancient sliver of the temporal lobe
01:10
called the amygdala.
01:12
Now the amygdala is our early warning detector,
01:14
our danger detector.
01:17
It sorts and scours through all of the information
01:19
looking for anything in the environment that might harm us.
01:22
So given a dozen news stories,
01:25
we will preferentially look
01:27
at the negative news.
01:29
And that old newspaper saying,
01:31
"If it bleeds it leads,"
01:33
is very true.
01:35
So given all of our digital devices
01:37
that are bringing all the negative news to us
01:40
seven days a week, 24 hours a day,
01:42
it's no wonder that we're pessimistic.
01:45
It's no wonder that people think
01:47
that the world is getting worse.
01:49
But perhaps that's not the case.
01:53
Perhaps instead,
01:56
it's the distortions brought to us
01:58
of what's really going on.
02:00
Perhaps the tremendous progress we've made
02:03
over the last century
02:05
by a series of forces
02:07
are, in fact, accelerating to a point
02:09
that we have the potential in the next three decades
02:12
to create a world of abundance.
02:15
Now I'm not saying
02:18
we don't have our set of problems --
02:20
climate crisis, species extinction,
02:22
water and energy shortage -- we surely do.
02:24
And as humans, we are far better
02:27
at seeing the problems way in advance,
02:29
but ultimately we knock them down.
02:32
So let's look
02:36
at what this last century has been
02:38
to see where we're going.
02:40
Over the last hundred years,
02:42
the average human lifespan has more than doubled,
02:44
average per capita income adjusted for inflation
02:47
around the world has tripled.
02:50
Childhood mortality
02:52
has come down a factor of 10.
02:54
Add to that the cost of food, electricity,
02:56
transportation, communication
02:58
have dropped 10 to 1,000-fold.
03:00
Steve Pinker has showed us
03:04
that, in fact, we're living during the most peaceful time ever
03:06
in human history.
03:09
And Charles Kenny
03:11
that global literacy has gone from 25 percent to over 80 percent
03:13
in the last 130 years.
03:16
We truly are living in an extraordinary time.
03:19
And many people forget this.
03:23
And we keep setting our expectations higher and higher.
03:25
In fact, we redefine what poverty means.
03:28
Think of this, in America today,
03:31
the majority of people under the poverty line
03:33
still have electricity, water, toilets, refrigerators,
03:36
television, mobile phones,
03:39
air conditioning and cars.
03:41
The wealthiest robber barons of the last century, the emperors on this planet,
03:44
could have never dreamed of such luxuries.
03:47
Underpinning much of this
03:53
is technology,
03:56
and of late,
03:58
exponentially growing technologies.
04:00
My good friend Ray Kurzweil
04:02
showed that any tool that becomes an information technology
04:04
jumps on this curve, on Moore's Law,
04:07
and experiences price performance doubling
04:10
every 12 to 24 months.
04:12
That's why the cellphone in your pocket
04:15
is literally a million times cheaper and a thousand times faster
04:17
than a supercomputer of the '70s.
04:19
Now look at this curve.
04:21
This is Moore's Law over the last hundred years.
04:23
I want you to notice two things from this curve.
04:25
Number one, how smooth it is --
04:27
through good time and bad time, war time and peace time,
04:31
recession, depression and boom time.
04:34
This is the result of faster computers
04:37
being used to build faster computers.
04:39
It doesn't slow for any of our grand challenges.
04:42
And also, even though it's plotted
04:46
on a log curve on the left,
04:48
it's curving upwards.
04:50
The rate at which the technology is getting faster
04:52
is itself getting faster.
04:54
And on this curve, riding on Moore's Law,
04:57
are a set of extraordinarily powerful technologies
05:00
available to all of us.
05:03
Cloud computing,
05:05
what my friends at Autodesk call infinite computing;
05:07
sensors and networks; robotics;
05:09
3D printing, which is the ability to democratize and distribute
05:12
personalized production around the planet;
05:15
synthetic biology;
05:17
fuels, vaccines and foods;
05:19
digital medicine; nanomaterials; and A.I.
05:22
I mean, how many of you saw the winning of Jeopardy
05:25
by IBM's Watson?
05:28
I mean, that was epic.
05:30
In fact, I scoured the headlines
05:33
looking for the best headline in a newspaper I could.
05:35
And I love this: "Watson Vanquishes Human Opponents."
05:37
Jeopardy's not an easy game.
05:42
It's about the nuance of human language.
05:44
And imagine if you would
05:47
A.I.'s like this on the cloud
05:49
available to every person with a cellphone.
05:51
Four years ago here at TED,
05:54
Ray Kurzweil and I started a new university
05:56
called Singularity University.
05:58
And we teach our students all of these technologies,
06:00
and particularly how they can be used
06:03
to solve humanity's grand challenges.
06:05
And every year we ask them
06:08
to start a company or a product or a service
06:10
that can affect positively the lives of a billion people
06:13
within a decade.
06:16
Think about that, the fact that, literally, a group of students
06:18
can touch the lives of a billion people today.
06:21
30 years ago that would have sounded ludicrous.
06:24
Today we can point at dozens of companies
06:26
that have done just that.
06:29
When I think about creating abundance,
06:31
it's not about creating a life of luxury for everybody on this planet;
06:37
it's about creating a life of possibility.
06:40
It is about taking that which was scarce
06:43
and making it abundant.
06:46
You see, scarcity is contextual,
06:48
and technology is a resource-liberating force.
06:51
Let me give you an example.
06:56
So this is a story of Napoleon III
06:59
in the mid-1800s.
07:01
He's the dude on the left.
07:03
He invited over to dinner
07:06
the king of Siam.
07:08
All of Napoleon's troops
07:10
were fed with silver utensils,
07:12
Napoleon himself with gold utensils.
07:15
But the King of Siam,
07:17
he was fed with aluminum utensils.
07:19
You see, aluminum
07:21
was the most valuable metal on the planet,
07:23
worth more than gold and platinum.
07:26
It's the reason that the tip of the Washington Monument
07:29
is made of aluminum.
07:32
You see, even though aluminum
07:34
is 8.3 percent of the Earth by mass,
07:36
it doesn't come as a pure metal.
07:39
It's all bound by oxygen and silicates.
07:41
But then the technology of electrolysis came along
07:44
and literally made aluminum so cheap
07:47
that we use it with throw-away mentality.
07:50
So let's project this analogy going forward.
07:53
We think about energy scarcity.
07:57
Ladies and gentlemen,
07:59
we are on a planet
08:01
that is bathed with 5,000 times more energy
08:03
than we use in a year.
08:06
16 terawatts of energy hits the Earth's surface
08:09
every 88 minutes.
08:11
It's not about being scarce,
08:15
it's about accessibility.
08:17
And there's good news here.
08:19
For the first time, this year
08:21
the cost of solar-generated electricity
08:23
is 50 percent that of diesel-generated electricity in India --
08:26
8.8 rupees versus 17 rupees.
08:30
The cost of solar dropped 50 percent last year.
08:33
Last month, MIT put out a study
08:35
showing that by the end of this decade,
08:37
in the sunny parts of the United States,
08:39
solar electricity will be six cents a kilowatt hour
08:41
compared to 15 cents
08:43
as a national average.
08:45
And if we have abundant energy,
08:47
we also have abundant water.
08:50
Now we talk about water wars.
08:53
Do you remember
08:58
when Carl Sagan turned the Voyager spacecraft
09:00
back towards the Earth,
09:02
in 1990 after it just passed Saturn?
09:04
He took a famous photo. What was it called?
09:06
"A Pale Blue Dot."
09:09
Because we live on a water planet.
09:11
We live on a planet 70 percent covered by water.
09:14
Yes, 97.5 percent is saltwater,
09:17
two percent is ice,
09:19
and we fight over a half a percent of the water on this planet,
09:21
but here too there is hope.
09:24
And there is technology coming online,
09:26
not 10, 20 years from now,
09:29
right now.
09:31
There's nanotechnology coming on, nanomaterials.
09:33
And the conversation I had with Dean Kamen this morning,
09:36
one of the great DIY innovators,
09:39
I'd like to share with you -- he gave me permission to do so --
09:41
his technology called Slingshot
09:44
that many of you may have heard of,
09:46
it is the size of a small dorm room refrigerator.
09:48
It's able to generate
09:50
a thousand liters of clean drinking water a day
09:52
out of any source -- saltwater, polluted water, latrine --
09:54
at less than two cents a liter.
09:57
The chairman of Coca-Cola has just agreed
10:02
to do a major test
10:04
of hundreds of units of this in the developing world.
10:06
And if that pans out,
10:09
which I have every confidence it will,
10:11
Coca-Cola will deploy this globally
10:13
to 206 countries
10:15
around the planet.
10:17
This is the kind of innovation, empowered by this technology,
10:19
that exists today.
10:22
And we've seen this in cellphones.
10:26
My goodness, we're going to hit 70 percent penetration
10:28
of cellphones in the developing world
10:30
by the end of 2013.
10:32
Think about it,
10:34
that a Masai warrior on a cellphone in the middle of Kenya
10:36
has better mobile comm
10:39
than President Reagan did 25 years ago.
10:41
And if they're on a smartphone on Google,
10:44
they've got access to more knowledge and information
10:46
than President Clinton did 15 years ago.
10:48
They're living in a world of information and communication abundance
10:50
that no one could have ever predicted.
10:53
Better than that,
10:57
the things that you and I
10:59
spent tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for --
11:01
GPS, HD video and still images,
11:03
libraries of books and music,
11:06
medical diagnostic technology --
11:09
are now literally dematerializing and demonetizing
11:11
into your cellphone.
11:14
Probably the best part of it
11:19
is what's coming down the pike in health.
11:21
Last month, I had the pleasure of announcing with Qualcomm Foundation
11:24
something called the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize.
11:28
We're challenging teams around the world
11:32
to basically combine these technologies
11:34
into a mobile device
11:36
that you can speak to, because it's got A.I.,
11:38
you can cough on it, you can do a finger blood prick.
11:40
And to win, it needs to be able to diagnose you better
11:43
than a team of board-certified doctors.
11:45
So literally, imagine this device
11:49
in the middle of the developing world where there are no doctors,
11:52
25 percent of the disease burden
11:55
and 1.3 percent of the health care workers.
11:57
When this device sequences an RNA or DNA virus
12:00
that it doesn't recognize,
12:02
it calls the CDC
12:04
and prevents the pandemic from happening in the first place.
12:06
But here, here is the biggest force
12:11
for bringing about a world of abundance.
12:14
I call it the rising billion.
12:16
So the white lines here are population.
12:19
We just passed the seven billion mark on Earth.
12:22
And by the way,
12:25
the biggest protection against a population explosion
12:27
is making the world educated
12:29
and healthy.
12:31
In 2010,
12:34
we had just short of two billion people
12:36
online, connected.
12:38
By 2020,
12:40
that's going from two billion to five billion
12:42
Internet users.
12:44
Three billion new minds
12:46
who have never been heard from before
12:48
are connecting to the global conversation.
12:50
What will these people want?
12:54
What will they consume? What will they desire?
12:56
And rather than having economic shutdown,
12:58
we're about to have the biggest economic injection ever.
13:00
These people represent
13:03
tens of trillions of dollars
13:05
injected into the global economy.
13:07
And they will get healthier
13:10
by using the Tricorder,
13:12
and they'll become better educated by using the Khan Academy,
13:14
and by literally being able to use
13:16
3D printing and infinite computing
13:19
[become] more productive than ever before.
13:22
So what could three billion rising,
13:25
healthy, educated, productive members of humanity
13:28
bring to us?
13:31
How about a set of voices that have never been heard from before.
13:33
What about giving the oppressed,
13:36
wherever they might be,
13:38
the voice to be heard and the voice to act
13:40
for the first time ever?
13:42
What will these three billion people bring?
13:45
What about contributions we can't even predict?
13:48
The one thing I've learned at the X Prize
13:51
is that small teams
13:53
driven by their passion with a clear focus
13:55
can do extraordinary things,
13:58
things that large corporations and governments
14:00
could only do in the past.
14:02
Let me share and close with a story
14:05
that really got me excited.
14:07
There is a program that some of you might have heard of.
14:10
It's a game called Foldit.
14:12
It came out of the University of Washington in Seattle.
14:14
And this is a game
14:18
where individuals can actually take a sequence of amino acids
14:20
and figure out how the protein is going to fold.
14:24
And how it folds dictates its structure and its functionality.
14:28
And it's very important for research in medicine.
14:30
And up until now, it's been a supercomputer problem.
14:33
And this game has been played
14:36
by university professors and so forth.
14:38
And it's literally, hundreds of thousands of people
14:40
came online and started playing it.
14:43
And it showed that, in fact, today,
14:45
the human pattern recognition machinery
14:47
is better at folding proteins than the best computers.
14:49
And when these individuals went and looked
14:52
at who was the best protein folder in the world,
14:54
it wasn't an MIT professor,
14:57
it wasn't a CalTech student,
14:59
it was a person from England, from Manchester,
15:01
a woman who, during the day,
15:04
was an executive assistant at a rehab clinic
15:08
and, at night, was the world's best protein folder.
15:11
Ladies and gentlemen,
15:16
what gives me tremendous confidence
15:18
in the future
15:20
is the fact that we are now more empowered as individuals
15:24
to take on the grand challenges of this planet.
15:28
We have the tools with this exponential technology.
15:31
We have the passion of the DIY innovator.
15:34
We have the capital of the techno-philanthropist.
15:37
And we have three billion new minds
15:40
coming online to work with us
15:42
to solve the grand challenges,
15:44
to do that which we must do.
15:46
We are living into extraordinary decades ahead.
15:50
Thank you.
15:52
(Applause)
15:54

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Peter Diamandis - Space activist
Peter Diamandis runs the X Prize Foundation, which offers large cash incentive prizes to inventors who can solve grand challenges like space flight, low-cost mobile medical diagnostics and oil spill cleanup. He is the chair of Singularity University, which teaches executives and grad students about exponentially growing technologies.

Why you should listen

Watch the live onstage debate with Paul Gilding that followed Peter Diamandis' 2012 TEDTalk >>

Peter Diamandis is the founder and chair of the X Prize Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is simply "to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity." By offering a big cash prize for a specific accomplishment, the X Prize stimulates competition and excitement around some of the planet's most important goals. Diamandis is also co-founder and chairman of Singularity University which runs Exponential Technologies Executive and Graduate Student Programs.

Diamandis' background is in space exploration -- before the X Prize, he ran a company that studied low-cost launching technologies and Zero-G which offers the public the chance to train like an astronaut and experience weightlessness. But though the X Prize's first $10 million went to a space-themed challenge, Diamandis' goal now is to extend the prize into health care, social policy, education and many other fields that could use a dose of competitive innovation.

The original video is available on TED.com
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