"A little competition should enter in all phases of science," he said. "We'd probably move it ahead a whole lost faster."
Venter started out slowly. A California kid who loved surfing a lot more than school, he barely graduated. Then came what he calls "the university of death": Vietnam.
Enlisting in the Navy, Venter was sent to the hospital in Da Nang.
"I was 20 years old," Venter recalled. "Plucked off my surfboard and end up at a war. And all of sudden, all you deal with night and day is people being killed or maimed and at the same time, the discussions about why we were there and the rationalities of all different people, as I said, respond in different ways."
One response: suicide. Venter said he attempted it.
"I was actually frustrated with the constant death of young people around me. I decided that I wanted to get away from it, so I decided to go swim out in the sea and had an encounter with a shark that changed my mind."
So he lived. And that life, Venter's life, has now been decoded, you might say. Twice.
He's written his autobiography, called "A Life Decoded."
But he's also the first person in history to publish his own genome -- his genetic blueprint -- for all the world to see online.
"I'm trying to teach people they don't need to be afraid of their genetic code," he said. He said that he doesn't feel like his privacy has been compromised.
"In fact, I said I'm far more concerned about publishing my autobiography than I am about my genetic code. I think it's far more revealing."
The rush to decode everyone's genome for profit is for a lot of people a little scary.
Venter said it's a fact of the future. Get used to it.
"I think we need protection against abuses in hiring and employment based on the genetic code. Because of the cost of health insurance now, more and more companies are self-insuring. You don't want them to, out of ignorance, say, 'Well, because you have a genetic predestination of breast cancer, we're not going to hire you, because we self-insure. We know you're going to cost more than somebody that doesn't.'"
These are all uncharted waters, you might say. Revealing the hidden truths in the human genome, creating new species.
And we are all, like it or not, bound for this brave new world. And right now, Venter has the wheel.