Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler coauthors of the bestseller Abundance talk about Bold, their new bestseller. Click here to listen to the full interview or read the transcript below.
This isn’t your average business podcast and he is not your average host. This is the James Altucher Show on the Stansberry Radio Network.
James: So I have Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, authors of the new best-selling book, Bold. I definitely recommend this book. It’s called Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World and it was totally an inspirational book and Peter and Steven, before I finished the intro, I just want to say why this is inspirational to me. I am so sick of doom and gloom media. Every day, you open the newspaper and it’s like Greece’s debt is going to topple the world and it’s the end of everything. Well, you guys wrote Abundance a couple of years ago. Now you have Bold. There’s always this optimistic view that makes sense where technology is moving ahead so fast, it’s basically going to surpass all this doom and gloom news that’s out there. Do you get that reaction from readers of your books?
Peter: Yeah. I think it’s one of the reasons that people are drawn to it. We are saturated by every news media on the planet bringing negative news to your television in high definition over and over again, every news media we have and I think people need to not only hear the good news but have a mindset that allows them to say okay, just because the news media tells me this doesn’t mean that’s the way the world really is. There’s a cognitive bias. Steven, over to you, pal.
Steven: Yeah, James, he’s not wrong. The way the brain functions—
Peter: Does that mean I’m right?
Steven: It means Peter’s right.
James: Were you being passive-aggressive there, Steven? He’s doing it wrong. I wish he was wrong this once but…
Steven: There’s this great Wolfgang Pauli story where Wolfgang Pauli was like 18 or 19 years old and heard Albert Einstein give a lecture. Einstein was already famous at this point and I think he’d won the Nobel and afterwards Pauli stood up and said, “You know, what Mr. Einstein said, it was not so stupid.”
James: So do you have people come up to you and say, “Listen, you guys are ignoring the massive US debt” or all these economic things, healthcare…do you get that?
Steven: Of course we get it but Abundance is chock-o-block with statistics about what the world is really like now and how much progress we’ve really made in the past hundred years and the numbers are staggering. We live in the most peaceful time in the history of the world. Violence has dropped 500-fold since the Middle Ages. Poverty has dropped 50-fold in the last 50 years, more in the past 50 years than any time in the previous 500. We can go and on and on. The more interesting question is why are people so biased to the negative news and unable to kind of look at the bigger picture?
James: And why do you think that is? Is that a cognitive bias? Again, if you are in the jungle like our ancestors and you see a lion over here and a cherry tree over here, you’re going to pay more attention to the lion so the negative news in front of you.
Steven: You’re absolutely correct. Our brain evolved in an era of immediacy. The first order of business for the brain is survival. So the first filter of all incoming information makes is the amygdala. It’s our danger detector. So normally, we are biased towards negative information. In fact, there’s some new research out that says—I don’t know if this is exact so I’m hesitant to quote it—but it says you need about six or seven positive facts to dislodge one negative fact in just terms of the cognitive weight the brain gives it because of its neural architecture.
James: I sort of feel like that’s a negative fact now that I need some positive facts to get over it. But we’re going to get to that because I want to get straight to your SIX D’s. Your whole point is the world is essentially being overrun by these exponentially growing industries and business and I want to get to your SIX D’s that you use to model out what an exponential business is. Maybe you can help me define each one. Digitalization is the first one that you guys talk about. That’s sort of the obvious one like the internet is digitalizing everything but is there something extra you want to say about that?
Peter: Only that when you digitize something, which is the term I would use as the first of the SIX D’s and printed from analog from like a handwritten page to like an ASCII type in your computer, the ability to duplicate it perfectly at marginally zero cost is what makes it so interesting. And then the ability for computers which are getting faster and faster and faster, we use the term Moore’s Law, this exponential growth of computer power to act on that digital information, it effectively starts you onto the SIX D’s when you digitize something.
Again, these are the cognitive biases that Steven talked about. We evolved as humans in a time when the world was very linear. Nothing changed year to year to year. Things were the same for a century, for a millennium. As such, we have a linear cognitive bias. When we see something growing, even exponentially, 0.01 doubling to 0.02 to 0.04 to 0.08, it all looks like zero and that’s a challenge. So it’s deceptive in the early growth of exponentials—that’s the second D—until it becomes disruptive.
James: Right, and you mentioned specifically with 3D printing that it took a long time to go from that 0.01 to 0.02, 0.04 before people realized hey, we’re going to eventually be able to print like an aircraft.
Peter: Yeah, and it’s the same thing for all of the digital cameras, computers. I go and I speak, as does Steven, to amazing audiences around the world and I’ll ask the question, how many of you know about 3D printing today? Everybody raises their hands. We all know about it. I say how many in 5 years knew about it, 10 years, 20 years ago? At that point, no one has heard about it 10 years ago, let alone 20. It’s a 30-year old technology. It has just been in deceptive growth for 30 years.
James: I like that phrase “deceptive growth,” that it was growing just as fast 20 years ago but now we notice it because it’s big enough. What industries do you feel right now might be in deceptive growth that we don’t realize yet?
Steven: I think the indicator we point to in Bold, kind of for when things are moving out of the deceptive phases and into the next stage and into the real world is the development of a user-friendly interface and this is what you’re seeing kind of across the board. 3D printing, now not only have we have heard of it but there are 3D printers that are plug and play. If you can point and click a mouse, you can print in 3D. Children can print in 3D.
It’s the same thing in robotics. If you go back five years, you would have to be at the site of your alma mater at Carnegie Mellon and a computer scientist if you wanted to program a robot. Today, we have Baxter. It’s $22,000 so it’s available at a price point to almost any entrepreneur and you move Baxter’s arms in the direction that you want Baxter move and he duplicates it. A child can program robotics at this point. That’s where—
James: I guess the same occurred with the internet. The internet had been around since the early ‘70s but it was only Marc Andreessen coming up with Mosaic that let the population access it.
Peter: And it’s not only the population, it was the ability for people to start making money using it and for entrepreneurs to begin using it. The notions of entrepreneurs using Mosaic and then the faux browsers to build businesses is what allowed it to explode. So what we look for and talk about is where the user interface is allowing people to now begin to build new business opportunities? 3D printing is one. Virtual reality, virtual worlds is another one that is going, I believe, from deceptive to disruptive this next few years.
James: What’s another one? I like how you’re kind of almost defining the tipping point of these exponential industries. Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point but he never quite identified how you identify a tipping point and I like this way of defining what a tipping point looks like, when the user interface is there and it’s simple to use. So what’s maybe another thing? You discussed in the book synthetic biology. Is that going to start reaching a tipping point?
Steven: I think that’s what you’re seeing with synthetic biology and it’s not quite there. But the idea, there are people already working on the DNA typewriters basically. So you can essentially program DNA using a laptop. It’ll be a user-friendly interface for synthetic biology. You’re getting bits and pieces. The BioBricks that are coming out of MIT’s iGEM competition, which are basic syn bio modules with their functions clearly defined that are sort of plug and play.
James: What does that mean? What’s coming out of their contest? I don’t know.
Steven: So what’s coming out of their iGEM contest is they’re building a library of what they call BioBricks. These are basically strings of DNA code that are very, very, very simple, perform one simple function. These things are being catalogued in the library. Peter might know what the number is up to right now. I don’t know how many they have in the catalogue at this point but it has being going on for seven or eight years at this point and it’s getting fairly extensive. Again, one of those things you’re going to need in place is to have that user-friendly interface. So I think Peter’s right, that the timeline for virtual reality is over the next year. I think synthetic biology, we’re going to see movement in the next three to five years.
Peter: I agree with that. Can I give a little context here for the folks listening in of Abundance versus Bold? Abundance was written as a way of where we’re going to be in 20 or 30 years. It was really to shake up people’s point of view of this negative future of—hell, we’re living in the most exciting time ever in human history and the future is much better than you can possibly imagine and here’s why in detail. But Bold was written as the how-to side, the road map, if you would, for entrepreneurs to get us to this abundant future with the realization that the world’s biggest problems, the grand challenges, are the world’s biggest business opportunities. The saying that I like to use is if you want to become a billionaire, help a billion people. So Bold is the road map, the how-to manual for entrepreneurs whether you’re a technologist or not.
To be very clear, you do not have to be a technologist to be using these technologies. We described people who are not technologists using 3D printing, using working sensors, even beginning to use synthetic biology as a means of thinking about the future, programming and DNA. But these are the most powerful tools that if you want to take on one of the world’s grand challenges, create extraordinary wealth and create this world, that’s why we wrote Bold and that’s how we wrote Bold. I think, Steven, you said something very important last time which was when you looked at the book again, there is a useful how-to element almost on every page.
James: Well, it’s interesting because the way I see the book, it’s almost like the Wayne Gretsky quote, don’t skate to where the puck is, skate to where the puck is going. So if you see that, for instance, 3D printing is doubling its capacity every year and you know that a problem that exists is getting new electronics up to the international space station then you could kind of take those two ideas, intersect them and create a 3D printer for eventually electronic products that could exist on ISS and you’ve solved the major problem.
Steven: I was going to say Ray Kurzweil talks about that really well, Peter’s partner in Singularity University, inventor and now head of AI at Google. He said you can’t invent technologies for where the world is today because the market is going to pass you by. You have to invent technologies for where the world is going to be.
James: It’s interesting because you also discussed very, let’s call them linear technologies but how exponential technologies could make them even better or more efficient. For instance, my kid wears Invisalign braces and now I guess Invisalign braces are being made with 3D printers so it’s not necessarily the end of linear businesses but they become much more efficient and powerful when combined with some of these exponential ideas.
Steven: Well, the crazy thing about the Invisalign braces is it’s not just that they’re being 3D printed. It’s that they’re printing 17 million individual pairs a year, individually customized for individual customers, 17 million of them in a factory of the future that’s not much bigger than a school auditorium. That’s the level of scale that we have never been able to play at.
Peter: And it’s operating 7/24 in the dark with no human intervention. That’s the interesting thing.
James: What’s interesting about that is it reminds me of when cars replaced horses. Everybody thought everybody was going to lose their jobs, all the people who dealt with the horse industry and clearly that did not happen. We had a massive century of growth but if basically AI, robotics and 3D printing are coming along, even fax scan you mentioned is going to eliminate a million jobs so where do you see this intersecting with the job market in the long run?
Peter: There’s a debate here and the debate basically says that throughout history, there has been displacement of individuals. It used to be that two-thirds of Americans were farmers and now it’s down to below 2%, again displaced by machinery, robotics and such. The question is it different this time? A lot of this got a conversational start a couple of years ago when the Martin School at Oxford said in the next 20 years, 40% of US jobs will be displaced by AI and robotics.
The challenge is for a lot of jobs, that’s okay. Gallup did a poll recently that showed that 70% of Americans don’t enjoy their jobs and if you are working to put food on the table or get insurance for your kids, not because it’s your highest calling, if a robot could do that job for you and you could in fact do what you enjoy more and uplift yourself to a higher level job, that’s a great thing. Now is that going to decimate certain jobs? Absolutely. Is it going to create new jobs? Absolutely. Will the balance be a net positive or negative? I think we’re going to find out.
James: Well, let’s talk about that. Your next D is disruption and a classic example right now, two classic examples are Uber and Airbnb. Airbnb is practically—
Peter: Actually, the next D is dematerialization and then demonetization and then democratization. Maybe we should add disruption as a D as well.
James: I have it down as disruption, my mistake.
Peter: Dematerialization is when the things that we physically had, our GPS on the dashboard of our SUV, a flashlight, a camera, a video camera, all these things have physically dematerialized into an app on our phone. Do you want to take monetization, Steven, and with Uber?
James: Actually, I want to take dematerialization for a second because I love the example in the book where you added up the prices of every app that’s on my phone right now in their 1982 prices and they were like $900,000 in 1982 but they’re basically on my phone now for a few hundred dollars.
Peter: Not just your phone but the teenager in Mumbai’s phone as well.
James: Right, so that’s related to the democratization aspect as well. We all have access to the same tech.
Peter: Steven, over to you, pal.
Steven: You asked me to talk about demonetization?
Steven: What happens in demonetization is after the tools themselves start dematerializing, the money comes out of the industry. We saw this with Kodak. Kodak went bankrupt because they had built their entire business on the chemical processes and the photographic paper and those became demonetized. Pictures became digitalized. We found ways to share them via Instagram and suddenly this longstanding market was no longer there. We saw this over and over with Craigslist advertising, Uber taxis.
James: Why didn’t Kodak get into the very simple business of sharing photos? It’s not rocket science to share a photo?
Steven: Peter talked about this earlier. The human brain did not evolve to process exponential change. Kodak’s outstanding. They invented the digital camera and they created Hendy’s Law which covers the exponential pixels per dollar. It’s literally the writing on the wall and they put it there themselves. Nobody was in a better place to see this but the brain does not process it. We spend a lot of time in Bold talking about the mental toolkit you need to play in today’s world. One of the reasons you need this mental toolkit is because of the way to progress is literally invisible.
James: Yeah, you have this great quote from Steve Jobs – it’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy. I get this question a lot. You always see when an entrepreneur pitches a VC, the venture capitalist inevitable asks, why can’t Google just make this or some other big company? The reality is the big companies aren’t really in the business of making small companies that are going to then grow exponentially.
Peter: Steven, worse than that which is large companies have a tendency to protect what they have. The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea and most big companies don’t try crazy ideas. You didn’t have an enterprise Rent-a-Car or the large taxi fleet so the automotive industry created Uber. In fact, if you had gone to the largest taxi fleets and limo fleets and rental companies and said listen, five guys in the garage are never going to buy a single car but they’re going to create an app and it could be worth $40 billion and displace 65% of the taxi business in San Francisco, you would have said I’m smoking something.
That’s the challenge that entrepreneurs that—the whole reason we wrote Bold today is that entrepreneurs are able to take on and experiment and do crazy things more than ever before because the tools we now have, everybody listening to this, the tools we now have exceed what the biggest companies and what the governments had 20 years ago. You’ve got access to the world’s information on Google. You have the ability to design and then 3D print on the cloud through 3D printing technology. You have more computational power than the government had 20 years ago on Amazon Web Services. You have amazing things and our goal here is to say hey, wake up, the things you can do, the challenges you can take on, the businesses you can create are extraordinary. It’s time to stop doing photo sharing apps and start doing something really big.
In fact today, a project that was in secret just got announced, a company that I’m a founding director of called Hyperloop Technologies. It’s a group of half dozen of us that are working on turning hyperloop, the idea that Elon publicized and popularized a couple of years ago, making it real and revolutionizing transportation.
James: Could you describe, Peter, what is hyperloop?
Peter: A hyperloop is the ability to move supersonic through a tunnel system, if you would. Imagine hopping in Los Angeles where I live right now into a hyperloop station into a capsule that moves through a tube through effectively fluid dynamics of air moving at high velocities and end up in Las Vegas 20 minutes later. So instead of driving for four hours, you’re going supersonic or moving cargo. It’s the ability to move at supersonic speeds at very low cost, point to point, nation to nation, city to city. We’ll start to see these kinds of revolutions occurring not from a government, not from Boeing but from a small entrepreneurial team.
James: Right. So your big predictions that are way out because you’re able to use these different formulas for each of these, for instance you said by 2025, we should be able to print electronics on the ISS. When you’re making these predictions, ten years is a long time from now. People have a hard time even predicting rain or snow the next day. Can we say with confidence using these themes that this is what’s going to happen?
Peter: I would say I’m on the board of 3D Systems which is the top 3D printing company in the world and I’m watching the technologies being designed and developed right now for being able to 3D print circuitry into devices. So I think it’s without question. We saw the first 3D-printed car this year, the first 3D-printed apartment building and we’re starting to see 3D printing in microdevices that you’ll inject micro robots, you’ll put into the body. We are just at the equivalent of the early Apple image writer. You remember the thing that used to go “eeng eeng” in dot matrix print? That’s where we are in 3D printing compared to what we have in our homes right now—thank you. I appreciate you laughing at me, Steven—compared to what we have today, high resolution and color that we think nothing of, that’s sitting at your desk. You probably have two or three of them at home right now.
James: Now let me ask a question just based on your interaction just now. You’ve written two books together. What was the hard part of writing books together? I’ve written a book with my wife, by the wife. It was pretty hard at points.
Peter: That’s hard.
Steven: We work together really, really well. There are ground rules like we both will lose our tempers for sure. You’re going to. You can’t write a book without losing your mind at least a couple of times along the way. We just don’t take it very personally at all.
James: Peter might disagree with you right now.
Peter: No, no, actually it was the most seamless, easiest thing. We woke up one day and say shit, we finished a book. When did that happen? It was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. Steven and I, we’d get up. Well, Steven’s crazy. He gets at like 4:00 in the morning. For me, I’ve been a night owl but he shifted me and I’d get up at 6:00 and spend an hour, we’d trade chapters or sections and read out loud and work it. It was really a joy. It was fun! And twice over, it was amazing. Our wives joked that we were each other’s mistresses. It was rare. It’s a rare—
James: Take your cues.
Steven: Yeah, it really has been an absolute blast to kind of write these books together. We had so much fun.
James: Okay, I want to ask you about kind of the internet of things and sensors. You mentioned we’re eventually heading to a world where there are trillions of sensors and that between satellites and sensors we’re going to be able to map out every one-half meter around the world. You posed the question. For instance, do you want to know how many cars are in your competitor’s parking lot in Moscow? Of course, that sounds like a very optimistic question to be able to ask and it’ll be improve competition, it’ll improve information and knowledge. I hate to almost ask the cliché question here but what is the issue of privacy when this happens?
Steven: By the way, I don’t know if you’re heard the announcement yesterday. Samsung announced they have a television and it’s meant to be a television. You don’t need a remote for it. You can talk to the television but the television literally monitors all of your conversations which to me, that sounds a lot like big brother is here. But the point is what is happening with sensors is we’re getting access to literally unlimited information. That is the upside. What we are trading for it is privacy and we are moving more and more and more towards radical transparency. On a certain level, at least we’ll be making different mistakes this time around.
Peter: I talk about this a lot as does Steven. We’re asked about this all the time. My comment is that privacy is dead. It has long been dead. We’re going to actually have to change the way we think, our morals and our ethics. I have two 3 ½ year-old boys. I have to teach them when you do something publicly and it’s recorded, it’s there forever compared to when I was a kid, I was a teenaged terrorist building explosives and things like that and if I was ever caught…but I think we passed the 17-year landmark—
Steven: By the way, is this where we tell the story of you blowing up your neighbor’s swimming pool?
James: Or I read one story where you built a rocket and the stages went off at different points and so the rocket was like chasing you all over the field?
Peter: Yeah. It set fire to the field. Yeah, lots of these things. But we’re heading towards the world where you are going to know, be able to know anything you want, any time you want, anywhere you want and it’s from satellites on orbit today that can deliver you high definition video from orbit. This is the stuff that the CIA and FBI had. Now you can have it if you want to. Then drones, we’re going to have an explosion of drones. You may say well not over in my house. Listen, when the drone is autonomous and so cheap and sending encrypted links that you can’t track down, you’re not going to know who’s drone it is and if it costs a buck for a drone or 50 cents for the drone, people are going to deploy them and image things whether you want to or not and then whatever Google Glass becomes, they’re going to be imaging things at millimeter resolution. We’re going to be able to know and sense anything.
Now what you do with that data is now the interesting thing because Steven and I talk about in the book and it’s so true, the next decade is going to be defined by data-driven companies – Uber, Airbnb, Google, Facebook are all data-driven companies. In fact if you’re not a driven company, you—I think the proper English is—ain’t going to survive.
James: It’s interesting about Uber and I’m curious on your thoughts on this. I sort of think of Uber as not a taxi-hailing service but as a massive logistics/workforce service. On the one side, you have people who need things and are willing to pay for them. In the middle, you have logistics and on the other side, you have a workforce, in this case cab drivers or limo drivers, who are willing to provide a service. But that can be any service with that logistic software in the middle and it seems a whole slice of the GDP is going to be taken over by services like Uber or Airbnb or these disruptive technologies.
Peter: Absolutely true. That’s of course what they see themselves as and as they experiment with helicopter rides or delivering you food or delivering you puppies, literally stuff they’ve experimented with, it’s a logistics service. The other flipside of course is that Google, with their autonomous car is going to be move into that same service. Now Travis, the CEO of Uber, is getting very concerned that the disruption of his company is going to be autonomous cars so he’s beginning to focus on investing in autonomous cars right now.
James: It’s interesting how when people complain about let’s say jobs lost or privacy, what really could be happening deep down is just sort of a nostalgia, like people are going to be nostalgic for the privacy of blowing up your backyard or nostalgic for driving a car through a stop sign just one more time. Everything really is changing and like you say it’s over the long term and our brains resist these things that aren’t happening. Our brains resist things that don’t stay the same essentially.
Steven: What we have is a cognitive bias. This is Daniel Kahneman who won a Nobel Prize for discovering this. We have something called loss aversion and at an emotional level, a simple level, it’s what keeps us stuck in ruts. The simple idea is that whatever you have today, if I take it away, your brain automatically believes that whatever is going to come and replace it is going to be a lot worse. In other words, if we were back in the vacuum tube era and I was like dude, there’s this new thing—silicon chips, it’s going to replace the vacuum tubes, it’s going to be amazing, your brain automatically goes no way; don’t do that; bad idea.
James: That’s really interesting because that could be an interesting way to think about things. Again as you say, you map out a way for entrepreneurs to think about that next generation and almost everything that you might think is a bad idea, if looked at in a different way could surprise you.
Peter: There’s a great saying. If 99% of the people tell you your idea is crazy, you’re either insane or about to make a massive breakthrough.
James: But it’s interesting. It comes into conflict a little bit with a quote you have later on the book from Jeff Bezos. You model several great and innovative billionaires or creators of billion-dollar companies and I think this is the most incredible question I’ve read in your book which is Jeff Bezos says don’t try to predict what’s going to change in the next ten years, ask what’s not going to change in the next ten years. And off that question, he built his multi-dollar business which I thought was just genius.
Steven: One of the things that we did in the book if you want to kind of take on these ground level challenges, you need to know how to think at scale and perform at speed. We’ve got a whole section on flow states and on scaling of that which allows you to perform at speed. We’ve got a whole other section on how do you think is scaled and what Jeff is talking about long-term thinking. It’s a way of thinking long-term and I agree with you. I think it’s one of the amazing quotes of the business because his answer is phenomenal. People are never going to want their packages late. No one is going to call and say, “Jeff, I love that overnight delivery but can I have it two weeks later?” So as a way of saying what’s going to stay the same and building a business that way and using that as one of your long-term thinking tools, it’s an amazing hack.
James: Yeah. He basically built his business around keeping the prices low, making delivery faster and I guess that intersects with this exponential thinking. Okay, well let’s deliver with drones eventually. So he sees that coming. If drones truly grow, double ever year, triple or quadruple or whatever every year, he sees this question of what’s not going to change intersecting with the idea that some things are going to change exponentially. So I find it to be fascinating.
Another billionaire you model is Elon Musk and obviously, he’s kind of a point of fascination for everybody. He’s supposedly the model for Ironman and you just talked about his hyperloop idea. What has driven him? He’s created so many companies that have been both evolutionary and revolutionary. What do you see drives his energy, like his inner purpose?
Peter: I know Elon relatively well. He’s been an investor in my companies, he’s a board member of XPRIZE. I tried to take him out of the SpaceX early back on before he started because I had seen so many dead bodies on the road in building launch vehicles and I’m glad he didn’t do that. God knows he’s revolutionized the industry. He’s driven by the desire to make things better. He hates when he sees shitty products and services. I know a very dear friend of both of ours, Adeo Ressi, and he had a very famous drive across the US which Elon identified four basic things that he thought were the future of humanity coming out of college – the internet, energy, space and transportation and he wanted to make a difference in all of those. And he has. He’s built four billion-dollar industries and he’s driven by his passion and purpose.
So in 2008, he had sold Paypal to eBay and he had cashed out probably in the order of a couple of hundred million dollars. When he started SpaceX, he invested well over $100 million, probably $125 million to SpaceX and then started investing in Solar City and in Tesla. But in 2008 when the economic downturn occurred and SpaceX had had its third launch failure in a row and he had budgeted for three launch failures and not for anymore, and the Tesla financing was failing and Solar City wasn’t, all these things, he basically bet every dollar he had and went into debt. You don’t do that unless you’re absolutely driven by your passion and for each of us, by our own demons. But he bet everything.
James: I’m sorry to interrupt but is that really true? Let’s say the fourth launch had failed and bam! Was he done at that point? Would he have had to start from scratch? What’s the real story there?
Steven: He was borrowing money to pay rent.
Peter: The real story was he had bet everything and if SpaceX had not had success, had not won a NASA contract, if Tesla had not gotten its financing—I mean God knows whether these could have recovered at a much lesser valuation but I think the tribute to Elon that most people don’t see is the absolute fundamental belief and tenacity to bet everything on what your beliefs are, driven by your passion and purpose.
James: Yeah, he has a fascinating story and I’m curious to ride the hyperloop from New York to Los Angeles. That will make my life a lot easier. Peter, you’re working on Planetary Resources which is the company to essentially mine rare minerals on asteroids. Two questions there and I know this is only peripherally related to the book but I’m really curious. A) How likely is it?; and B) Why not mine for rare here in the US because there’s plenty of rare minerals right in the dirt in the US?
Peter: First of all, we talk about going after three different materials – fuel, construction materials, nickeline cobalt and then platinum group metals. There aren’t any platinum group metals here in the US. When the earth was formed, platinum and PGMs are siderophilic. They’re iron-loving. They’re very high density. They sank to the center. The only place you actually find platinum in the earth’s crust which is mostly light metals, boron, aluminum and such is where there had been previous asteroid impact sites. So we’re actually mining asteroid impact sites. The asteroids in space, in near earth space that are high in platinum are a thousand times the concentrations.
But our strategy right now is we’re really focused in the near term on going after fuels, rocket fuel, hydrogen, oxygen, methane because a lot of these asteroids are very rich in hydrogen and oxygen and being able to fuel the continued expansion of the economy. It’s really we’re just trying to fundamentally build a business in space that is based on resources which is what has always driven society to expend. The Silk Road, the American settlers looking for gold or spices or timber or oil or land or whatever it might be, looking for resources drives us.
James: I’m going to give you credit for that answer but I’m also going to slightly answer it slightly different for both of you because what I see is it’s like being a little kid. Everybody’s fascinated by going to space and being an astronaut and Steven, being an extreme athlete, being a surfer, you guys basically created businesses and wrote books as if you were little kids doing whatever you wanted to do.
Peter: We are little kids. We do what we want to do.
Steven: Well, thank you very much.
James: Yeah, I know it’s a compliment. I think everybody would like that. I think that’s the future of the workforce actually.
Peter: Yes, following your passion. Absolutely.
James: Given that, I think it’s hard for a lot of people to follow their passion now. You’re both very smart people. Peter, I look at your resume and what you’ve done from like birth on, practically. When have you had a down moment? Tell me your worse moment.
Peter: Listen, in 1999-2000, I got a phone call from a guy named Bill Gross who was running Idealab at the time. It just raised a billion dollars from folks like Steven Spielberg and others. He says Peter, I want to build a company to do a private mission to the moon. He said I have $60 million set aside. Would you be the CEO of it? I sold my house in a day and moved from DC to Pasadena to run this company, this stealth company called Blast Off. The challenge was that 18 months later or 15 months later on April of 2001, when the dot com revolution smashed down, I had to close down the company and went into this not a depression but a recounting of what am I doing, where am I going, what’s going on?
And we’ve all had that. At least a third of my companies have had spectacular failures, a third have been tremendous successes and a third we’ll find out where they go but whenever you do anything really hard and really big, whether it’s going to the moon, mining asteroids, building rockets, extending the length of the human lifespan, you have to realize that your chance of success are less than 50/50. Sometimes, they’re 10% but you keep going because your ability to make them successful is stronger than ever before, given the tools, the mindset, the technologies we have. That’s what Bold is about. How do you increase your odds and actually go for bigger swings of the bat?
James: And your both working on different projects involving extending lifespan. Peter, you have Human Longevity. Steven, you have your project on flow. What’s the status? Are we ever as a race be able as a species going to be able to live longer than let’s say the maximum age that someone has lived?
Peter: Just look at the history and realize that we’ve had a continuing growth in the healthy human lifespan.
James: But that’s largely because the average has gone up, not necessarily because there are more 80-year olds, like there’s less mortality.
Peter: The average has gone up and health as gone up and the ability to combat the diseases of cancer and heart disease and neurodegenerative disease has gone up. Those are all things that add on. But the thing which we’re doing right now is the realization that—so I ask you a question. There are species of sea turtles and whales that live for hundreds of years. The question is why can they and why can’t we? I would posit it’s because they have certain genes or proteins or sequencing that give them protection or give them extension. We’re going to discover that in the next decade.
James: So what does that mean? Let’s say we discover what genes do it for them, then what happens? Do we just like inject it into ourselves? I know this sounds like a stupid question but I have no clue.
Peter: The answer is yes or no. There are two mechanisms. One, my business partner at HLI, co-founder and now the CEO, Craig Venter, actually has a company called Synthetic Genomics—
James: A mildly talented guy.
Peter: Yeah, a pretty brilliant guy. He has a company called Synthetic Genomics which he stepped down as CEO to take over as CEO of HLI and Synthetic Genomes is about rewriting the genome and repairing and changing. So yes, we could go in and if there’s a specific set of genes that need to be turned on, that can be done. The second co-founder is a guy called Bob Hariri who has built a multi-billion dollar stem cell company. Stem cells are part of HLI and the idea is we can take out your stem cells, we can rejuvenate them, we can rewrite the code so that they are expressing certain genes or not certain genes and re-inject them into you. Now we turn over our cells, all of our cells in a regular basis in the human body. Imagine if the stem cells that you’re now using to replace your skin, your liver, your lungs, whatever it might be had this new code in them which allows you to live longer, to protect you against cancer or neurodegenerative disease. This is the direction we’re heading.
James: It reminds me of I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who said, “What seems like the science of today was magic yesterday” or some quote like that. What do you see that you’re almost even afraid to talk about because people will think you’re crazy? What’s the magic today that’s going to science tomorrow?
Peter: I have one and I’ll throw it out. Steven, if you have another. One option is are we living in a virtual existence right now? Is this really an en—?
James: You sort of intersect with Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, on that actually.
Peter: Well, I sort of reached the conclusion where we’re living in an nth generation virtual existence already.
James: Why is that?
Peter: Because what I see is people building virtual reality at more and more fidelity and more and more capabilities. And we will develop a virtual reality existence where you can’t differentiate between reality and virtual reality and create entities inside of that in the artificial intelligence world and the question is won’t they ultimately go and create their own virtual reality? I have to believe in a 15 billion year-old universe that we’re not the first and in fact we’re some infinite sequence thereof.
James: I love that. And Steven, what about you? What seems like magic but is science tomorrow?
Steven: Well, along the same lineage that Peter’s looking at, I’m a couple of steps closer. I work on flow states which we know are the most addictive states on earth and we understand kind of the neurochemistry underneath that generates them. Right now, video games and virtual reality, they can generate dopamine and a couple of these neurochemicals but you get all five and you get the most deeply meaningful positive experiences known to man. What that means is there’s going to come a point very soon when virtual reality becomes more fun and more meaningful than regular reality. What I see happening then is a giant migration into virtual reality.
I also think, by the way, you asked the question earlier of where our jobs are coming from, I think one of the places we’re going to find jobs, I think we’ve got an internet-sized economy inside of virtual reality that’s going to be coming online over the next ten years.
James: Well, you guys, thank you so much for coming on my podcast. Your book is called Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World and I want to not only recommend that book but I also want to recommend your prior book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think. I think both these books are excellent. One almost feels like the sequel to the other. Steven, of course, we talked earlier this year about the Rise of the Superman. All of these books have been game-changing for me. So I really appreciate you guys coming on the podcast.
Peter: Thank you. If you go to BoldBook.com, you can get an audio download of the first chapter, get additional videos and learn more. For us, it’s really an inspiration to help entrepreneurs really go big and impact the world in a positive fashion because we now can and I think it’s a moral obligation that we do.
James: Well, thanks again. Thanks very much and gosh, I look forward to the next book.
Peter: Take care, guys.
Steven: Thanks, James. Thanks for having us.
James: Talk to you soon. Bye.
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