The man whose map is the future

Disruptive technology, logic shifts, crazy ideas: these are survival tools and moral compasses for Peter Diamandis

Mon, Jul 7, 2014, 01:00

Understanding new technologies and working out how they will interact, he says, was vital to businesses surviving. “Most CEOs today are focused on quarterly returns, ‘my next project’. They are unaware of [what is coming down the track] which will be “massively disruptive”.

Diamandis says he had discussed the impact of the self-driving or autonomous car with senior executives from Caterpillar, the heavy equipment and vehicle-maker for the construction and mining industries. He says they were aware that in the future they would need to make machines which could drive themselves but had not considered the knock-on-impact of this new technology.

“If you have autonomous cars you have more capacity on roads, you don’t have driveways, you don’t have parking lots. The machine transforms a lot of construction needs. A lot of people don’t understand the secondary and tertiary effects of new technology.”

Another example given by Diamandis is virtual reality, which he predicts would reduce the need for people to fly to meetings. “How will it affect air travel when you have virtual presence which is as good as going there?” he asks.

“How you think really matters. Innovation dies within companies unless it is incremental. If it is exponential, if it is a crazy idea, crazy ideas do not survive well inside well-established companies,” Diamandis says. Part of what he tried to do with Singularity University was to get companies to encourage new thinking.

“I ask CEOs all the time which ideas are you trying that have a high probability of failure, that are crazy? That will eat your young? That will disrupt your company? That’s success allows you disrupt yourself rather than someone else doing it.”

Diamandis says part of what Singularity University tries to do is to inform executives about how new technologies will impact on their businesses, while at the same time trying to get them, as well as start-ups, to think about how to solve bigger problems.

Snags as nuggets

“Problems are goldmines. You want to become a billionaire, find a billion-person problem you can make a dent in,” he said. An example he is trying to solve is how to use drones to supply medicines to remote parts of Africa.

“It would cost a trillion dollars to provide proper roads to all parts of Africa. With the advent of 3D printing [making building prototypes and products cheaper], GPS, drones, and better batteries Africans can skip the roads, and get around it now.”

Solving big problems was behind his decision to found the X Prize in 1994. The prize was won in 2004 by a team led by aviation genius Burt Rutan with funding from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Twenty-six teams from seven countries had competed to be the first to pilot a private vehicle into space twice within a short space of time.

Since then, the X Prize, which is backed by Google co-founder Larry Page and electric car maker Elon Musk among others, has expanded with major prizes in four areas: exploration (oceans and space), life sciences, energy and environment, and education and global development.

Diamandis says there is a lot of interest among technology entrepreneurs in supporting the X Prizes. “A lot of these people are interested in creating large impact on the planet. They are focused on global scale,” he said. “They view incentive competitions – X Prizes – as a means to having very high leverage and efficiency in solving major problems.”

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