AIHce: Predicting the Future by Creating It

What do bionic body parts, moon-roving robots, space tourists and industrial hygiene have in common? According to AIHce keynote speaker Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., the answer is simple: revolution through incentive competition.

In his keynote presentation on June 1 at AIHce in Toronto, “Challenges, Progress, Innovation: Predicting the Future by Creating It,” Diamandis explained that developing incentive competitions can provide the freedom and power to make “radical breakthroughs.” He is chairman and CEO The X Prize Foundation, which awards prizes to private innovators to solve challenges that range from developing a 100-mile-per-gallon car, developing a spacecraft to carry passengers 100 km above the earth’s surface, removing a ton of carbon from the atmosphere and sending a robot to the moon. The X Prize also is examining ocean exploration, bionics, health care and more.

For Diamandis, whose self-proclaimed mission since childhood was to “help humanity move off the planet into the cosmos,” thinking big is key. He describes John F. Kennedy’s 1961 declaration to land a man on the moon within a decade “ambitious” and audacious,” especially since the United States had to “literally invent everything required to get there and back.” Even more impressive, he said, but the average age of the engineers who made this feat possible was 26.

“There was no one there to tell them what could not be done,” he said. “So the next time someone in their mid-20s comes to you with crazy idea, don’t dismiss it.”

Diamandis outlined four drivers of risk and innovation: Fear, curiosity, wealth creation and the human quest for significance. In particularly, he highlighted the 1927 Orteig Prize, which set out to award $25,000 for the first successful New York-Paris flight. Charles Lindbergh, the 25-year-old underdog, won and ultimately transformed the public’s view of aviation.

“That’s what your job is – to change how people think about these things … their jobs, environment, work place,” he said.

Incentive Competition

While the X Prize places incentive competition on a grand scale, the same concept can be applied to the work of industrial hygienists or safety professionals. Diamandis offered the following key components of incentive competition:

  • Identify a market failure.
  • Identify the problem in a clear, objective and measurable fashion.
  • Reach high, but within reason. Select a problem that is difficult but attainable, Diamandis said.
  • Define a problem but not a solution. If you give a solution, you restrict ingenuity, he pointed out.
  • Select a target time frame for completion. Using too short of a time frame could make the project too easy, but a too-long time frame might cause people to lose interest.
  • Assure there is a back-end business. In other words, identify a project that could launch a new industry development.
  • Don’t exclude useful team members.

“The day before a breakthrough, it’s just a crazy idea,” Diamandis said. Such “crazy ideas” therefore need a place to emerge and develop instead of being dismissed, he added.

“Each and every one of you and your companies have more access to technology than ever before,” Diamandis said. “As you go forward and work on some of the most important things for society [such as health and safety], work beyond boundaries. Help reinvent how to keep our world safe.”

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