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Peter Diamandis: Mining Asteroids, The XPRIZE and Changing the World

Off the Cuff

Growing up as a kid, Peter Diamandis fantasized of being an astronaut and flying in space. He never made that trip, but he’s championing some out of this world ideas including reinventing health care and revolutionizing education, saving the oceans and mining asteroids.

“I think that we're living in a time where there are trillion-dollar opportunities that never existed before.”

Like mining asteroids.

“Some of these asteroids that we're targeting are worth trillions of dollars in fuels in strategic metals” and Diamandis believes the sky’s the limit, “asteroid mining really is effectively a limitless marketplace.”

The world renowned futurist Diamandis, is obsessed with saving the world’s most challenging problems and he’s not doing it all on his own. He’s been able to get the financial backing, advice and support from some of the world’s wealthiest people including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Tata’s Ratan Tata, Sir Richard Branson and filmmaker James Cameron.

Having obtained degrees in molecular genetics and aerospace engineering from MIT and his MD from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Diamandis is the Chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, Executive Chairman of Singularity University and the Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Planetary Resources. He also boasts of having created more than a dozen companies.

Planetary Resources, Inc., is perhaps his most adventurist. The idea behind the company is to send swarms of low-cost robotic spacecraft to scout asteroids to mine for precious metals and to bring those resources back to earth.

In a bold move when the company was announced in April 2012, Diamandis said he wanted to make space accessible to the public and to do that he needs the public to help pay for it. People around the world were asked to help fund Planetary Resources by making pledges on Kickstarter. The idea was a hit. In about a month’s time more than $1.5 million was raised making the campaign among the top 25 in Kickstarter history.

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Believing that there’s nothing like large cash incentives to motivate people and create breakthroughs, XPRIZE has given out millions in prizes. The foundation is best known for its $10 million Ansari XPRIZE for private spaceflight and the $10 million Progressive Automotive XPRIZE for 100 mile-per-gallon equivalent cars.

To tackle the issue of health care, XPRIZE announced a $10 million competition to innovate diagnostic techniques. Diamandis’ vision sounds like something right out of “Star Trek.”

“The Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE is asking teams to build a handheld, mobile device that any mom or dad could use at 2:00 a.m. in the morning when their kid is sick.” Diamandis told “Off the Cuff” that the device is not intended to be used by nurses or doctors instead, “this is for someone in the middle of the Bronx or someone in the middle of Mumbai. It's a device that you can speak to. It has artificial intelligence on the cloud and it understands what you're saying. You can cough on it because it can do the RNA or DNAanalysis of the bacteria in your saliva. You can do a finger blood prick and do your full blood chemistry.” More than 300 teams in 37 countries have signed up for the competition and the winner is expected to be announced around 2016.

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But what Diamandis calls “The most important XPRIZE that has been done or may ever do” is the Global Literacy XPRIZE.

The competition for the $10 million prize is based on finding new software that would live on any smartphone or tablet that would be able to teach any child anywhere in the world how to read and code within a year. “There are 880 million illiterate people on the planet. 80 million of those are kids. We can't build enough schools or teach enough teachers. But with this piece of software that would come out of a Global Literacy XPRIZE, it would literally spread like a virus around the planet.”

“We're living in a time where every problem is fixable and I want people incentivized to go out there and solve it.”

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And Diamandis offers this challenge, "Your mission is to find a product or service that can positively impact the lives of 1 billion people because that's the game we're playing today. The world's biggest problems are the world's biggest market opportunities. And that's a huge thing. Solve hunger, literacy and energy problems, get the gratitude of the world and become a billionaire in the process.”

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