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Two of my favorite sayings are “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself” and “The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.”

When it comes to “creating the future” and “promoting crazy ideas,” no one, literally no one, can hold a candle to Elon Musk. 

While so many billionaires sit on their money, using it to make more money, Elon keeps on betting it all on his Massive Transformative Purpose and Moonshots. 

If you take a moment to review the Forbes 400 list and ask yourself which of these billionaires are using a significant amount of their massive wealth to improve humanity, you get a very short list. Folks like Eric Schmidt, Marc Benioff, Sam Altman, Martine Rothblatt, MacKenzie Scott, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Tony Robbins are among those with a mission to improve humanity, take Moonshots, and solve grand challenges...

But it bears repeating that chief among the global changemakers is Elon.

I’ve had to pleasure to know Elon since 2001. He’s served on my Board of Trustees at XPRIZE, funded two different XPRIZEs (Gigaton Carbon Removal, and Global Learning), and is someone I consider a friend. 

On two recent occasions, I sat down with Elon to discuss topics related to abundance vs. scarcity and humanity’s ability to survive digital super intelligence. The first was an X Spaces on January 4, 2024 (link here) and the second was over video on X during the Abundance Summit on March 19, 2024 (link here).

In this blog, I’d like to discuss some of the places we strongly agree, and reinforce his wisdom on a number of key points that all of us should be discussing in our board rooms and around our family dinner tables. 

Let’s dive in...


Why is the News So Negative?

In my conversation with Elon, he reflected: “The news is so negative. Frankly, on occasion when I accidentally read the news it just makes me sad. As you know, the daily news is really just an attempt to answer the question, ‘What is the worst thing that happened on Earth today?’ And with 8 billion people on Earth, somewhere on the planet, something horrible is happening every single day. But there's also great things happening every single day, and we just don’t hear about them on a consistent basis. The mainstream news media is basically out to scare you. They’re not likely to say, ‘Hey, it's been a pretty good day, overall violence is at an all-time low.’” 

The reality is that the wiring of our brains (100 billion neurons, 100 trillion synaptic connections) evolved a “default operating software” focused on fear and scarcity, keeping us alive during an era of constant danger, and limited food. 

Our ever-present “negativity bias” has us routinely paying 10 times more attention to negative news than positive news. What was once useful in scanning for snakes or lions is now on overload as we are bombarded by a ceaseless stream of negative local and global news, all vying for our attention. 

And of course, the news media knows that, feeding us a 10-to-1 negative-to-positive news ratio to capture our eyeballs. This is why the old newsroom adage "If it bleeds, it leads" holds so true even today. 

It’s hardly surprising then that we find ourselves in a state of heightened pessimism, often feeling as though the world around us is spiraling out of control. 

“It makes sense from an evolutionary point of view,” continues Elon. “We would respond more to danger than to reward since the consequences of danger could be fatal. On one hand, if you go over there, there's a lion that's going to eat you or some neighboring tribe that's going to kill you, and it's game over, your genes are out of the gene pool. Whereas good news, like a bush with berries, while nice to have, is optional. In one case, you die and in the other case, you're hungry. But death is worse than hunger and anyone who did not respond more to negative news than positive news didn't make it. Anyone complacent about the lion was eaten by the lion.”

I loved and fully agree with Elon’s final conclusion on this point, namely: “I think as a general rule of living, it is better to err on the side of being optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right. And if you're going to err on one side or the other, it's just a higher quality of life to err on the side of being optimistic and risk being wrong than pessimistic and right. Optimism is going to make you happy.”


Our Future of Abundance 

“Humanity is not constrained in any real fashion,” said Elon. “I thought your first book, Abundance, was pretty accurate in terms of the future being one of abundance, where essentially any goods and services will be available in quantity to everyone. Basically, if you want something, you can just have it. Essentially, AI and robotics will drop the cost of goods and services to almost nothing.” 

I agree with Elon, and it’s hard for most of society to see an unbridled future of abundance. Ultimately, nothing is truly scarce, and technology is a force that consistently converts scarcity into abundance.

There is no better example than energy. Two-hundred years ago, energy was scarce. We once hunted whales to get whale oil to light our nights. At the industry's peak, between 1846 and 1852, an estimated 8,000 whales were slaughtered each year for their oil. 

But technology progressed, and the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century ignited our reliance on coal, providing a simple heating source to drive powerful machinery. In 1800, global coal production was estimated at 10 million tons and by the turn of the 20th century, this figure had skyrocketed to 1 billion tons. 

Beyond coal, humanity next pursued oil, and soon, just like coal displaced whale oil, soon solar and fusion will displace our petroleum economy.

“When it comes to energy,” says Elon, “at Tesla we've made extremely detailed presentations on how to make Earth completely self-sustaining from an energy standpoint. There is no shortage of raw materials for lithium-ion batteries and for solar. Even if you powered all of industry on Earth electrically (including heating and transport), you could do that with solar and lithium-ion batteries and not come anywhere close to depleting the resources of Earth.”

Elon continues, “Today, battery production is growing at a rate several times faster than vehicle production, in some cases up to 10 times faster, due to massive demand for batteries. As electricity usage increases, there will be a need to buffer the grid which will yield more capacity, because currently, most electrical grids waste a lot of energy by not buffering. Power plants are sized for peak demand, like on a hot summer day, leading to excess capacity at other times. By using batteries for energy storage (buffering), the grid's output could be doubled or tripled.” 

Reflecting further on a future of abundance, Elon concluded that there is no meaningful limit to the economic output of humanity, “If you think about what an economy is: it’s basically a number of people times average productivity per person. At the point at which we have advanced robotics—such as Tesla’s Optimus—then there's really no meaningful limit to what the economic output would be.” 

“Ultimately,” finished Elon, “I think the only scarcity that will exist will be scarcity that we just decide to create artificially, or something like a unique work of artwork.”


The Great AI Debate: Greatest Hope or Gravest Threat?

The primary theme of my 2024 Abundance Summit was “The Great AI Debate,” namely: will digital super intelligence become humanity’s greatest hope or our gravest threat? 

During the Summit, Elon joined the debate, coming in over video on X, via Starlink, while flying from Austin to LA in his jet.

“The rate at which AI is growing really boggles the mind. I've never seen any technology move as fast as AI,” Elon began. “At this point, there is no way to stop AI. It is accelerating whether people like it or not. That's why, together with a number of really smart people, we created xAI to build what is intended to be a maximally truth seeking and maximally curious AI. ‘Understanding the universe’ is xAI’s goal and the company motto.” 

As Mo Gawdat wrote in his wonderful book Scary Smart: “My hope is that together with AI, we can create a utopia that serves humanity, rather than a dystopia that undermines it.”


During the Abundance Summit, members heard Ray Kurzweil, who predicted with extraordinary accuracy way back in 1999, nearly 30 years ago, say that AI would achieve human-level intelligence before the end of this decade.


And while we are rapidly approaching that intellectual milestone, the exponential growth of machine intelligence won’t stop at this arbitrary point.


Twenty doublings more will yield a million-fold improvement, and thirty doublings a billion-fold more intelligence than you or me.


“I have to give credit to Ray Kurzweil for being remarkably accurate in his predictions on when we create human-level AI,” said Elon. “But, if anything, I think he was perhaps a bit conservative in his predictions.”

Elon continued, “The amount of dedicated AI compute appears to be growing by a factor of 10x every 6 months. So, it’s basically close to a 100x improvement per year, at least for the next few years. And it seems like a lot of the data centers, maybe most of the data centers that are currently supporting conventional compute, will ultimately transition to AI compute.” 

The field is moving at blinding speed. So how do we think about having AI progeny that may soon be one-billion-fold more intelligent than us? Which, by the way, is numerically equivalent to the intellectual difference between a hamster and a human.


With that kind of raw power and intelligence, we can anticipate that AIs will discover many new breakthroughs in physics, realize ingenious solutions to problems like famine, poverty, the climate crisis, and human mortality. But how do we harness AI for good?


Elon answered this question as follows: “I think the way in which an AI or an AGI is created is very important. You grow an AGI. It's almost like raising a kid, but it’s a super genius godlike kid, and it matters how you raise such a kid. 

“I've thought a lot about AI safety,” he continued. “My ultimate conclusion is that the best way to achieve AI safety is to grow the AI in terms of the foundation model and then fine tune it to be really truthful. Don't force it to lie even if the truth is unpleasant. That’s very important. Don't make the AI lie.”

During my conversation with Elon, I pushed him on his view regarding humanity’s future. “When we ultimately create a digital superintelligence that can enable this future of abundance,” started Elon, “there is also some chance that a digital superintelligence could end humanity. I agree with Geoffrey Hinton that the probability of such a dystopian future is something like 10% or 20%. It's difficult to predict exactly, but I think that the probable positive scenario outweighs the negative scenario. But we shouldn't be complacent about that future. Complacency and entitlement are not a recipe for success.” 

Elon concluded his remarks to the gathering of 500 CEOs at the Abundance Summit with both a hopeful and cautionary thought: “I think hopefully we can have an outcome that is similar to the Iain Banks Culture books, which envision a semi-utopian AI future. AI is happening fast, so I think we just need to steer it in as positive a direction as possible and try to do whatever we can to increase the probability of a great future.”


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I discuss the latest developments in AI and other exponential tech on my podcast. Here’s a conversation with Elon about AGI that I recently enjoyed:

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My goal with this newsletter is to inspire leaders to play BIG. If that’s you, thank you for being here. If you know someone who can use this, please share it. Together, we can uplift humanity.

Peter H. Diamandis

Written by Peter H. Diamandis


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