Naveen Jain is an entrepreneur with a passion to solve world's biggest challenges with innovative technologies. The business minded philanthropist is a jack of all trades: a sample of his activities includes Moon Express, inome, World Innovation Institute, Intelius, TalentWise and Infospace and being on the board of X PRIZE Foundation and Singularity University. This interview is about the mindset of abundance, pattern recognition and moon exploration.
Naveen, why do you think abundance is the key solution to our global problems?
The whole idea of sustainability in Europe is a synonym for conservation. It’s the mind-set of scarcity. Conserving is a short-term strategy in life because in the long term you need to create more of what you need rather than using less of what you have. Europe is driven by the fact that we will run out of fossil fuels. They are thinking substitution rather than increase.
The mind-set of abundance is changing your behaviour completely. At DLD, all of us are in the same room. You will never see somebody saying, “hey, you need to get out of here, you are taking my oxygen.” Everybody believes that the oxygen is in abundance. Would we fight war over things if we were to believe these are abundant? We fight war over water, land, food and all types of things. However, in a broader sense all these are in abundance in the universe. The earth is just a tiny dot in the galaxy. More than 70 % of our planet is not even inhibited. How about scarce resources? We can bring them over from the moon or different asteroids and planets.
If you go back a hundred years ago, aluminium was the most scarce metal. Until the technological electrolysis came about that made it easy to purify bauxite into aluminium. Technological progress made it abundant. Similar, think about energy: our planet gets eight times more energy than it consumes just purely from sun every single day. The technology to harvest all of that doesn't exist yet, but imagine if you could create abundance of energy! It’s a paradigm shift in your mind-set – everything changes! If energy is abundant you can desalinise water. What if we come up with technologies that people can live on oceans? The problem of scarce land goes away. In aging, it’s only a matter of time until we can grow our own organs.
Is this technological leap towards abundance changing the way we are as human beings. In the information economy this has already brought us information overload?
The whole concept of “I” will change forever. Between Lukas and Naveen, who are we really? Our body? Our body is constantly changing from being a baby to now. Our DNA? Your DNA is given to your children, too. Every cell in my body? But 90% of the cells in your body are micro bacteria. You are really a host to these foreign cells. It boils down to that the real difference between Lukas and Naveen are experiences and memory. 20 years ago we used to remember phone numbers. Today, all our phone numbers are in some sense augmented to our cell phones. We are augmenting our memory to search engines. All we have to remember is what we search for. So what if you transfer these experiences and memories somewhere else, does that become you?
Isn’t that at least an ambivalent evolution? This decrease of memory capacity as a result of outsourcing information to technology, isn’t that a threat to our way of thinking and ultimately our existence?
You would argue that this decline is taking place. But what if you are only storing the meaning of things in abstract rather than the actual thing. We are continuing to evolve our neo cortex in a way that will allow us to continue to grow.
Different topic: why on earth do you want to go to the moon?
The number one thing that drives me is allowing people to dream that everything is possible. Here’s the man that grow up so poor that there was no food to eat. I came to the US with five dollars in my pocket. Today, if I believe to be able to build a company to be able to land on the moon. Imagine what else is possible! Would we be able to create a fundamentally new drug because the gravity on the moon is different? What about the rare earth elements that are common moon elements? What if we can bring helium-3 to the planet? You got to allow people to dream and imagine! Entrepreneurs look at a challenge as their biggest opportunity in life and they go out and solve it.
The human ingenuity is what causes innovation. Experts are really good in incrementing evolution but the most disruptive ideas actually come from non-experts. Because the way the neo cortex works, it’s basically a pattern-matching device that matches problems with patterns of solution. If you are a non-expert you actually have to think in abstract terms because you have never solved that problem before. That allows you to put things together that have never been put together. I am on the board of the X Prize and we see time and time again: rarely, if ever, the prize is won by a team that consists of experts.
His son Ankur and Naveen Jain floating in no gravity (© naveenjain.com)
The Moon Express is very modular, can you outline the approach?
We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. We analysed that landing on the moon has three separate modules. Going from the earth surface to the earth orbit, between earth orbit and moon orbit, and lastly between moon orbit and moon surface. Our approach is simple: We plan to use other rocket companies for to take us into satellite orbit (lots of companies are competing in this area and prices are coming down significantly), where we use our own 3D printed titanium rocket that is moving between satellite orbit and moon orbit. The same rocket acts as a braking rocket to help us land on the moon surface gently. Our rocket will use Hydrogen Peroxide(H2O2, which can be derived from water). As we know that water exists on the moon, so we are essentially using water as fuel so we can create our fuel right on the moon. We plan to use this fuel to carry mined elements back to earth on its return trip. Just a decade ago, our approach would not have been possible because additive 3D printing were not possible which makes the cost of complexity close to zero. All of these exponential technologies coming together in this interdisciplinary approach is allowing us to push innovation forward.
How do you view the latest push in the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program: the projected exploitation not only of known lunar reserves of metals such as iron, but also of lunar helium-3. Will this ultimately be a new Space Race?
You are absolutely right that Chinese landing on the moon is likely to be the catalytic event to start the space race, There’s a treaty signed amongst the nations stating that “No country can own any planet.” However, similar to international water, anyone can use their private resources to harvest the resources on the moon similar to the international water.
China just sent their lander to the moon to find and mine for valuable resources. The United States are taking a different approach. They think the best way to compete is to have entrepreneurs commercialize space including commercializing the mining for resources on the moon, Entrepreneurs are innovative, fast, nimble, they use private resources without any bureaucratic system, and they are more cost effective. Beyond that, entrepreneurs who are successful in commercializing space have potential to build amazingly profitable enterprises but they can also make the humanity better by creating abundance of resources on earth. I am firm believer that doing good and doing well are not mutually exclusive. Philanthropy to me is never about giving money but about solving problems. And a business that is not profitable is not sustainable.