X-Man

Posted by Ken Lee and Olivier Laude

Peter Diamandis is throwing money at the world's biggest problems.

If we locked the geniuses of the world in a room filled with computers and Red Bull, all of mankind's problems might eventually be solved. Global warming, AIDS, the inexplicable need for a Hummer h2-these are what Peter Diamandis calls the "grand challenges of our time." Solutions, he says, are out there.Barring that dream scenario, Diamandis, 45, founder of the L.A.-based X Prize Foundation, advocates another way: offer the geniuses a lot of money. He has created a new punk-capitalist ethos by using cash-prize competitions to foment scientific innovation, free from the constraints of lawyers, lobbyists, and CEOs. "We're living in such a risk-averse society that it's killing us," says Diamandis, a graduate of both MIT and Harvard Medical School.
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We're living in such a risk-averse society that it's killing us.
"Breakthroughs that could benefit mankind are being slowed by the establishment. Instead, these prizes are open to the most brilliant minds on the planet."Diamandis, a lifelong space-travel buff, was the brains behind the $10 million Ansari X Prize, which led to the world's first privately-funded manned spacecraft leaving the earth's atmosphere in October, 2004. That same spacecraft (a version of which will soon be available for public spaceflight through Virgin Galactic) did it again two weeks later-making NASA look like an ossified dinosaur.These days Diamandis has more terrestrial goals in mind. This spring, he announced two new prizes in the works for next year. The Automotive X Prize will be awarded to a team that can build a hyper-fuel efficient car, while the Genome X Prize will reward the discovery of a cheap method to sequence the human genome (an advance which could potentially lead to cures for everything from cancer to diabetes). Think he won't be around to enjoy the fruits of these innovations? "My personal goal is to live until age 700," says Diamandis, ever faithful in scientific advances yet to come. "So I still feel pretty young."LEARN MORE xprize.org