Ben Lamm is a serial software entrepreneur and the current founder and CEO of Hypergiant, an AI company focused on delivering on the promise of AI. An advisory board member of The Planetary Society and a leader in the use of AI in Space, Lamm is captivated by what we can learn about ourselves by looking at space.
What is one of the biggest things you’ve learned from the work you and your team are doing in space?
I’m obsessed with space and I have been for decades. There is something about the vastness of what is out there that just continues to inspire and excite me. The excitement about understanding the cosmos and our place within it, is a life-long journey. I recently worked on a project with the Arch Mission Foundation to create an entire library of Earth’s information, which we then sent into space and to the moon. We did this so that we could protect our data in the instance that something devastating happened here on Earth. Just think about that: we now have our entire history floating in space as a safeguard for the planet. We must do that to protect our planet and legacy. I find that both mind-blowing and inspiring.
You sound like you think part of your work with Hypergiant is to help protect humanity. Do you feel that way?
I’m not sure I feel that in such a grandiose way. We do aspire to build AI systems at the intersection of intelligence and critical infrastructure whether it be terrestrial or in space. I do think that anyone who is thinking about space is having to contemplate things such as an interplanetary society, the potential for extraterrestrial life, and the very real future of humans both living and thriving in space.
At SxSW this year we shared the idea and plan for building an interplanetary internet. This is an idea that isn’t about saving humanity but is about laying the core infrastructure for space travel, space living and habitation on other planets. Elon Musk has made a business out of the idea of saving humanity – and that’s important. But we also need the tools, systems, and a solid foundation that allows for us to exist in space. That future is based on powerful AI to help assist with the difficulty of navigating, communicating, and living in space as well as all the other mundane tools that will be necessary. Thriving in space is about having the right fundamental tools.
You often speak about space as a great learning ground for looking at humanity. What does that mean for you?
Edgar Mitchell once brilliantly said, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty”. This quote has always stuck with me. Space is the most fertile ground for humanity’s imagination. We have billions of dollars across entertainment, defense, academia, literature, etc focused on what our lives could be like in space. But, when you really look at everything about space, it’s a reflection on what is happening on Earth, on who we are as people, on how we want to live and on our perception of significance in the cosmos. Star Trek and Star Wars are just two pop-culture portrayals of ways that humans believe or wish that living in space could ultimately play out. Space, as a concept, allows us to think about humanity without the constraints of our histories, our nations and sins of the past. It allows us to think about what it means to be human and then develop ideas for how we would better like to live
When I look to space and I try to figure out what we might need in space, what I’m really asking is what does it mean to be human in space? What types of tools do we need? How can AI support our ability to explore, to create, to live, to prosper? How can we be better or more successful or more collaborative as people?
So, what does exploration of space tell us about humanity?
The greatest things humans can do is continue to evolve, to achieve and to expand on what it means to be human without destroying the environment we are in. Space exploration, like oceanic exploration, is about continuing to reach the highest pinnacle of human potential. By better understanding the universe and by building new and exciting innovations in space, we are continuing to showcase what is at the core of being human: exploration and potential.
Right now, there is a lot of internecine conflict in the world that is about nation state challenges. However, those challenges are nothing compared to the real challenges we will have in getting people to space and truly becoming an interplanetary species. I don’t want to be all kumbaya here but there are much more substantial challenges to focus on then the majority of things we often see covered in the news everyday. If we could redirect our energy to space, I think we could realign our priorities and get back to collectively working together on the real challenges our community faces. Bill Nye famously said, “Space brings out the best in us. It raises our expectations of what we can achieve”. I couldn’t agree more with this perspective. Humanity is capable of amazing things when we work together and put our heart, soul and minds into it.
What is one thing you’ve learned since working on your multitude of space related projects?
Most people are taking really short-term limited views of the world. People are thinking one or two months or quarters out. However, we can no longer take such a short range approach to the issues of the world. We are facing massive global technological, environmental and social challenges and this requires us to take a much longer view of what we are doing on this planet. Everything I’m doing now is looking out five or ten years – sometimes even further. If more people could look five, ten or even fifteen years in the future, our ability to build grand solutions to historic challenges would improve and so would our chances of saving and improving this planet while setting up humanity to explore even further into space.