THE X PRIZE rocketed into view in 1996 with the announcement of a $10 million purse for the first private team to make it into space. Eight years later, a group calling itself SpaceShipOne accomplished the feat. But Peter Diamandis, 45, the Harvard M.D. who founded the nonprofit foundation behind the award, had bigger plans. Last fall he announced a $10 million award in genetics, and this year brings millions more for the first production-ready, super-high-mileage car. CHRISTIAN DeBENEDETTI recently spoke with Diamandis to find out how the X Prize is changing the world.
OUTSIDE: Why is the X Prize expanding into other fields?
DIAMANDIS: Because it works. Government research has to go through peer review. And if something goes wrong, there's a congressional investigation. Large corporations also have a hard time with risk, because their stock prices can plummet. We've shown that prizes can attract maverick thinkers who don't like working within the normal establishment.
Will there ever be an X Prize for the environment?
The automotive X Prize, to a great degree, is focused on addressing petroleum usage and carbon emissions. But we're looking at other prizes in the energy area.
A healthy planet would seem especially important to you, since you once said that you want to live to be 700.
We have huge breakthroughs on the horizon. With what's going on in genomics and nanotechnology, I think that the ability to have significantly extended life spans for humans is around the corner. And if I'm wrong even by a few hundred years, I'll still have had an amazing experience.
So if you and I are around in 100 years, what can we expect?
Technologically, humans are only 100 years old. We have an amazing period of discovery ahead of us. I think about the Internet and cell phones and jets and spaceships and I wonder, What's going to make that look ancient? We're going to see that in our lifetime.
Maybe the end of the internal combustion engine?
Without question. One way or another, it will be gone.
Thanks to an X Prize?
That is one of our missions.