Peter Diamandis: ‘I hope to see flying cars available by the end of this decade’

The US engineer talks to EL PAÍS about the next technological breakthrough, the limits of human longevity and his friendship with Elon Musk

Peter Diamandis
Peter Diamandis at the Audi Summit for Progress on Tuesday.Manu Lozano
Álvaro Sánchez

When Peter Diamandis took to the stage at Madrid’s Palacio de Cibeles for the Audi Summit for Progress last Tuesday, WhatsApp had crashed and the Wi-Fi wasn’t working properly. It was a blow to the audience’s faith in technology, but Diamandis, the star speaker at the summit, was ready to counter this. The 61-year-old doctor and engineer from New York has blind faith in the power of innovation and science.

Diamandis, who is the founder of Singularity University and a friend of tycoon Elon Musk, has set up a number of technology companies and written several books in which he predicts a future of abundance, longevity, flying cars and an exponential increase in resources. It’s a vision that is hard to imagine in times of war, an energy crisis and growing fears of recession. A few minutes after his speech, the author of The Future is Faster Than You Think, who was listed by Fortune magazine as one of the 50 most influential leaders in the world, talked to EL PAÍS.

Question. What is the next big technological change to come?

Answer. The biggest impact we’re going to be seeing this decade is the embedding of AI into everything, in particular transportation, where our transportation systems become intelligent. I like to use the term auto-magical: automatic and magical. So you’re having breakfast with your family, your AI knows your calendar. It sees you getting up and going towards the front door. You open the door and a car pulls in and knows where you’re going. You step into the back of the car. Your AI knows you didn’t get a good night’s sleep. So it has ordered a car that has a bed in the back, and you can take a nap on your way to your next location. It’s playing the music that you had in your living room or continuing the movie. The systems are automatic, and it’s guiding you on the fastest route. AI is going to be what take us into autonomous cars. It’s going to take us into a future of electric vertical take-off and landing [eVTOL] aircraft, to flying cars. We will see all these things. It’s not a matter of if. It’s only a matter of when.

Q. The self-driving car industry is going slower than expected. And flying cars are at a very early stage. Are you disappointed with this delay? When do you think this will change?

A. Yes, the timeline is definitely at least five years behind what the early expectations were, but I’m confident we will see these technologies in our daily lives. It’s simply a matter of when will they become safe enough and available enough. With autonomous cars, the speed at which artificial intelligence is increasing is staggering. I would be shocked if we didn’t see them available by the end of 2025. With flying cars, there are at least five or six major companies that have raised billions of dollars and are beginning to produce them. We’re going to see these flying cars initially for package deliveries. And then human delivery afterwards. I hope we’ll see the flying cars prevalent and available by the end of this decade.

Q. Many citizens today are suffering due to the energy crisis and inflation. And the war in Ukraine shows no signs of ending. Doesn’t that clash with your idea of rapid and unlimited progress?

A. Not at all. We have had an incredible century of progress. If you think about what life was like 100 years ago or 120 years ago, compared to today, it’s night and day. And in that period we had the First World War, the Spanish Flu, the Second World War and the Vietnam War. Hundreds of millions of people died. There have always been ups and downs, but in the long run, the progress is extraordinary.

Q. The general feeling, however, is that everything is getting worse.

A. We live in a world where we only focus on what is happening at this moment. And unfortunately good news doesn’t sell newspapers, bad news does. We are told about every murder, every corrupt policeman and every problem on the planet. We train our minds to only see the negatives but there has been incredible progress in all fields.

Peter Diamandis at Madrid’s Palacio de Cibeles for the Audi Summit for Progress.
Peter Diamandis at Madrid’s Palacio de Cibeles for the Audi Summit for Progress. mikel prieto

Q. Great solutions sometimes arise from great crises, such as the Covid-19 vaccine. Has the pandemic accelerated or delayed research in other areas?

A. I think the pandemic has accelerated health technology and biotechnology across the board. More people are studying health. More people are investing in health. More governments are supporting regulations to support health. So it’s moved it forward five years, at least.

Q. One of your main areas of interest is human longevity. You have even launched a prize to incentivize research into preventing aging. What do you think is the limit of human longevity?

A. The longest-living humans we know of today are around 120 years old. And today we accept that reaching 80 years is a good, long life. But I think that will change very quickly, where we’ll have expectations to be over 100 and up to 120. Some of my close friends are the top researchers and scientists in this field, and I’ve asked: ‘do you think that there is an upper limit at 120?’ And I’ve gotten very clear answers of no, that we should be able to go beyond that to get to 150 years old. So that should be our objective.

Q. How would we pay pensions?

A. People retire because they’re tired and because they’re in pain. If we’re able to create a world in which people are moving well and thinking clearly, they will have vitality and energy, and they’ll want to work longer. But our retirement systems are not planning for these extra 20 or 30 years. It’s important to be thinking about that.

Q. The rise of technology in our lives also raises concerns, including data and privacy issues. Which ones concern you?

A. I think the idea of privacy is long gone. I don’t think any of us truly have privacy. What concerns me is two sides of the equation. One is overregulation, where governments try and regulate technologies. And all that does is drive the technology outside of the US or Europe to other parts of Asia. On the flip side, I think that the entrepreneurs and industry leaders need to get together and create a clear vision of where they want to go. I still remain concerned about pandemics. I think Covid was a practice pandemic. I think we have to be prepared for something that could be worse. I’m still concerned about a future where asteroid impacts could catch us off guard.

Q. Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, is one of your closest friends. How would you describe your relationship?

A. I’ve known Elon for 22 years. We’re friends. He’s funded a few projects over the years, including our $100 Million XPrize [for carbon removal solutions]. He’s one of the most brilliant entrepreneurs I’ve ever met, and I would never bet against him. I think that he has transformed transportation and he’s transformed space. There’s nobody close to him in the space arena. I know his level of purpose and passion, and he will not stop or slow down until he achieves his goals.

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