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December 8th, 2011
12:17 PM ET

How $10 million sparks innovation

Editor's note: CNN.com will be bringing you a series of interviews with amazing individuals who were at the TEDMED conference in October 2011. Read more here.

Dr. Peter Diamandis wants you to be the CEO of your own health care.

You should be able to make decisions based on technology that analyzes your body and gives you personalized feedback and treatment recommendations, he says. And Diamandis wants to speed the development of that technology along by offering prizes for the people who can make it happen.

Diamandis is the founder and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, which offers $10 million prizes for various technological feats.

In October, he announced the $10 million Archon Genomics X PRIZE presented by Medco, which is a challenge to sequence 100 genomes of centenarians quickly, cheaply and accurately.

Such sequencing is getting more accurate and inexpensive all the time. And data collected from sequencing specific groups of people – those who have had specific diseases, for instance – will help scientists gain a better understanding of those conditions and how to treat them.

“We’re about to enter a data explosion,” Diamandis said. “We finally have enough low cost, fast, ubiquitous computing to help us crunch these numbers.”

As if that’s not futuristic enough, he also wants to take a hint from “Star Trek” in reimagining health care. Characters from that sci-fi hit used a tricordor, a device that can analyze and record data. One variant of a tricorder is specialized for medical purposes to diagnose diseases and get other patient information.

Diamandis wants to have a $10 million prize to make a tricorder in real life. The prize would anyone who develops a mobile device that can match or beat a panel of board certified physicians in diagnosis. He envisions a hand-held device that has artificial intelligence, so you could talk to it. And you could cough on it to see if you have a cold, or prick your finger to test your blood.

It’s called, appropriately, the Tricorder X Prize, partly funded by Qualcomm, and is still in development.

Diamandis just finished a book with science writer Steven Kotler called “Abundance,” which is coming out in February. By his account the world is getting better at an accelerating pace. A “rising billion” people will be gaining access to the internet this decade, becoming interconnected through low-cost handsets and tablets. They will gain access to health care information and education that will help them become true innovators. Their passions and time investment will lead them to solve big problems.

“As these problems get solved in the developing world at a very low-cost rate, it’ll come back here to the United States and give us amazing benefits,” he said.

Diamandis and Kotler’s book introduces innovators such as Steve Hawking, Larry Page, Dean Kamen and others who are making strides in some of the biggest problems of our time.

The X Prize Foundation is probably best known for the Ansari X Prize in space flight. The challenge was to fly two people 100 kilometers (62 miles) up – one notion of “where outer space begins” – twice in two weeks. In October 2004, SpaceShipOne was named the winner of the $10 million prize.

The prize gave innovators a clear goal, and gave legitimacy to the undertaking of private space flight. In the five years after SpaceShipOne won this prize, $1 billion was invested in the personal spaceflight industry, Diamandis has said. Diamandis, who wanted to be an astronaut as a child, has not personally been to space. But he holds two tickets – one with Space Adventures and one with Virgin Atlantic. He plans to be on one of these early commercial flights to space and fulfill his passion.

“But it’s not just about going on a trip,” he says. “It’s the fact that we are on the verge of the greatest exploration humanity’s ever undertaken.”


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