Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man

This is Part 1 of a four-part series on Elon Musk’s companies.


PDF and ebook options: We made a fancy PDF of this post for printing and offline viewing (see a preview here), and an ebook containing the whole four-part Elon Musk series:

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Last month, I got a surprising phone call.

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Elon Musk, for those unfamiliar, is the world’s raddest man.

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I’ll use this post to explore how he became a self-made billionaire and the real-life inspiration for Iron Man’s Tony Stark, but for the moment, I’ll let Richard Branson explain things briefly:1

Whatever skeptics have said can’t be done, Elon has gone out and made real. Remember in the 1990s, when we would call strangers and give them our credit-card numbers? Elon dreamed up a little thing called PayPal. His Tesla Motors and SolarCity companies are making a clean, renewable-energy future a reality…his SpaceX [is] reopening space for exploration…it’s a paradox that Elon is working to improve our planet at the same time he’s building spacecraft to help us leave it.

So no, that was not a phone call I had been expecting.

A few days later, I found myself in pajama pants, pacing frantically around my apartment, on the phone with Elon Musk. We had a discussion about Tesla, SpaceX, the automotive and aerospace and solar power industries, and he told me what he thought confused people about each of these things. He suggested that if these were topics I’d be interested in writing about, and it might be helpful, I could come out to California and sit down with him in person for a longer discussion.



For me, this project was one of the biggest no-brainers in history. Not just because Elon Musk is Elon Musk, but because here are two separate items that have been sitting for a while in my “Future Post Topics” document, verbatim:

– “electric vs hybrid vs gas cars, deal with tesla, sustainable energy”

– “spacex, musk, mars?? how learn to do rockets??”

I already wanted to write about these topics, for the same reason I wrote about Artificial Intelligence—I knew they would be hugely important in the future but that I also didn’t understand them well enough. And Musk is leading a revolution in both of these worlds.

It would be like if you had plans to write about the process of throwing lightning bolts and then one day out of the blue Zeus called and asked if you wanted to question him about a lot of stuff.

So it was on. The plan was that I’d come out to California, see the Tesla and SpaceX factories, meet with some of the engineers at each company, and have an extended sit down with Musk. Exciting.

The first order of business was to have a full panic. I needed to not sit down with these people—these world-class engineers and rocket scientists—and know almost nothing about anything. I had a lot of quick learning to do.

The problem with Elon Fucking Musk, though, is that he happens to be involved in all of the following industries:

  • Automotive
  • Aerospace
  • Solar Energy
  • Energy Storage
  • Satellite
  • High-Speed Ground Transportation
  • And, um, Multi-Planetary Expansion

Zeus would have been less stressful.

So I spent the two weeks leading up to the West Coast visit reading and reading and reading, and it became quickly clear that this was gonna need to be a multi-post series. There’s a lot to get into.

We’ll dive deep into Musk’s companies and the industries surrounding them in the coming posts, but today, let’s start by going over exactly who this dude is and why he’s such a big deal.12click these

The Making of Elon Musk

Note: There’s a great biography on Musk coming out May 19th, written by tech writer Ashlee Vance. I was able to get an advance copy, and it’s been a key source in putting together these posts. I’m going to keep to a brief overview of his life here—if you want the full story, get the bio.

Musk was born in 1971 in South Africa. Childhood wasn’t a great time for him—he had a tough family life and never fit in well at school.2 But, like you often read in the bios of extraordinary people, he was an avid self-learner early on. His brother Kimbal has said Elon would often read for 10 hours a day—a lot of science fiction and eventually, a lot of non-fiction too. By fourth grade, he was constantly buried in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

One thing you’ll learn about Musk as you read these posts is that he thinks of humans as computers, which, in their most literal sense, they are. A human’s hardware is his physical body and brain. His software is the way he learns to think, his value system, his habits, his personality. And learning, for Musk, is simply the process of “downloading data and algorithms into your brain.”3 Among his many frustrations with formal classroom learning is the “ridiculously slow download speed” of sitting in a classroom while a teacher explains something, and to this day, most of what he knows he’s learned through reading.

He became consumed with a second fixation at the age of nine when he got his hands on his first computer, the Commodore VIC-20. It came with five kilobytes of memory and a “how to program” guide that was intended to take the user six months to complete. Nine-year-old Elon finished it in three days. At 12, he used his skills to create a video game called Blastar, which he told me was “a trivial game…but better than Flappy Bird.” But in 1983, it was good enough to be sold to a computer magazine for $500 ($1,200 in today’s money)—not bad for a 12-year-old.3

Musk never felt much of a connection to South Africa—he didn’t fit in with the jockish, white Afrikaner culture, and it was a nightmare country for a potential entrepreneur. He saw Silicon Valley as the Promised Land, and at the age of 17, he left South Africa forever. He started out in Canada, which was an easier place to immigrate to because his mom is a Canadian citizen, and a few years later, used a college transfer to the University of Pennsylvania as a way into the US.4

In college, he thought about what he wanted to do with his life, using as his starting point the question, “What will most affect the future of humanity?” The answer he came up with was a list of five things: “the internet; sustainable energy; space exploration, in particular the permanent extension of life beyond Earth; artificial intelligence; and reprogramming the human genetic code.”4

He was iffy about how positive the impact of the latter two would be, and though he was optimistic about each of the first three, he never considered at the time that he’d ever be involved in space exploration. That left the internet and sustainable energy as his options.

He decided to go with sustainable energy. After finishing college, he enrolled in a Stanford PhD program to study high energy density capacitors, a technology aimed at coming up with a more efficient way than traditional batteries to store energy—which he knew could be key to a sustainable energy future and help accelerate the advent of an electric car industry.

But two days into the program, he got massive FOMO because it was 1995 and he “couldn’t stand to just watch the internet go by—[he] wanted to jump in and make it better.”5 So he dropped out and decided to try the internet instead.

His first move was to go try to get a job at the monster of the 1995 internet, Netscape. The tactic he came up with was to walk into the lobby, uninvited, stand there awkwardly, be too shy to talk to anyone, and walk out.

Musk bounced back from the unimpressive career beginning by teaming up with his brother Kimbal (who had followed Elon to the US) to start their own company—Zip2. Zip2 was like a primitive combination of Yelp and Google Maps, far before anything like either of those existed. The goal was to get businesses to realize that being in the Yellow Pages would become outdated at some point and that it was a good idea to get themselves into an online directory. The brothers had no money, slept in the office and showered at the YMCA, and Elon, their lead programmer, sat obsessively at his computer working around the clock. In 1995, it was hard to convince businesses that the internet was important—many told them that advertising on the internet sounded like “the dumbest thing they had ever heard of”6—but eventually, they began to rack up customers and the company grew. It was the heat of the 90s internet boom, startup companies were being snatched up left and right, and in 1999, Compaq snatched up Zip2 for $307 million. Musk, who was 27, made off with $22 million.

In what would become a recurring theme for Musk, he finished one venture and immediately dove into a new, harder, more complex one. If he were following the dot-com millionaire rulebook, he’d have known that what you’re supposed to do after hitting it big during the 90s boom is either retire off into the sunset of leisure and angel investing, or if you still have ambition, start a new company with someone else’s money. But Musk doesn’t tend to follow normal rulebooks, and he plunged three quarters of his net worth into his new idea, an outrageously bold plan to build essentially an online bank—replete with checking, savings, and brokerage accounts—called X.com. This seems less insane now, but in 1999, an internet startup trying to compete with the large banks was unheard of.

In the same building that X.com worked out of was another internet finance company called Confinity, founded by Peter Thiel and Max Levchin. One of X.com’s many features was an easy money-transfer service, and later, Confinity would develop a similar service. Both companies began to notice a strong demand for their money-transfer service, which put the two companies in sudden furious competition with each other, and they finally decided to just merge into what we know today as PayPal.

This brought together a lot of egos and conflicting opinions—Musk was now joined by Peter Thiel and a bunch of other now-super-successful internet guys—and despite the company growing rapidly, things inside the office did not go smoothly. The conflicts boiled over in late 2000, and when Musk was on a half fundraising trip / half honeymoon (with his first wife Justine), the anti-Musk crowd staged a coup and replaced him as CEO with Thiel. Musk handled this surprisingly well, and to this day, he says he doesn’t agree with that decision but he understands why they did it. He stayed on the team in a senior role, continued investing in the company, and played an instrumental role in selling the company to eBay in 2002, for $1.5 billion. Musk, the company’s largest shareholder, walked away with $180 million (after taxes).5

If there was ever a semblance of the normal life rulebook in Musk’s decision-making, it was at this point in his life—as a beyond-wealthy 31-year-old in 2002—that he dropped the rulebook into the fire for good.

The subject of what he did over the next 13 years leading up to today is what we’ll thoroughly explore over the rest of this series. For now, here’s the short story:

In 2002, before the sale of PayPal even went through, Musk started voraciously reading about rocket technology, and later that year, with $100 million, he started one of the most unthinkable and ill-advised ventures of all time: a rocket company called SpaceX, whose stated purpose was to revolutionize the cost of space travel in order to make humans a multi-planetary species by colonizing Mars with at least a million people over the next century.

Mm hm.

Then, in 2004, as that “project” was just getting going, Musk decided to multi-task by launching the second-most unthinkable and ill-advised venture of all time: an electric car company called Tesla, whose stated purpose was to revolutionize the worldwide car industry by significantly accelerating the advent of a mostly-electric-car world—in order to bring humanity on a huge leap toward a sustainable energy future. Musk funded this one personally as well, pouring in $70 million, despite the tiny fact that the last time a US car startup succeeded was Chrysler in 1925, and the last time someone started a successful electric car startup was never.

And since why the fuck not, a couple years later, in 2006, he threw in $10 million to found, with his cousins, another company, called SolarCity, whose goal was to revolutionize energy production by creating a large, distributed utility that would install solar panel systems on millions of people’s homes, dramatically reducing their consumption of fossil fuel-generated electricity and ultimately “accelerating mass adoption of sustainable energy.”7

If you were observing all of this in those four years following the PayPal sale, you’d think it was a sad story. A delusional internet millionaire, comically in over his head with a slew of impossible projects, doing everything he could to squander his fortune.

By 2008, this seemed to be playing out, to the letter. SpaceX had figured out how to build rockets, just not rockets that actually worked—it had attempted three launches so far and all three had blown up before reaching orbit. In order to bring in any serious outside investment or payload contracts, SpaceX had to show that they could successfully launch a rocket—but Musk said he had funds left for one and only one more launch. If the fourth launch also failed, SpaceX would be done.

Meanwhile, up in the Bay Area, Tesla was also in the shit. They had yet to deliver their first car—the Tesla Roadster—to the market, which didn’t look good to the outside world. Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag made the Tesla Roadster its #1 tech company fail of 2007. This would have been more okay if the global economy hadn’t suddenly crashed, hitting the automotive industry the absolute hardest and sucking dry any flow of investments into car companies, especially new and unproven ones. And Tesla was running out of money fast.

During this double implosion of his career, the one thing that held stable and strong in Musk’s life was his marriage of eight years, if by stable and strong you mean falling apart entirely in a soul-crushing, messy divorce.


But here’s the thing—Musk is not a fool, and he hadn’t built bad companies. He had built very, very good companies. It’s just that creating a reliable rocket is unfathomably difficult, as is launching a startup car company, and because no one wanted to invest in what seemed to the outside world like overambitious and probably-doomed ventures—especially during a recession—Musk had to rely on his own personal funds. PayPal made him rich, but not rich enough to keep these companies afloat for very long on his own. Without outside money, both SpaceX and Tesla had a short runway. So it’s not that SpaceX and Tesla were bad—it’s that they needed more time to succeed, and they were out of time.

And then, in the most dire hour, everything turned around.

First, in September of 2008, SpaceX launched their fourth rocket—and their last one if it didn’t successfully put a payload into orbit—and it succeeded. Perfectly.

That was enough for NASA to say “fuck it, let’s give this Musk guy a try,” and it took a gamble, offering SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract to carry out 12 launches for the agency. Runway extended. SpaceX saved.

The next day, on Christmas Eve 2008, when Musk scrounged up the last money he could manage to keep Tesla going, Tesla’s investors reluctantly agreed to match his investment. Runway extended. Five months later, things began looking up, and another critical investment came in—$50 million from Daimler. Tesla saved.

While 2008 hardly marked the end of the bumps in the road for Musk, the overarching story of the next seven years would be the soaring, earthshaking success of Elon Musk and his companies.

Since their first three failed launches, SpaceX has launched 20 times—all successes. NASA is now a regular client, and one of many, since the innovations at SpaceX have allowed companies to launch things to space for the lowest cost in history. Within those 20 launches have been all kinds of “firsts” for a commercial rocket company—to this day, the four entities in history who have managed to launch a spacecraft into orbit and successfully return it to Earth are the US, Russia, China—and SpaceX. SpaceX is currently testing their new spacecraft, which will bring humans to space, and they’re busy at work on the much larger rocket that will be able to bring 100 people to Mars at once. A recent investment by Google and Fidelity has valued the company at $12 billion.

Tesla’s Model S has become a smashing success, blowing away the automotive industry with the highest ever Consumer Reports rating of a 99/100, and the highest safety rating in history from the National Highway Safety Administration, a 5.4/5. Now they’re getting closer and closer to releasing their true disruptor—the much more affordable Model 3—and the company’s market cap is just under $30 billion. They’re also becoming the world’s most formidable battery company, currently working on their giant Nevada “Gigafactory,” which will more than double the world’s total annual production of lithium-ion batteries.

SolarCity, which went public in 2012, now has a market cap of just under $6 billion and has become the largest installer of solar panels in the US. They’re now building the country’s largest solar panel-manufacturing factory in Buffalo, and they’ll likely be entering into a partnership with Tesla to package their product with Tesla’s new home battery, the Powerwall.

And since that’s not enough, in his spare time, Musk is pushing the development a whole new mode of transport—the Hyperloop.

In a couple of years, when their newest factories are complete, Musk’s three companies will employ over 30,000 people. After nearly going broke in 2008 and telling a friend that he and his wife may have to “move into his wife’s parents’ basement,”8 Musk’s current net worth clocks in at $12.9 billion.

All of this has made Musk somewhat of a living legend. In building a successful automotive startup and its worldwide network of Supercharger stations, Musk has been compared to visionary industrialists like Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller. The pioneering work of SpaceX on rocket technology has led to comparisons to Howard Hughes, and many have drawn parallels between Musk and Thomas Edison because of the advancements in engineering Musk has been able to achieve across industries. Perhaps most often, he’s compared to Steve Jobs, for his remarkable ability to disrupt giant, long-stagnant industries with things customers didn’t even know they wanted. Some believe he’ll be remembered in a class of his own. Tech writer and Musk biographer Ashlee Vance has suggested that what Musk is building “has the potential to be much grander than anything Hughes or Jobs produced. Musk has taken industries like aerospace and automotive that America seemed to have given up on and recast them as something new and fantastic.”9

FChris Anderson, who runs TED Talks, calls Musk “the world’s most remarkable living entrepreneur.” Others know him as “the real life Iron Man,” and not for no reason—Jon Favreau actually sent Robert Downey, Jr. to spend time with Musk in the SpaceX factory prior to filming the first Iron Man movie so he could model his character off of Musk.10 He’s even been on The Simpsons.

And this is the man I was somehow on the phone with as I frantically paced back and forth in my apartment, in pajama pants.

On the call, he made it clear that he wasn’t looking for me to advertise his companies—he only wanted me to help explain what’s going on in the worlds surrounding those companies and why the things happening with electric cars, sustainable energy production, and aerospace matter so much.

He seemed particularly bored with people spending time writing about him—he feels there are so many things of critical importance going on in the industries he’s involved in, and every time someone writes about him, he wishes they were writing about fossil fuel supply or battery advancements or the importance of making humanity multi-planetary (this is especially clear in the intro to the upcoming biography on him, when the author explains how not interested Musk was in having a bio written about him).

So I’m sure this first post, whose title is “Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man,” will annoy him.

But I have reasons. To me, there are two worthy areas of exploration in this post series:

1) To understand why Musk is doing what he’s doing. He deeply believes that he’s taken on the most pressing possible causes to give humanity the best chance of a good future. I want to explore those causes in depth and the reasons he’s so concerned about them.

2) To understand why Musk is able to do what he’s doing. There are a few people in each generation who dramatically change the world, and those people are worth studying. They do things differently from everyone else—and I think there’s a lot to learn from them.

So on my visit to California, I had two goals in mind: to understand as best I could what Musk and his teams were working on so feverishly and why it mattered so much, and to try to gain insight into what it is that makes him so capable of changing the world.


Visiting the Factories

The Tesla Factory (in Northern CA) and the SpaceX Factory (in Southern CA), in addition to both being huge, and rad, have a lot in common.

Both factories are bright and clean, shiny and painted white, with super high ceilings. Both feel more like laboratories than traditional factories. And in both places, the engineers doing white collar jobs and the technicians doing blue collar jobs are deliberately placed in the same working quarters so they’ll work closely together and give each other feedback—and Musk believes it’s crucial for those designing the machines to be around those machines as they’re being manufactured. And while a traditional factory environment wouldn’t be ideal for an engineer on a computer and a traditional office environment wouldn’t be a good workplace for a technician, a clean, futuristic laboratory feels right for both professions. There are almost no closed offices in either factory—everyone is out in the open, exposed to everyone else.

When I pulled up to the Tesla factory (joined by Andrew), I was first taken by its size—and when I looked it up, I wasn’t surprised to see that it has the second largest building footprint (aka base area) in the world.


The factory was formerly jointly owned by GM and Toyota, who sold it to Tesla in 2010. We started off the day with a full tour of the factory—a sea of red robots making cars and being silly:6




And other cool things, like a vast section of the factory that just makes the car battery, and another that houses the 20,000 pound rolls of aluminum they slice and press and weld into Teslas.


And this giant press, which costs $50 million and presses metal with 4,500 tons of pressure (the same pressure you’d get if you stacked 2,500 cars on top of something).


The Tesla factory is working on upping its output from 30,000 cars/year to 50,000, or about 1,000 per week. They seemed to be pumping out cars incredibly quickly, so I was blown away to learn that Toyota had been on a 1,000 cars per day clip when they inhabited the factory.

I had a chance to visit the Tesla design studio (no pictures allowed), where there were designers sketching car designs on computer screens and, on the other side of the room, full-size car models made of clay. An actual-size clay version of the upcoming Model 3 was surrounded by specialists sculpting it with tiny instruments and blades, shaving off fractions of a millimeter to examine the way light bounced off the curves. There was also a 3D printer that could quickly “print” out a shoe-sized 3D model of a sketched Tesla design so a designer could actually hold their design and look at it from different angles. Deliciously futuristic.

The next day was the SpaceX factory, which might be even cooler, but the building contains advanced rocket technology, which according to the government is “weapons technology,” and apparently random bloggers aren’t allowed to take pictures of weapons technology.

Anyway, after the tours, I had a chance to sit down with several senior engineers and designers at both companies. They’d explain that they were a foremost expert in their field, I’d explain that I had recently figured out how big the building would be that could hold all humans, and we’d begin our discussion. I’d ask them about their work, their thoughts on the company as a whole and the broader industry, and then I’d ask them about their relationship with Elon and what it was like to work for him. Without exception, they were really nice-seeming, friendly people, who all came off as ridiculously smart but in a non-pretentious way. Musk has said he has a strict “no assholes” hiring policy, and I could see that at work in these meetings.

So what’s Musk like as a boss?

Let’s start by seeing what the internet says—there’s a Quora thread that poses the question: “What is it like to work with Elon Musk?”

The first answer is from a longtime SpaceX employee who no longer works there, who describes the day that their 3rd launch failed, a devastating blow for the company and for all the people who had worked for years to try to make it work.

She describes Elon emerging from mission command to address the company and delivering a rousing speech. She refers to Elon’s “infinite wisdom” and says, “I think most of us would have followed him into the gates of hell carrying suntan oil after that. It was the most impressive display of leadership that I have ever witnessed.”

Right below that answer is another answer, from an anonymous SpaceX engineer, who describes working for Musk like this:

“You can always tell when someone’s left an Elon meeting: they’re defeated…nothing you ever do will be good enough so you have to find your own value, not depending on praise to get you through your obviously insufficient 80 hour work weeks.”

Reading about Musk online and in Vance’s book, I was struck by how representative both of these Quora comments were of whole camps of opinion on working for Musk. Doing so seems to bring out a tremendous amount of adoration and a tremendous amount of exasperation, sometimes with a tone of bitterness—and even more oddly, much of the time, you hear both sides of this story expressed by the same person. For example, later in the comment of the effusive Quora commenter comes “Working with him isn’t a comfortable experience, he is never satisfied with himself so he is never really satisfied with anyone around him…the challenge is that he is a machine and the rest of us aren’t.” And the frustrated anonymous commenter later concedes that the way Elon is “is understandable” given the enormity of the task at hand, and that “it is a great company and I do love it.”

My own talks with Musk’s engineers and designers told a similar story. I was told: “Elon always wants to know, ‘Why are we not going faster?’ He always wants bigger, better, faster” by the same person who a few minutes later was emphasizing how fair and thoughtful Musk tends to be in handling the terms for a recently fired employee.

The same person who told me he has “lots of sleepless nights” said in the adjacent sentence how happy he is to be at the company and that he hopes to “never leave.”

One senior executive described interacting with Musk like this: “Any conversation’s fairly high stakes because he’ll be very opinionated, and he can go deeper than you expect or are prepared for or deeper than your knowledge goes on a given topic, and it does feel like a high wire act interacting with him, especially when you find yourself in a [gulp] technical disagreement.”7 The same executive, who had previously worked at a huge tech company, also called Musk “the most grounded billionaire I’ve ever worked with.”

What I began to understand is that the explanation for both sides of the story—the cult-like adulation right alongside the grudging willingness to endure what sounds like blatant hell—comes down to respect. The people who work for Musk, no matter how they feel about his management style, feel an immense amount of respect—for his intelligence, for his work ethic, for his guts, and for the gravity of the missions he’s undertaken, missions that make all other potential jobs seem trivial and pointless.

Many of the people I talked to also alluded to their respect for his integrity. One way this integrity comes through is in his consistency. He’s been saying the same things in interviews for a decade, often using the same exact phrasing many years apart. He says what he really means, no matter the situation—one employee close to Musk told me that after a press conference or a business negotiation, once in private he’d ask Musk what his real angle was and what he really thinks. Musk’s response would always be boring: “I think exactly what I said.”

A few people I spoke with referenced Musk’s obsession with truth and accuracy. He’s fine with and even welcoming of negative criticism about him when he believes it’s accurate, but when the press gets something wrong about him or his companies, he usually can’t help himself and will engage them and correct their error. He detests vague spin-doctor phrases like “studies say” and “scientists disagree,” and he refuses to advertise for Tesla, something most startup car companies wouldn’t think twice about—because he sees advertising as manipulative and dishonest.

There’s even an undertone of integrity in Musk’s tyrannical demands of workers, because while he may be a tyrant, he’s not a hypocrite. Employees pressured to work 80 hours a week tend to be less bitter about it when at least the CEO is in there working 100.

Speaking of the CEO, let’s go have a hamburger with him.

My Lunch With Elon

It started like this:

Lunch 1Lunch 2

Lunch 3

Lunch 5

Lunch 6

Lunch 2

After about seven minutes of this, I was able to get out my first question, a smalltalk-y question about how he thought the recent launch had gone (they had attempted an extremely difficult rocket-landing maneuver—more on that in the SpaceX post). His response included the following words: hypersonic, rarefied, densifying, supersonic, Mach 1, Mach 3, Mach 4, Mach 5, vacuum, regimes, thrusters, nitrogen, helium, mass, momentum, ballistic, and boost-back. While this was happening, I was still mostly blacked out from the surreality of the situation, and when I started to come to, I was scared to ask any questions about what he was saying in case he had already explained it while I was unconscious.

I eventually regained the ability to have adult human conversation, and we began what turned into a highly interesting and engaging two-hour discussion.8 This guy has a lot on his mind across a lot of topics. In this one lunch alone, we covered electric cars, climate change, artificial intelligence, the Fermi Paradox, consciousness, reusable rockets, colonizing Mars, creating an atmosphere on Mars, voting on Mars, genetic programming, his kids, population decline, physics vs. engineering, Edison vs. Tesla, solar power, a carbon tax, the definition of a company, warping spacetime and how this isn’t actually something you can do, nanobots in your bloodstream and how this isn’t actually something you can do, Galileo, Shakespeare, the American forefathers, Henry Ford, Isaac Newton, satellites, and ice ages.

I’ll get into the specifics of what he had to say about many of these things in later posts, but some notes for now:

— He’s a pretty tall and burly dude. Doesn’t really come through on camera.

— He ordered a burger and ate it in either two or three bites over a span of about 15 seconds. I’ve never seen anything like it.

He is very, very concerned about AI. I quoted him in my posts on AI saying that he fears that by working to bring about Superintelligent AI (ASI), we’re “summoning the demon,” but I didn’t know how much he thought about the topic. He cited AI safety as one of the three things he thinks about most—the other two being sustainable energy and becoming a multi-planet species, i.e. Tesla and SpaceX. Musk is a smart motherfucker, and he knows a ton about AI, and his sincere concern about this makes me scared.

The Fermi Paradox also worries him. In my post on that, I divided Fermi thinkers into two camps—those who think there’s no other highly intelligent life out there at all because of some Great Filter, and those who believe there must be plenty of intelligent life and that we don’t see signs of any for some other reason. Musk wasn’t sure which camp seemed more likely, but he suspects that there may be an upsetting Great Filter situation going on. He thinks the paradox “just doesn’t make sense” and that it “gets more and more worrying” the more time that goes by. Considering the possibility that maybe we’re a rare civilization who made it past the Great Filter through a freak occurrence makes him feel even more conviction about SpaceX’s mission: “If we are very rare, we better get to the multi-planet situation fast, because if civilization is tenuous, then we must do whatever we can to ensure that our already-weak probability of surviving is improved dramatically.” Again, his fear here makes me feel not great.

One topic I disagreed with him on is the nature of consciousness. I think of consciousness as a smooth spectrum. To me, what we experience as consciousness is just what it feels like to be human-level intelligent. We’re smarter, and “more conscious” than an ape, who is more conscious than a chicken, etc. And an alien much smarter than us would be to us as we are to an ape (or an ant) in every way. We talked about this, and Musk seemed convinced that human-level consciousness is a black-and-white thing—that it’s like a switch that flips on at some point in the evolutionary process and that no other animals share. He doesn’t buy the “ants : humans :: humans : [a much smarter extra-terrestrial]” thing, believing that humans are weak computers and that something smarter than humans would just be a stronger computer, not something so beyond us we couldn’t even fathom its existence.

I talked to him for a while about genetic reprogramming. He doesn’t buy the efficacy of typical anti-aging technology efforts, because he believes humans have general expiration dates, and no one fix can help that. He explained: “The whole system is collapsing. You don’t see someone who’s 90 years old and it’s like, they can run super fast but their eyesight is bad. The whole system is shutting down. In order to change that in a serious way, you need to reprogram the genetics or replace every cell in the body.” Now with anyone else—literally anyone else—I would shrug and agree, since he made a good point. But this was Elon Musk, and Elon Musk fixes shit for humanity. So what did I do?

Me: Well…but isn’t this important enough to try? Is this something you’d ever turn your attention to?

Elon: The thing is that all the geneticists have agreed not to reprogram human DNA. So you have to fight not a technical battle but a moral battle.

Me: You’re fighting a lot of battles. You could set up your own thing. The geneticists who are interested—you bring them here. You create a laboratory, and you could change everything.

Elon: You know, I call it the Hitler Problem. Hitler was all about creating the Übermensch and genetic purity, and it’s like—how do you avoid the Hitler Problem? I don’t know.

Me: I think there’s a way. You’ve said before about Henry Ford that he always just found a way around any obstacle, and you do the same thing, you always find a way. And I just think that that’s as important and ambitious a mission as your other things, and I think it’s worth fighting for a way, somehow, around moral issues, around other things.

Elon: I mean I do think there’s…in order to fundamentally solve a lot of these issues, we are going to have to reprogram our DNA. That’s the only way to do it.

Me: And deep down, DNA is just a physical material.

Elon: [Nods, then pauses as he looks over my shoulder in a daze] It’s software.


1) It’s really funny to brashly pressure Elon Musk to take on yet another seemingly-insurmountable task and to act a little disappointed in him that he’s not currently doing it, when he’s already doing more for humanity than literally anyone on the planet.

2) It’s also super fun to casually brush off the moral issues around genetic programming with “I think there’s a way” and to refer to DNA—literally the smallest and most complex substance ever—as “just a physical material deep down” when I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. Because those things will be his problem to figure out, not mine.

3) I think I’ve successfully planted the seed. If Musk takes on human genetics 15 years from now and we all end up living to 250 because of it, you all owe me a drink.


Watching interviews with Musk, you see a lot of people ask him some variation of this question Chris Anderson asked him on stage at the 2013 TED conference:

How have you done this? These projects—PayPal, SolarCity, Tesla, SpaceX—they’re so spectacularly different. They’re such ambitious projects, at scale. How on Earth has one person been able to innovate in this way—what is it about you? Can we have some of that secret sauce?

There are a lot of things about Musk that make him so successful, but I do think there’s a “secret sauce” that puts Musk in a different league from even the other renowned billionaires of our time. I have a theory about what that is, which has to do with the way Musk thinks, the way that he reasons through problems, and the way he views the world. As this series continues, think about this, and we’ll discuss a lot more in the last post.

For now, I’ll leave you with Elon Musk holding a Panic Monster.




If you’re into Wait But Why, sign up for the Wait But Why email list and we’ll send you the new posts right when they come out. Better than having to check the site!

If you’re interested in supporting Wait But Why, here’s our Patreon.

Next up in this series: Part 2: How Tesla Will Change the World

Other posts in the series:

Part 3: How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars
Part 4: The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

Extra Post #1: The Deal With Solar City
Extra Post #2: The Deal With the Hyperloop
Extra Post #3: SpaceX’s Big Fucking Rocket — The Full Story

And a new one, written in 2017, about a whole new Elon company: Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future


Some Musk-y Wait But Why Posts:

The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence

The Fermi Paradox

What Makes You You?

Buy the PDF


A large part of what I learned for this post came from my own conversations with Musk and his staff. As I mentioned above, Ashlee Vance’s upcoming biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, is excellent and helped me fill in a bunch of gaps. Further info came from the sources below:

Documentary: Revenge of the Electric Car
TED Talks: Elon Musk: The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity
Khan Academy: Interview With Elon Musk
Quora: What is it like to work with Elon Musk?
SXSW: Interview with Elon Musk
Consumer Reports: Tesla Model S: The Electric Car that Shatters Every Myth
Wired: How the Tesla Model S is Made
Interview: Elon Musk says he’s a bigger fan of Edison than Tesla
Interview: Elon Musk gets introspective
Business Insider: Former SpaceX Exec Explains How Elon Musk Taught Himself Rocket Science
Esquire: Elon Musk: The Triumph of His Will
Oxford Martin School: Elon Musk on The Future of Energy and Transport
MIT Interview: Elon Musk compares AI efforts to “Summoning the Demon”
Documentary: Billionaire Elon Musk : How I Became The Real ‘Iron Man’
Reddit: Elon Musk AMA
Chris Anderson: Chris Anderson on Elon Musk, the World’s Most Remarkable Entrepreneur
Engineering.com: Who’s Better? Engineers or Scientists?
Forbes: Big Day For SpaceX As Elon Musk Tells His Mom ‘I Haven’t Started Yet’

  1. Thank you for following instructions. I came across much more in my research than I have room to fit in these posts, so I’ll tuck extra tidbits and related thoughts into these blue circle footnotes throughout the post. Click these if you have time.

  2. He was badly bullied in his early teens, including one particularly traumatic incident in which a group of guys who constantly picked on Elon attacked him in full force one day, pushing him down a flight of stairs and then beating him unconscious. He has breathing problems to this day because of the injuries.

  3. He first became enamored with computers and video games during a trip to the US he accompanied his father on when he was a little kid and all the hotels they stayed in had arcades—this was also when he first became enamored with America.

  4. As an experiment, he lived for a while on $1/day during college, eating mostly hot dogs.

  5. Musk and the PayPal team stayed on good terms, for the most part, and a number of them have since invested in Musk’s later companies.

  6. Here’s a cool video of the robots in action.

  7. He didn’t actually gulp.

  8. I did an odd but kind of a hilarious thing and fucked with him at the very beginning. I knew from watching interviews with him the certain things he absolutely hates being asked about because he thinks the topics are impossibly stupid and impractical. I picked the three that seemed to bother him most, and right in the beginning of the interview, said: “So by the way, since we spoke on the phone, I’ve altered the plan a bit, and I’m going to focus on three main things in these posts: hydrogen fuel cells, solar panels in space, and the space elevator.” He looked at me with horrified disappointment and after a pause, said, “Really??” Then I told him I was just messing with him and he exhaled hugely and said, “Oh thank god.” Fun.

  • Bill Bales

    First comment! First time ever!

    • marcex

      you rock dude! almost as much as elon musk.

  • Alejandro Boido

    Amazing… Sci-Fi will definitely need to keep up with this guy and not become an Epcot kinda thing, with the past looking at the future in an outdated, ugly version…

  • Jay Parham

    I believe the secret is energy. Nearly unlimited mental energy and the motivation to use it at maximum capacity. I would imagine that Mr. Musk is the sort of person who makes even other brilliant people exhausted when talking to him, burning out just trying to keep up. I believe this energy is naturally present, rather than learned. Only a few humans alive at any given time posses this energy at this level, which is what divides common intelligence from true, literal brilliance.

    • R1ckr011

      Bullshit. Absolute garbage; Read Mindset by Carol S. Dweck.

      He’s a genius, but so was Bobby Fischer. What was Bobby relegated to?

  • Chris

    Tim, you’re aware that all of your AI-related posts have effectively assured that you’ll be a high priority target for any ASI that finally kicks on, yes?

    • AppleTank

      I’m sorry Tim, I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.

  • Renato Stefani

    Well done!! You rock Tim!

  • William Sisk

    OMG, Tim. I’m 1 part super happy for you and an equal part totally envious!

  • Zach

    But in all seriousness, Im super excited for the rest of this series.

  • Fridolin Saal

    Wow, I just can’t fathom the awesomeness of what I just read. Seriously, this upcoming series of articles will probably be the greatest thing ever on the internet – and I thought, after your AI articles it couldn’t get much better. 😀 To be honest, I discovered your blog only after Elon linked to that very article on Twitter. After that I couldn’t stop reading for days. 😉 He really is my idol and one of my dreams is to one day work for him and/ or move to Mars with SpaceX. Elon, if you are reading this, please build a Gigafactory in Germany some day, I will be the first one to apply for electrolyte chemistry! 😉 Thank you a thousand times for making the Earth (and Space, too) a bit more science-fiction and awesome every day!

  • Kimber Spradlin

    His ability to think long-range and willingness to execute accordingly is nearly unfathomable. Let’s see, “we need to cut fossil fuel usage drastically, so first I’m going to build a super car mostly for the R&D that will go into a premium sedan that will fund a mass-market car that meets the cost, distance, and reliability requirements of your average gasoline car driver. Oh and along the way I’m going to solve the battery and energy generation problem so we don’t just transfer the environmental costs from the tailpipe back to the factory, the chicken-and-egg of fueling stations, and every other barrier that has caused others to say this is ‘impossible’.” And that’s just one leg of the stool he’s working on, all of which add up to a goal of ensuring the human race survives as long as possible. Yeah, I’d say he’s not just “once or twice in a generation” I’d say he’s in a millenium, if not more.

    • AppleTank

      He’s like Tesla (the person), except not dying.

    • Daisy Fowler


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  • AllisonErin

    Dang Tim. Nothing like a WBW post to get me so psyched up, and yet so disappointed in myself at the same time. This is my brain right now: “Space exploration? HECK YES I LOVE THIS TOPIC. Sustainable Energy? CRAP WHY DON’T I KNOW MORE ABOUT THIS TOPIC?!”. The mix of excitement about the future and annoyance that I haven’t spent any of my free time reading quality materials (for the purpose of learning) is an uncomfortable sensation. But, a sensation that I treasure, and have WBW to thank for. So thanks guys! Truly, you inspire me.

  • Halston

    I just had a minor freak-out realizing that Tim & Elon have been hanging out the last few weeks talking about future. And I’m equally freaking out knowing that I get to read about your conversation for the next several weeks. Thank you, Tim! Thanks, Elon!

  • Molly

    Can’t wait to read these articles. Really happy for you Tim. Keep the education and the humor flowing. Your posts are hilarious and I love that your first thought upon meeting Elon live was to fuck with him.

  • And I’m just sitting here masturbating.

    … Just kidding. I’m not even doing that :/

  • B_Fli

    This is absolutely amazing. I can’t wait for the future and Elon leading the charge (pun intended) is more than promising. The fact that he called you up to talk says a lot about him as well. I so wish I could meet you and him. Thanks for another awesome post. If you read this Elon, hi!

  • Wow. Just … wow. Elon Musk + Wait But Why = my head is going to explode because it’s can’t handle this much awesome all in one place. Congratulations, Tim. This is incredible.

  • dan paul

    It is a shame he wasn’t born in the US so he can’t be president. We need a constitutional amendment or a real world government to put this man in charge. He can’t do everything himself people, let’s get to it.

    • Alex Tokmakchiev

      Pffff, no. Placing Elon Musk in the position of a President would only put incredible limitations to what he can do and also take a fuckton of his time with bureaucratic nonsense, which will only steer him away from his goals of advancing humanity and ensuring the sustainability of our civilization.

      Seriously – just leave him be in the private sector. Making him an active political figure would be worst idea ever.

      • dan paul

        You are thinking small. Of course the point would be for him to redefine what it means to govern. The current global political atmosphere of divisiveness could easily developed into disaster for mankind as technological advancement continues to accelerate giving too much power to a species that clearly does not have its sh*t together even on a basic level. Ignoring this would be a grave error imo.
        In 15-20 years he may have transformed the planet’s energy system and advanced our exploration beyond our planet more than anyone in history. I don’t think you should be putting limits on what he might do from there.

  • Jenny

    Amazing!! Definitely looking forward to your upcoming posts. Sounds like an incredible experience and congratulations Tim! Love how you still managed to keep the humor in this adsjghakjdh situation!

  • Ashley Wilsey

    First, loved it. Can’t wait for the rest. Having a HUGE nerd freak-out right now just in anticipation.
    Second … Tim, you became my hero with footnote 8.

    • Tim Urban

      Glad you noticed. It was really fun. He was SO upset for a second. Once he knew it was a joke he got in a really good mood and started going through various horror stories of the worst questions he’s asked.

      • infogulch

        TIL: Researching interviews pays off.

  • Steve Swinnea

    So that’s where you’ve been.

  • Ezo

    “nanobots in your bloodstream and how this isn’t actually something you can do”

    Why? Please, write down what he said about that in the next posts.

    Also, is he only concerned about AI, or he don’t want for it to be developed at all?

    • Tim Urban

      He explained that they’re just too small to move because of a [surface area / volume] problem.

      • marisheba

        But bacteria can move; shouldn’t that mean that mobile bloodstream nanobots are a theoretical possibility as well–even if it means we have a LOT of advancements to make to get to that point?

        I’m sure Elon has thought of that, but it still leaves me not understanding his reasoning!

      • Drake

        This is where you come full circle with the DNA as software approach and convince everyone that nanobots should be purpose-written biological agents.

    • Simon Bækkegaard

      He just supported the developement of AI with a big pile of money, while also supporting a group who wants research how to keep AIs friendly: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericmack/2015/01/15/elon-musk-puts-down-10-million-to-fight-skynet/

      My guess is that he is just concerned

  • spencerrscott

    I call employment dibs at his potential Genomics company. -Sincerely, Genetic Engineering PhD Student.

  • d


  • Vinay Kapadia

    Got to meet Elon Musk, that’s awesome!

  • Unreal.2K7

    Tesla was saved by Daimler? The same Daimler Trucks that is releasing its new self-driving truck prototype?
    I see a scheme…

    Also, the guy is scared about AI but has a theory about AI which i find pretty much human-centered… i’m puzzled. What do you guys think about it?

  • Jerry

    Yeah that’s all good, but what does he smell like?

    • RBJ

      Musk, duh

    • AppleTank

      He smells like the Musk of Elon.

  • Shahrizai

    Absolutely fascinating. Tim, I have to tell you how obsessed I have gotten with your site and your writing! I shared it with one of my former colleagues who moved to a different company, and we are now on instant messenger almost every day chatting about different articles you’ve written. Fermi Paradox, AI, EVERYTHING. You’ve got such an impressive talent and intellect. I also shared your articles with my scientist father and got HIM hooked. Now I need to go back and re-read this a million times.

  • djav09

    Great read as always. And congratulations on being chosen for this topic! Quite an honour.

    One question:
    Why do you assume everyone wants to live until 250? Or, actually, why do you think living until 250 would be so great?

    • R1ckr011

      Lol, you’re joking right? Do you want to visit the other side of the Big Dipper? Do you want to learn how to be a chess grandmaster, a brilliant statesman, Pulitzer prizewinner, Nobel Laureate, and a concert Pianist/Violinist, all at the same time? You sure as hell won’t have time otherwise.

      That’s literally what it took me 10 seconds to come up with. I’ll be happy when the only people left on earth are people who want to be immortal. People who will be forced to understand the implications of their actions and thoughts instead of passing them off on their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

      • djav09

        Thanks for your well thought through response. I look forward to your 20 second reply! I jest of course.

        Visiting the other side of the Big Dipper has never crossed my mind. Why would it have? I mean, I’ve still got a whole planet to explore! Amongst other things, I think i’d rather visit Angel Falls in Venezuela, spend a little more time on the North coast of Colombia, or maybe emerse myself in Japanese or Italian culture for a few years, and I could feasibly do those things now, and I’m only a fraction of the way towards 250.

        So, according to your assumption, I would be able to achieve all of those things (grandmaster, pulitzer prize etc) more easily if i lived until 250 then i could now, right? Do you not see the dozens (and the rest) of obvious problems with this assumption? For one, surely i’m not the only one able to live until 250, right? Thus the entire human population, which would have multiplied by fuck-knows-how-much, is also seemingly chasing these prizes. And that will make it easier? Hmm.

        Again, a peculiar assumption: Because someone doesn’t want to be immortal, they are incapable of understanding the implications of their actions and thoughts? That’s just ridiculous. You’ve also kind of said that you’re unhappy because humans are mortal. Really, man, if that’s the case then you’re focusing your energy in some bizarre places. Go outside and interact with some ‘mortals’ – i promise, they’re not all bad (although, saying that, a Conservative government has somehow just been voted back in the UK, so you might have a point!) You might even enjoy yourself. I hope so!

        I might be playing contrarian slightly, but only because I’m interested in people’s thoughts on this topic. Anyone else care to throw more than 10 seconds into a repsonse?

    • Tom

      There is only one situation when people want to die. If they are in extreme pain or bad mental state (e.g. depression). In all other cases people just want to live a little more. It doesn’t matter how old are you. Be it 20, 50, 70 or 200. If you are happy, satisfied and healthy you don’t want to die. That is your answer. If you don’t believe me, then tell me if you want to die tonight. You will feel the same way at 80 if you are healthy and happy. No matter that some 20-30 folks will tell you that you are old enough to die. You will not want to.
      Other points you probably asked to hear are: you want to see your children moving in their life, you want your parents to live longer without debilitating diseases, you want to have some more fun with your friends or make new friends, you want to visit some places you always wanted to, you want to acquire some skill, knowledge or experience you always wanted to or you just want to know where will be humanity moving. Because it is interesting time to live in and I am pretty sure, that it will be even more interesting few hundreds years in future.
      The moment I don’t enjoy life anymore, I can end it. But please don’t tell me that some biological timer inside my body is better than my decision when to end all this fun ;).

    • D_Coder

      What’s the alternative?

  • sourfather

    This is so, so rad! I can’t wait to read ALL the posts!

  • R1ckr011

    ALSO: I get to say I was reading you Before it was cool 😛

    Just barely. XD I wasn’t hear until maybe 5 weeks ago.

  • Just listened today to the This American Life episode about the fascinating story about on the joint GM/Toyota NUMMI car plant in California and the story ended with it being closed down in 2009 and I was like c’mon what happened to it?!

    Then I get email that Wait But Why interviewed Elon Musk and smiled instantly and was happy that this is what Tim has been working on.

    Then during amazing article I find out that Tesla bought the old NUMMI plant in 2010. Love full circle days like that.

  • Heather

    Elon couldn’t have picked anyone better to write about what’s happening in some of his industries, and call attention to the amazingness that awaits us all. So excited for the following parts to this series! And a big congrats on this opportunity. I would have ‘dropped the phone’ too 😀

  • Jon Keller

    Musk says warping spacetime is not possible. Will you be putting up his explanation for this in a future post? I’ve read a little about the Alcubierre Warp Drive which is theorized to be able to enable “faster-than-light” travel without breaking the cosmic speed limit by warping spacetime around the craft. It might not be something we can pull off today, but who’s to say in another 50-100 years we don’t find a way?

  • Yelena Key

    I’m headed from NYC to South Africa in a few days where, Errol Musk, Elon’s father still lives. No one seems to interview him about his son, maybe I can score a meeting and report back to you. Couldn’t hurt to have another angle for that secret sauce right? Just putting that idea out there 😉

    Anyways, I’m so happy for you! This is definitely the best possible reason for your writing hiatus, because now we have even more glorious posts to look forward to!

  • Brian Fischman

    He’s the first genius of this caliber we’ve had in the age of incredible access to people, their personalities, and their work. It’s an incredibly opportunity.

    • Brian Fischman

      Thanks for a great public service Tim. After looking at those fantastic Kuka robots, I was wondering why robotics didn’t make his top five, but I guess they are all about software after a certain point so he lumps that in with AI… Can’t wait for the rest.

      Also, I swear the other day I literally googled “CAN I GIVE MONEY TO ELON MUSK?” Seriously, Elon, take my money. I’m sure there are thousands who would say the same. I am a university student but would contribute what I could spare for nothing in return if it went anywhere near these projects.

      • Kimber Spradlin

        I’ve often mentioned I’d love to “buy a share or two” of Elon Musk – not just the individual companies he’s part of, but the man himself. All the companies he invests in outside of his own, the charities he supports, the random “I’ll solve the San Fran to LA problem in a weekend and post it for free” projects, and whatever else he has up his sleeve. Not only would you see a huge financial return if you had the patience to keep your money in through his time horizons (20+ years), but you’d be funding a tremendous amount of good along the way!

  • bungle

    This euphoria is religious. Ok, Paypal was a good idea. But Electric cars have been outcompeted by fuel driven for 130 years, are, and they will keep doing so. Get your head around the concept of fuel density. It’s the physics of batteries vs. combustion of hydrocarbons. These physics are here to stay. Elon must be really desperate to promote neat looking household batteries (storage capacity equivalent of that of 1 litre of gasoline). For 3000 $? And this gets acclaim?
    And no, we need NOT shorten carbon fuel use. Why should we? “Peak oil” is another eco-religious concept. “Peak anything” as usual is really just “peak brain”. Future cars will run on fuel, either drilled or synthesised out of water and CO2 via cheap, plentiful energy. And no, not windmills.

    • Jebmak

      Not much for long term planning or the process of creating, are you.

    • porc

      I agree. Reading the comment section is hilarious. Theses people really are quasi religious when it comes to Musk. Never mind the fact that with Tesla he just stuffed a large battery in a car. Never mind the fact that batteries werent revolutionized one bit by him. It will be funny when this whole thing unravels.

  • fliptherain

    Tim and Elon musk?!?! My heart and brain may explode.

  • gatorallin

    3) I think I’ve successfully planted the seed. If Musk takes on human genetics 15 years from now and we all end up living to 250 because of it, you all owe me a drink. Happy to buy that drink now… Mr. Mustard seed.

  • B

    Dear Tim,
    Just so you know. Musk is mad smart so if he wants you, dude, it’s with BASIS. Also, I have a brain crush on you too, dear, and your stick figure bod is to die for.
    So make this happen! I will read every post and jump up and down waiting for the next.
    Oh what’s that saying…
    “You will find yourself before kings” (or a guy with money, ability, and a sense of possibilities!)

  • My1digit IQ

    Now I can’t stop comparing Elon Musk to Dr. McNinja’s King Radical

  • RAT

    HOLY FUCK. OMFG. UNBELIEVABLE. SHIT…. DUDE! I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS. Ok….Ok.. deep cleansing breath. This is absolutely spectacular!!!!! I have been a closet reader of WBW for a long time, but this made me jump out and proclaim HOLY FUCK! I am so amazed that you got this opportunity.

    (I normally do not use profanity, but this is so over the top I’ve lost my sense about it)

    Elon Musk is a remarkable human being. One of the good guys. I have obsessively tried to find ways to purchase a Model S (I am starting a second business just so I can fund one). I find it so blindingly obvious that this (sustainable energy for cars) is SO the right direction to move our humanity. I think it’s tragic that the market has so many short sellers who continue to laugh at TSLAs valuation and hope for it’s failure – can’t fix big oil – or stupid people – and there’s no shortage of them.

    I cannot wait to read the rest of the posts. I will be watching my inbox with baited breath every day, no hour, minute, second… is it here yet?

  • Nice article. But before being frightened about AI, Mr Musk should ask someone who has not “read about”, but worked for 20 years on it 😉 I would also recommend reading this before going too far with that human computer vision… http://hajnalvilag.hu/projects/TasteOfLuck.pdf

  • Shiro

    The whole time reading this i was with a stupid smile on my face , and the last picture here just made me laugh .
    GREAT and i want more , MORE !

  • Joel McKinnon

    Fantastic post Tim. It resonated deeply with me because I too have my lunch with Musk story, and your little recap of his bio made me think about it in a whole new way. I’ll have to give it some lead up.

    In the spring of 2001, I took on a weird project completely out of line with anything else I’d ever done and with fairly low odds on success. I was a member of the Mars Society, a humans to Mars advocacy group, and trying to find a way to help out somehow in their mission. We’d had a plan to host a Bay Area fundraiser for some time but nobody had given it enough push to make it happen. Our president, Robert Zubrin, was friends with filmmaker Jim Cameron who was a big Mars geek himself and the idea was to try and rope him into being the featured guest to talk about his then planned Mars movie that never came to fruition. I volunteered to lead the project for some strange idiotic reason. To make a long story short, the event was somewhat unexpectedly a huge success. One of the main reasons is that one of the few to pay the full $500/seat cost of attending was a guy none of us had even heard of called Elon Musk. Due to many attendees getting discounts and freebies, we were barely going to break even on the cost of the dinner until this Musk dude pulled out his checkbook and gave a little $100K tip to Mr. Zubrin at breakfast the day after the event. Grand Slam.

    Two weeks later Musk showed up at one of our chapter meetings just to hang out and talk geeky Mars stuff with a few of us. Just a regular guy it seemed, with a buttload of money. I barely remember our conversation, but a few days later he called me directly and asked me to lunch. Keep in mind this was 2001 and I hardly knew anything about him. If I could have read the future I would have probably had one of those head falling off moments myself. As it was, I just said “yeah, sure” or something, and shortly thereafter met up with him at one of his favorite Palo Alto lunch spots and spent an hour with him chatting about Mars and more. I was nervous, but felt I’d done OK. His reason for the lunch date was he wanted to ask me to create a web version of a powerpoint he’d created. It was a proposal to use recycled Russian ICBM rocketry to launch a series of Mars missions with the aim of transporting a little temporary greenhouse to the planet’s surface as a symbolic statement to get humanity’s ass in gear toward that multi-planet future thing. I jumped at the chance and banged it out over a weekend and sent him the files. I thought it was a pretty good piece of work, but I never heard from him again.

    That has long been one of the most frustrating memories of my life until I read your post. I felt that that I had not recognized a moment of intersection with greatness that could have changed my life forever. If I’d only put a little more effort into it and done something that really dazzled him, I could have been part of his core team to this day. You’ve put that moment in a very different context. Knowing now that only a year later he was to launch SpaceX and start that great run of innovation that led to where he is today, I will content myself with being a very small but possibly pivotal rung on the ladder. In retrospect, that he asked me to help him with this little project instead of doing it himself means that somehow I’d impressed him. Maybe, just maybe, that fundraiser gave him a microscopically small boost in inspiration that helped him see the possibilities in the idea of launching humans off of this planet? That there were enough inspired lunatics to back him on such a venture that it was worth going with his gut and giving it his all?

    Thanks again and congrats on the coup. I am obviously looking forward to further posts in this series with immense anticipation.

    • Jimmy Cooper

      Joel, is a planetary magnetic field needed to support human life on Mars, and if so, how to make one?

      • Joel McKinnon

        It’s very very helpful in preventing the bath of deadly radiation that results in not having one, but I don’t think it’s impossible to support habitation without it. The obvious first strategy is to go underground. Lava tubes are huge and small craters could be covered over with enough blocking mass to prevent the worst of the radiation. Eventually though, I see electromagnetic force fields of some kind allowing humans to live freely on the surface. I don’t think the entire planet will ever be safe for humans, but smaller habitable zones can be created eventually and will be expanded as technology improves.

        • Pedro

          May I ask you a question? I really dont know much about the subject and suspect Tim is going to clarify it soon, but why is it so important to live on other planets soon? I´ve red Stephen Hawking stating the same thing but without giving any reason whatsoever. What is the big unknown danger that lays upon us here on Earth? (Excuse my poor english) Thanks. Nice story by the way, it just wasnt meant to be.

          • Joel McKinnon

            Sure Pedro. My biggest candidates for sudden human race extinction would be 1) an asteroid small enough to not be detected with enough time to destroy or move it but large enough to cause a devastating meltdown of the upper levels of the Earth’s crust. Bad news for mankind. Or 2) good old climate change already underway but meeting the worst case scenario predictions of people like Guy McPherson (http://guymcpherson.com/). For the record, I don’t think global warming is going to do us in by 2050, but I am concerned enough to consider it worth studying and worth considering our escape options. Then there is 3) a bio-weapon or naturally occurring pathogen capable of
            wiping out a critical mass of mankind. Would like to have a healthy
            stock started in a secure location if that were to happen.

            In any case, I think there is plenty to be gained by becoming a spacefaring race as soon as possible, whether or not it turns out to be an immediately necessary option. Doing big and bold things is good for pushing people to innovate and become educated.

            • Lars Haugseth

              Never underestimate the value of off-site backups.

            • Pedro

              Thanks for the answer Joel. Some thoughts. First of all I notice that, except por the asteroid thing, the Moon seems as useful as Mars (and much closer) in case the weapon-climate-disease-disaster happens. And the other question is, even if we decide that setting an auto-sustainable colony on Mars is the thing to do, it will take us probably hundreds of years to achieve that. By that time I guess the problems you mention in your comment will be mostly solved in some way, if we are still here of course.
              I can see though that it would be really useful to give Mars a nice atmosphere, THAT would probably be something. But we are now talking science-fiction, really distant future, lots of things can happen in the meantime. To make myself clear: I just cant see why is Elon Musk, is allegedly so interested in this extremely long term, extremely difficult project, when he is so down-to-earth and practical in all his other stuff, I mean, the batteries development, the cars, solar pannels, all those things that we really need to develop now.

        • Jimmy Cooper

          Thanks, Joel. I’ve read about/seen shows on terraforming of Mars, but did not remember any of them mentioning the need to make a planetary magnetic field to address the issues you mentioned.

  • Max


    You are ONE LUCKY BASTARD!!!

    • Joel McKinnon

      Tim’s not lucky. He’s that good and Musk just recognized it (if he’s lucky it’s because Elon somehow found the time to read his great AI post). I think it’s a brilliant move on Musk’s part to get one of the most brilliant and entertaining bloggers out there to help communicate his ideas to the public.

      • Max

        Why do they have to be mutually exclusive? You are saying Tim’s not lucky because he is brilliant. That’s a fallacious argument. To be more specific, that’s false dichotomy. Tim can be both lucky and brilliant at the same time.

        • Joel McKinnon

          No, you’re right. Tim’s lucky AND brilliant. I got the lucky part (see my post below).

      • Mars_Ultor

        the AI post on this blog absolutely blew me away. One of the most fascinating reads in years.. and shocking.

  • Joseph Lee

    “He doesn’t buy the “ants : humans :: humans : [a much smarter extra-terrestrial]” thing, believing that humans are weak computers and that something smarter than humans would just be a stronger computer, not something so beyond us we couldn’t even fathom its existence.”

    I don’t think that the two concepts are actually mutually exclusive? The “strength” of a computing machine is tiered – eg., Turing machines can act as pushdown automata can act as finite state machines, but not the other way up the ladder. So, it’s possible that consciousness is similar. I think the difference comes from what you would mean by “fathom its existence,” because that leads to a sort of self-referential, recursive problem of “the ability to fathom” being tied with the “level of consciousness.”

    • Zooba

      I think his point is human minds are like Turing machines. Anything a more powerful machine can do a Turing machine can do too just not necessarily at the same speed. That makes sense to me.

      • Joseph Lee

        Yeah – however, there are problems that possible more powerful machines can solve that Turing machines can’t solve (eg., halting problem or if a given context-free grammar is ambiguous), but are not necessarily “unfathomable”

        • Zooba

          That’s a good point. That would imply that oracle machines are physically realizable. That would be pretty cool.

  • … and regarding the “learning is download” idea, this is the “computer-like” part, in which a computer can indeed be better. However, true creativity requires something else, and this is where we are really special: we have a true parallel, network-based hardware, a constantly refactorable pattern set manager. The human brain.


  • Dian Xiao

    Did he tell you that he emailed your AI article to everyone at Tesla?

  • yazinsai

    > “When Elon Musk was in college, he figured three things would affect the future of humanity: the internet, sustainable energy, and multi-planetary life. He wanted to be a part of each.” (Musk, 2013 – Ted Talk)


    > In college, he thought about what he wanted to do with his life, using as his starting point the question, “What will most affect the future of humanity?” The answer he came up with was a list of five things: “the internet; sustainable energy; space exploration, in particular the permanent extension of life beyond Earth; artificial intelligence; and reprogramming the human genetic code.” (Your article)

    Did he just sneak in 2 more things?

  • DarkEnergy

    Amazing. I wonder how Elon first found out about Wait But Why.

    • Maybe he was trying to name his baby. 🙂

      • Lars Haugseth

        Somehow I don’t see him trying to figure out how to deal with procrastination.

  • Vaibhav Deshmukh

    Can’t wait for your next post sir!!

  • Jwk

    Elon Musk is impressive. But he is a precursor….

    • zn

      LOL. Everyone and everything is a precursor to something.

      • Jwk

        Obviously. Your comment is kind of like, when, someone points to a dehydrated man as says, “Hey, that man needs water or he’ll die”, and you pipe up, “Everyone needs water or they’ll die”. Witty sure, but distracting and not in the interest of the original comment and therefore in the end, deconstructive.
        Just like your answer to the location of like minded people above in the comments.
        Witty. Du-dum-dish.
        The side kick of the jester, a necessary role.

        • zn

          Your comment. “Things happen because reasons”. Also, this is my first comment. Use your rage wisely or not at all.

          • Jwk

            Don’t think rage can be used. Its a result. Referring to my example above, you would probably ask the guy to use his dehydration wisely.

            Your other comment (not sure on whether it was first or second, etc comment of yours) was in answer to the question by Fuyang on where these poeple are physically located, you ANSWERED: “The Internet”.

            Only answering you because of others that might be reading the comments, but sure feel free to (accurately, but still, thereby losing the point) display your ability to shorten this comment like you did my last two.

            You have just as much right as me, but, instead of jester sidekick wittiness, my contribution is (an attempt) at adding insight and maybe learning from other commenters.

            But, no rage kid.

            • zn

              I take the greatest amount of pride in the ability to condense my argument into the shortest phrase possible. It’s a skill not readily practiced on the internet, but something I think worthy of attention.

              That aside, you still haven’t made a point worthy of a longer response. I’m not trying to be rude, but simply saying ‘Elon Musk is a precursor’ is pretty uninteresting. The Internet allows you to speak to millions of people, so let’s hear what you have to say!

    • Jwk

      SA is a breeding ground for brilliance. (Not in anyway taking away from the incredible feats of Mr. Musk). But look at Patrick Soon-Shiong, the Rive Brothers, Ivan Glasenberg, etc. These are the people that apartheid made leave the country(Well, they were the brilliant ones who made a plan to leave – a difficult task in itself).
      What about the ones who were too young, and had to survive through it. They are hardworking, first-world people, living in a country where the majority (+-40million to +-3million) are unemployable, uneducated, violent and expectant.
      When you have people who murder, rape, steal, in the millions, surrounding a group who are blamed as evil racists (because their parents were alive (not participated in) during apartheid), but still manage to make a life that is liveable/ enjoyable, something interesting is going on.
      It is almost a divergence of species (this description is for emphasis in the types of people, sharing the same street block in many instance) – for every 10thousand people of the same age that cannot read/ write/ have been molested/ had family members murdered/ have committed murder themselves (for eg), living less than a km away are people developing simulations of epigenetic modifications for HDIs that increase neural plasticity, lengthen telomerase and cure cancer.
      This system is not a healthy one, but its effects are remarkable in what kinds of people they are producing. Elon Musk is marveled at now (only by some) but not when he started Tesla, or even 5 years later….

  • Honza M.

    I tried to set an event “Buy Tim Urban a drink” for May 8, 2242 in my Google Calendar but it does not let me go past 2050 🙁 Is the Google’s all-mighty artificial brain trying to tell us something??

  • I can’t believe that people as smart as Tim and Elon (!) still have these thoughts about the Fermi Paradox. You’re here on planet Earth, where all the species have evolved in exactly the same conditions, using exactly the same basic structure. Out of about a hundred million of them, there is only one we can communicate with – us. And we’ve been able to do that for a really short period of history.
    And then you expect the same thing to happen on another planet? Or on multiple other planets? Why?
    Yes, there are a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars in each. So life is very, very possible, actually probable. But I really don’t see how is a Star Trek scenario something that you should be expecting. Based on what we can learn from biology, it’s extremely improbable, and there really is no paradox.

    • I couldnt agree more with you. I think there is a great science excitement out there, everyone wants to be a scientist – and theres nothing wrong with it – but then they come up with such a thing like Fermi Paradox, which is, as i usually say, just a giant pack of assumptions stuck together and a bunch of people worrying about it

  • Neeraj Kumar

    I am getting obsessed with this person I want to read more and more and infact everything about him and all the books he reads please share everything his library.

  • remy

    This article blew my mind. Very fun to read as always!

    • Трифонов Андрей

      frustrating, not fun :

  • Ott Kingisepp

    COOL! Waiting impatiently for next articles!

  • Guest

    >”Secret Sauce”

    Don’t procrastinate.

  • Maverick

    You are damn lucky Tim! Not that you haven’t earned this opportunity! I wish I could meet him once and even work for him once. Unfortunately I don’t have the ‘right’ citizenship the requirement of which is imposed on SpaceX by federal law. Maybe that will change one day and qualification and previous achievements would matter more than a passport.

    Anyway, I can’t wait for the next post and for the book, which I pre-ordered months ago!

  • Aina

    Did he tell you how he got to know WBW and why he liked it?

  • Move over, Chris Hadfield — I’m setting another place at my celebrity crush table for Elon Musk!

    This series of posts is SO EXCITING! Congratulations, Tim! Also, I’m on your side about the consciousness spectrum.

  • May I ask where are you guys physically located? I really would like to move to a country/city where more people are interested in topics/things are discussed here.

    • zn

      The Internet.

      • a correct awnser on so many different levels, lol

      • Thank you mate 🙂 But I do wish to have more physical friends who have those interests around me…

        • zn

          Yeah sorry man, that was a bit disingenuous. However, since its earliest days, the internet has always been a place to connect people with similar interests and ideas in a way that simply isn’t possible in the real world. Not to say that face-to-face conversation isn’t awesome, but moving to an entirely new country or city for the sake of discussion seems a bit impractical. Unless of course you are really serious about these ideas, such as an academic, scientist or artist might be, then I would whole-heartedly support such a move. Good luck my friend.

          • I see what you mean zn. I agree with you. Right now I am working at small city in Denmark as an engineer. But I feel the most people around me are not interested at all about new technologies and those potential products or ideas that will one day change most people’s life. People don’t even talk much about it here. Thus I am thinking perhaps I should try go to a place where more people are care about stuff like this. I just think this is what really matter’s in my life. And one day I am afraid I will be too old to running around as I can now 🙂

            • zn

              Yeah man, do it. A few years ago there was a TEDx event in my city which I attended, and afterwards I started chatting with another attendee, explaining how I wanted to travel etc etc etc. And he basically said “You know what you have to do but you’re scared. Don’t be scared. Just go and make it happen and you won’t regret it”. These were wise words and I ended up spending a year on the road which has greatly influenced my life since.

              If you’re asking the same kind of question to random people on the internet, then I suggest you already know you are ready to go. Just pick a place and make it happen. Best of luck. Let me know how it goes!!

            • Good point mate. I will keep you updated. So far life has been quite comfortable here in DK in someway. It requires some effort to go for something bigger in life 🙂

    • i think they live in new york.

  • Munty

    About genetic programming… the chinese are already working on it http://www.nature.com/news/chinese-scientists-genetically-modify-human-embryos-1.17378 XD

  • d0dja

    Love the article, but just for the record (no-one ever points this out any more), Tesla was not started by Musk. He came in later as an investor, and then as CEO to pull them out the hole they were in. It was founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning.

    • Þorsteinn H. Jónsson

      According to Wikipedia he came into the company around 6 months after Martin and Marc had started it and he’s listed there as one of the founders of the company. Is this a wrong representation?


      • John VonBokel

        It’s semantics, to some extent. Day 1 of Elon’s involvement, you wouldn’t call him a founder, when he’s 6mo behind Eberhard and Tarpenning. But 12 years later, what difference does that 6 months make? I don’t mean to downplay Eberhard or Tarpenning, I mean that as an actual question for the reader. It’s up to you to decide. The company would not be here today if any of them or a number of other people hadn’t been involved (specifically, JB Straubel). Eberhard sued to have him and Tarpenning named as the 2 sole founders, but eventually settled out of court and agreed to be named as one of 5 founders.

      • d0dja

        If you go in via Tesla’s official history, then that’s the impression you get. The Wikipedia article has been somewhat airbrushed to play down the original founders’ work (this seems to be a specific Tesla action… see the “About” on their Website and the origins have been seriously elided).

        There were four engineers (principally Eberhard and Tarpenning) that developed the original tech, built the first prototypes, and then tried to take it to market, and somewhat failed. They had been working on the concept and technology for several years before the company was incorporated.

        Have a squizz at the Wikipedia page for Eberhard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Eberhard).

        And have a look at this Business Insider “Tesla origin” story (ok, ok, it’s BI which is not shy of bending the facts to make a good story, but anyways).

        Interesting quote… “In reporting the story, Business Insider conducted several in-depth interviews with most of the key players and pored over little-noticed documents made public in a lawsuit. We also met with a curious lack of cooperation from the usually press-friendly Tesla Motors.”

        I was in the auto press around that time, and was following the Tesla story.

        So in a nutshell, Musk was a first investor when they really, really needed the money. And he got the company sorted out when it was probably fatally on the rocks.

        But toss the poor founders a bone, lest their achievement be lost to the graveyards of the Internet.

  • Erik

    20 years ago I went through that process of wondering what to do with my life, and came to the 5th of Musk’s virtuous priorities: “reprogramming” the genetic code. Specifically, reprogramming the portions of the code that determine the structural aspects of our brains that underlie disadvantageous elements of human nature. Hardware limitations will forever limit our ability to move away from destructive instinctual holdovers like war and bigotry, unless we upgrade.

    Now I am a neuroscience researcher at Yale. And while I have reoriented my focus somewhat, the need to fundamentally restructure consciousness is still pressing. Let me suggest a work-around for the Hitler problem: don’t use people as the substrate for genetic modification. Since you are ostensibly designing novel brain structure, shackling your effort to the human genome is not an absolute requirement. If you have deep enough understanding to specifically reconfigure the human brain, you could conceivably build on a different organism’s brain structure to side-step the anthro-centric morality issue. There is nothing fundamentally unusual about the processes governing human brain development; in fact the commonalities between human and other animal’s brains are striking. If what you care about is engendering the optimal consciousness, the starting point shouldn’t really matter. Either way, you are changing the code away from the parent organism to make something new.

    Unless there is imminent technological collapse (or machines beat us to it), we are at the inflection point in the history of evolution where consciousness and the genome will enter a direct positive feedback relationship. Genetic structure –> brain structure –> nature of thought –> genetic structure –> etc. We need positively motivated people like Musk influencing that trajectory.

  • Kim

    I’m so thrilled that we have a mind like Mr. Musk’s working hard everyday to save humanity. For much of my life I have been pretty pessimistic about our future as a species. Maybe I watch too much news…

    Tim and Mr. Elon Musk give me hope and make me so much more interested in topics I wouldn’t have dreamt about pondering before. So, THANK YOU!

  • Q Ball

    Man I need this guy to cure my stroke. Im only 27 and dont want to be paralyzed the rest of my life. If only we had more muskies curing diseases once and forall.

    the comment about conciousness is interesting. I lost a few braincells and I feel as if my personality changed. apparently I was slightly autistic before but now I have less inhibitions. I think conciousness is like a clump of braincells talking to eachother.

  • Leonardo Carneiro

    Notable minds notes notable minds =)

  • Madame Blue

    Congratulations Tim. How exciting to have caught the attention of one of today’s most brilliant minds! I look forward to your more in-depth articles in the coming weeks.

  • grendal

    I’m sorry but you don’t want aging solved any time soon. We already have over 7 billion humans on this planet because we’ve industrialized and created medicines that have already doubled our lifespan in the last 100 years. Look at a worldwide population graph that goes back into history. 100 years ago the world population was less than 2 billion. 200 years ago it was less than 1 billion. Elon is trying to get us off this planet as fast as possible and most of his businesses are about preventing destruction of the biosphere from industrialization. Can you imagine what the world will be like with 10 billion people on it? 15 billion? Yikes. 20 billion? You think pollution is a problem now, try and imagine the problems we’d be dealing with in those circumstances. That is one area I disagree with Elon on. He is afraid humans might stop having babies. Heavily industrialized nations don’t have as many babies because they have advanced contraception available to them and this makes Elon nervous. Humans are going to have as many babies as they can. This one little world is a limited resource which is why it is very important to expand beyond it. Then we can have as many babies as we like.

    So having a longer life sounds wonderful on an individual basis but if you want to really kill the planet and all the humans on it then having significantly extended life spans just might do it.

    Just throwing that out there…

    • Things arent that simple, we are talking about a 7 billion ammount, i cant figure even my own mind 🙂

    • mehh

      But then, with SpaceX doing its thing, we should have plenty of room in the universe for all the extra people!

      • grendal

        That is what I am counting on.

    • Reupii

      There probably won’t be over 10B people on the planet. Demographics suggest that the fertility rate is decreasing a lot as the standard of living is increasing around the world. In developped countries it’s already less than 2 children per family on average.

      Most studies predict that world population will keep increasing to around 10B in 2100 then flatten and start to decrease.

      If we extend a lot the life expectancy with new technologies, the story could turn out differently though…

      • grendal

        Thank you for the reply. Certainly in developed countries you have less children when you have access to advanced contraception which allows choice for more or less children. There is still a huge amount of the world that isn’t industrialized or developed to the point that having less children is desirable.

        The other thing that happened a little over 100 years ago is that the infant mortality rate dropped from 50% to now a very rare incident. It was that, which is really advancement in medicines and access to medical doctors, which caused the huge population boom in the last century. 300% worldwide population increase in 100 years is pretty dramatic and has certainly had an impact on our planet.

        The population boom very likely had a direct impact on the various culture clashes that happened in the century too. We had WW1, WW2, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Iraq War 1 which were just wars that the USA were involved in. Here is a list of worldwide conflicts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:20th-century_conflicts How many people were killed in all of those conflicts? A billion or so? You can tie almost all of those conflicts to a clash over resources and terrain.

        I’m not so sure that the population boom will naturally correct itself. I do know that as population increases the possibility for conflict also increases. It makes me very nervous.

        • Reupii

          Hi grendal

          You are absolutely right about the lack of contraception in the developing world (especially Africa) and the decrease in infant mortality rates.

          I actually don’t know the exact number about the deaths in the 20th centuries conflicts. Still, in the long term the main factor regarding global population is fertility rate (how many children women have). This fertility rate has been decreasing a lot in the last decades, as you can see on the figure 2 of this page

          Except for Africa which is still behind, which is why it is assumed that by the end of the century Africa will be one of the most populated continent in the world.

          Overall the studies actually predict a stabilization around 10B during the period 2050-2100. There are some unknown in the system, (Africa high birth rates being one of the main one) but not that much.


          About the conflict for resources, I believe that it is why it is very important that we start living in a sustainable way (bye bye fossil fuels) and that we use resource more efficiently to deal with ~3B more people. That is precisely why the work of elon musk and others on solar panels and electric cars is essential, along with a good usage of technology in general.

          • grendal

            We agree.

  • JillD

    Love Elon Musk…wish he would work on the future clean water issue the nation and world will be facing over the next decades.
    California certainly needs solutions to our current water crisis as will many other states and nations around the world.

    • grendal

      He is working on it. Weather issues are due to massive amounts of pollution and carbon being dumped into the atmosphere by human created industrialization. Elon is trying to make alternatives to burning fossil fuels while maintaining our industrialization possible. Solar panels, battery storage, and electric cars are all ways to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.
      Go Elon.

  • Flannery Bro’Connor

    People are literally computers? Does that mean in the late Renaissance that they were literally clocks and that in Biblical times they were literally made out of clay?

    • Ezo

      You don’t understand what computer is. Previous “comparisons” were pretty stupid, but brain->computer is not. Computer is data processor. Brain is data processor.

  • Farflung Snail

    I have such a man-crush on Elon Musk.

  • Leonardo Carneiro

    There should be a sequel to the “The Men Who Built America” documentary (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2167393/). It would be called “The People Who Built the World(s)”, it would feat Elon as the top-notch, and Tim would be one of those excited comentators.


  • qwerty

    *causally notices part about his teenager years*
    Is this “get rekt bullies” on most epic and awesome way ever?
    This guy was too rad for them to handle it :p

    Fun trivia “Musk” is pretty close to word “Mózg” in polish language (“Mózg is polish word for “Brain”).

  • jaime_arg

    Please please please use your “Future post topics” phrases as the title or at least the subtitle of your posts.
    Those were just great: “how learn to do rockets” (!)

  • Ironically im more concerned about “going around” the moral issues you talked about than A.I. (these ARE indeed computers, they cant be really self-conscious) or The Fermi Paradox (which is just a pack of giant assumptions). There is no going around goddamit, we are talking about a lot of people borning mutants (in a bad way, needless to say), dying, just for genetic programming? Isnt the racial segregation and bias already enough without human-made humans?? Yes, i know science is exciting but lets put a little of sense there.

  • Artyom Karapetov

    This is rad.

  • gerber

    Re, the no-assholes policy, my first thought was “how do they screen them out?”

    • P

      They ask them to take off their pants and turn around

  • DeeDee Massey

    80 hours a week?!

    That wouldn’t leave much time for critical leisure activities, like playing rugby on Mars.

  • Denise Moline

    Paypal: The only company that has ever hacked directly into my checking account. Nice work, Elon.

    • grendal

      He sold it back in 2002. He is hardly responsible for what others have done after they control it. That is unless you were hacked back in 2001.

      • Denise Moline

        Plenty of credit given in the article to him for PayPal. Disclaimer added would be nice. There is something of his legacy there for sure.

  • Diya Arora

    Great, now you’ve got me dying for the next post. Great job Tim, Fabulous job.

    All sarcastic comments aside, this was an a great post and I can’t wait to see the rest!

  • Wendy!

    Proof he is super brilliant and in touch with the regular human- he chose you to explain the important things. This is something you have super talent at doing.

  • Lia Boangiu

    Dude you are awesome. I’m in a bar now and your post is way more interesting than anything.

  • Mechelle B

    When I saw the email for this post, I haphazardly just looked over it and kept it for a time where I’d read it later. That happened to be tonight. I’m kinda speechless. Of course I’ve heard of paypal and tesla but never knew the man behind these companies. This is right up my alley being that I love environmental topics and write about green living. Elon Musk is THE MAN and you are THE MAN. The article had me on edge — I wanted to keep reading more! How awesome it is that you had this once in a lifetime opportunity! Happy for you and the Wait but Why team!

  • DeeDee Massey

    Did Elon ask you the “Where are you?” interview question?

  • Veerle Aertsen

    Very impressive. Have some thoughts i would like to share with him on the DNA issue? What if it is a faulty part of the DNA that needs replacement? Would you go there? I mean, i understand your point of view on the 90-year old, but what about a 40- year old? Would u spare your talents to talk and help her?
    So if anyone has his email/twitter (genuine) u can always contact me: veerle.aertsen@live.be
    looking forward to exchanging ideas on health issues and technology…

  • Tikhung

    Another great article. So this is what great thinkers are concerned about…IMO, AI is a long way to go and we can never tell if our stupid brains will be evolved enough to grasp what we call ‘consciousness’. What if consciousness isn’t purely biological? Is it related to quantum mechanics and dimensions? It would be thousands of years for us to make computers aware about themselves if my guess were true. Anyway, I should lie down for a while and think what should I have for tomorrow’s breakfast.

    • DeeDee Massey

      What’s for second breakfast?

    • Reupii

      There is no reason to believe that consciousness isn’t purely biological a priori.

      The brain just happens to be a very complex system which is hard to simulate with traditionnal computers, but as time goes (super)computers are getting closer to it, and will eventually surpass it.

      All the attemps to estimate the processing power needed suggest it will happen during the 21th century, even probably around 2050. The article on AI on this website is a good explanation if you haven’t read it yet

      illustration : http://28oa9i1t08037ue3m1l0i861.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/PPTExponentialGrowthof_Computing-1.jpg

  • Tula

    Can’t wait for the next post! He is my absolute hero and seeing this headline from WBW made my day. Please, more, more!

  • Olda

    This article is one of the best I have ever read. Really looking forward to read another ones from the series. I can’t express how it was SO interesting and exciting.

  • Jason Diolatzis

    How much did your subscriptions go up by after this article?

    On the subject of consciousness, Elon is probably right again 😛
    Yuval Harari also agrees with Musk and he has a possible explanation about what the switch is in his latest book. A very short condensed version of the possible explanation is on one of his talks at TEDx.

  • cotpoe

    Great post. Congrats Tim for this “mission” you have been given. A great valid authentication for your ability to put complex issues into plain-speak in an amusing way

    It’s really nice to see your take on Elon Musk – a lot more grounded and filled with substance as compared to the noise out there. It’s great to hear about the nature of his character – integrity etc

    One thing I would like to stress though is the nature of problem we have as a species. Yes there are technological issues and problems to be solved for long-term survival of the species and the issues you have noted here a) Space expansion b) Sustainable systems ( as compared to the short-sighted exploitative systems we currently have) etc are there.

    However, there is the the elephant in the room – the nature of human thought and psychology of short-term,short-sighted benefit, psychology of power and control that dominates power structures today.

    Speaking from a civilization perspective – we do have all the science and technology we need to solve our problems ( and if not current – then definitely the resources to tackle them). The problem is the dynamics of human interaction and deliberately harmful intentions all that resources is directed to.
    For example the technology employed by Space-X is not remarked objectively. The disruption is that someone was able to do it outside the confines of the State/Defense-Industrial Complex apparatus.

    While of course- getting off the gravity well of Earth is a critical first step, technologically the challenges are trivial as compared to those arising from human dynamics. For example – the next step is to become an solar system species. However do you think that the nature of Power games will change just because we happened to colonize a few planets. I assure you without a significant shift to a collaborative mindset – it will get worse. While on Earth you are restricted by MAD since we all happen to be stuck on the same blue dot – will those restraints on use of weapons of mass destruction remain when you are assured of a secure bolt hole on some asteroid?

    The same principles can be extrapolated henceforth. We have already crossed the primary technology barriers as a species and are on the path of accelerating scientific and technology curve.

    Hence you assumption that moral issues are “trivial” is quite dangerous. As a civilization advances technologically – it is equally important to advance to higher levels of consciousness ( such as what you said in your framework) as more and more tools of potential destruction are filtered down to smaller and smaller groups of humans.

    The greater question of AI is not about the technological singularity technicalities but about whether even in presence of such potential pitfalls – can the defense-industrial-state-financial-power complex with it’s innumerable black projects with little regard for supposed “bans” on this or that testing avoid the temptation of proceeding on dangerous paths. In a zero sum power game which has been present through our species history – the rationale of “if we are not doing it, someone else will and take advantage, hence we cannot avoid not developing the same” will inevitably take the train down those paths – all done secretively with no objective oversight or consensus all for short term power games.

    The same issue arises with the nature of Transgenetic Transformation of the Human Species. While at a pure objective level, the “moral issue” can seem trivial and the potential benefits can seem all too alluring to proceed – the longevity, less disease burden etc – in the end it is central. What prevents this tool of rewriting genetic code from becoming weapons in that hands of powers that be. Of course the debate is trivial because in the present human psyche environment, it is only logical to assume experiments are already being conducted at classified labs around the world.

    At the end all of science is fundamentally a pathway for sentient species to understand existence and all of Technology is a Hammer – a tool in the hands of a sentient species to use that understanding how it sees fit. A species has to take care to advance it’s thought to higher,non-destructive,collaborative levels and overcome the competitive,domination instincts if it is to avoid being doomed by it’s own creations.

    The tragedy is that once a point of inflection is crossed (which we have) – science and consequently technology grow at ever accelerating paces while the “wisdom” of the species advances at a snail species – always at the mercy of those still captive to domination,power and control.

    We are increasingly in the Quantum world technologically- of paradoxes, reality heavily influenced by the observer, of relativity and many-truths. Of profound dualities.

    The grave problem is that the nature of human thought is still stuck in the classical newtonian world of animal biological perception – of rigid dogmas, of who is “right” etc, of predisposition to impose one’s view at all power levels.

    • NancyLeeWWW

      I’d like to briefly note, along with cotpoe, that our human behavioral problems always threaten to outweigh our scientific and

      • cotpoe

        concisely put NancyLeeWWW. One point I would like to add to your comment. It is not that we as a civilization are not exploring our nature – psychology, cognitive sciences together with neurosciences have made dramatic strides in understanding humans – our patterns of thought, biases, conscious and subconscious factors influencing our behaviour etc.

        The problem lies again in how this knowledge is used. Most of the output of these fields are used not in advancing our collective selves to higher levels by widespread general education of these fields. ( collectively gaining control over our monkeys and lizards). Rather they are used precisely in the opposite direction – use of propoganda for political information dispersion, “public relations”, mass – management, marketing of all kinds. This understanding of human nature used to influence the masses ( example advertising no longer focuses on logical rational benefits of products but targets powerful affective components of our lower brains. Political communication now sophisticated to target the specific biases and group-identities rather than serving as means of rational,high level debate on the course of policy).

        It is even more ironic that our supposed “elite” who play the game of thrones and employ such tactics are themselves captive to primitive psychology of power and control. What a waste of knowledge and understanding.

        Perhaps if such a dichotomy is a natural byproduct of a sentient species evolution from lower life-forms then it seems a bemusing Great Filter lies ahead for us. Not one composed of rudimentary technological or resource questions but something far deeper. A Great Filter where a species is on the clock to over the trap of its very nature. Whether it is able to overcome it’s own lower nature and advance to higher cognitive levels before the separation between its external understanding (science/tech) and inner transformation(wisdom) dooms it to anhilation by its very tools. Existence is not without its sense of humour. Rather than worrying about resource/technology constraints and filters( which given the collective audacious powers of imagination our sentience has gifted us are ultimately rudimentary), we should be worrying about how we are collectively driving the species train off the cliff. Something at once simple – each person must simply change themselves and yet more complex than all tech/resource problems due to that very reason. 🙂

        • NancyLeeWWW

          Afraid you’re right, cotpoe. And I shouldn’t have implied that we’re not studying the brain and consciousness. Somehow the information we’ve gathered has to be applied to the problem of human behavior. (About 1,000 sci fi books, many dire, start here.)

          Thanks for your excellent thoughts.

      • cotpoe

        Thanks for your precise commentary NancyLeeWWW :). I didn’t mean to imply that you missed the point. I was just mentioning how it is not a part of general knowledge taught to all. It seems common sense that there should be a course on Human Nature ( mix of Psych,cognitive sciences) taught at all levels. After all – before any action there is thought so shouldn’t the pitfalls,patterns and biases of human nature and thought be widely discussed, taught and practice of overcoming it a commonplace topic rather than one relegated to niche domains of marketing and public relations.

        The quality of formal education seems pathetically inadequate at meeting any rudimentary objective of preparing for a deep introspecting/observing/reflecting foundation -unfortunately our education and “job environment” is oriented towards “leader -doers” no matter how miserably ill-thought that action is. As we have moved away from any thought/philosophical underpinning of society to more “pragmatic/practical” science/tech oriented one – we have pretty much shoved any questioning,cautious thinking approach under the table :). It’s all about action now – fast-moving, doing, achieving – short terms highs with no sense of long-term caution – the corporate short-term profit incentives dramatically worsening this tendency. Sad but understandable – we are but a few centuries into this new science/tech paradigm – childish actions are expected :). Though it seems only a major catastrophe will force us as a civilization to change behavior. Again basic human nature – we usually change only when forced to.

        Thanks again for your wonderful thoughts. Yes, sci-fi does tend to have a lot of it – fiction in general is a great place for a writer to provide a good commentary on reality without facing consequences as it is after all “fiction”.

        • NancyLeeWWW

          Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought of education as part of the solution to managing the vagaries of our evolved brains.

          • NancyLeeWWW

            It’d be easy to build a list of references. Without looking, I’d start with Desmond Morris and Robert Sapolsky. The filming would be the hard part. :0) Maybe find some B-roll?

      • Ryder

        “Be nice if some research went into understanding how our brain pieces work…”
        Isn’t there more work toward this than ever before in the history of… well… history? Aren’t there more psychiatrists and psychologists then ever before? Researchers? More Atheists and Agnostics than ever in the US?

        And then what kinds of trends do you see with respect to correcting human behavioral issues? Are we more noble, virtuous, community oriented than we were in the past when we were all carrying bibles around and putting men on the moon?

        Just sayin’

        • NancyLeeWWW

          Hi, Ryder – Sorry for oversimplifying. You’re correct that the human brain is more researched now than ever before. I should have said that it would be nice if the impact of our evolved brain-parts, and the interactions of those parts among themselves, ON HUMAN BEHAVIOR could be better researched. My premise in this discussion has been that the rational/rationalizing part(s) of the brain are often at war with the more primitive chunks that fight over territory and social status. Presumably, if we could adequately understand and describe the origins of our short-sighted self-interested behavior that tends to doom our planet, we could do something about managing it.

          (No offense to animals. It’s just that combining, say, relics of chimp ambitions with human engineering prowess is not a good mix.)

          I’m not getting your points about scientists, Bibles and men on the moon.

          • Ryder

            Well… you speak of abandoning creationist views as part of a means to make the best use of science and engineering… and as I point out… there are more Atheists and Agnostics than ever…

            So I have to ask… are we getting the results you advertise? Are we actually doing better with science and engineering, in a post creationist world?

            I remind you that men with slide rules (and bibles) put humans on the moon in eight years. Something we’d not be able to do today… even though there is a road map.

            They did it without one.

            I don’t see a correlation with the circumstance and result you are advertising.

            It seems we are becoming materialistic, moral relativists in this post creationist America… obsessed with sports, celebrities, and internet porn, and believing every scare story the media toss at us about our certain doom on this planet… (interesting… a replacement for the Armageddon scenario… and a “green planet”… the new garden of Eden?)… claiming all the while that this is “science”, but who can name a single climate scientist? (I can name many… but I’m apparently a freak of nature).

    • P


  • Ryder

    Now, I have to be an ass, because it’s what I do best… but now that Tim has actually sat down with, as he says someone that is ” doing more for humanity than literally anyone on the planet”…

    I have to wonder about his statement in “The Procrastination Matrix” where he, quite unbelievably places Hillary Clinton next to Steve Jobs when it comes to “enhancing our lives”:

    “For every Steve Jobs or John Lennon or Hillary Clinton or J.K. Rowling or anyone else whose talents have enhanced our lives,”

    As smart as Tim is… it still astounds me how even a smart person’s personal politics cause them to inflate the importance of that bastard class known as “politicians”.

    As Tim points out… only 4 entities have placed in space and brought them home… the US, Russia, China, and Musk… and he seems to believe, as I do, that Musk is going to get humanity to Mars… and QUITE POSSIBLY FIRST BEFORE ANYONE ELSE…

    …then serious consideration has to be given to fact that an immigrant to America, that very specifically came to America because of the “traditional” view of American exceptionalism (where because of what we believe and value, especially as codified in our birth… the best of anyone can find the most fertile ground)… and now single-handedly accomplishes what only massive state systems have done before… and threatens to best massive state efforts by reaching Mars first. A single dude. But only in America… and only armed with the belief of American exceptionalism.

    And yet Tim places a shining representative of the “blame America first” and “America is not exceptional” political class, and gargantuan statist… Hillary Clinton… as noteworthy in the category of “life enhancer?”

    Elon is the perfect example of the power of freedom, economic freedom, the power of property rights, and the sovereign individual. This combination of things is immensely potent… but isn’t it typical that Americans no longer see this nearly as well as *some* foreigners do? The see it, because they have a contrasting experience. Yet Americans are convincing themselves that capitalism is bad… that business is bad (the bigger, the badder), that traditional views of American exceptionalism is wrong-headed.

    I wonder if he is rethinking this at all.

    Everyone should be.

    • Mike Wilson

      Actually, I think you should be rethinking what you just said.

      You believe that, if only we had less goverment regulation (or simply don’t add more), it would create an environment more favorable to the creation of more Elon Musks. However, by all accounts, Elon Musk is a complete human anomaly in terms of learning ability, work ethic, motivation, idealism, leadership, etc etc etc. That was the entire gist of the article.

      You don’t design a system around an anomaly. Thats absurd.

      I think your fanatical personal politics have clouded your judgement. Case in point, you somehow managed to bring up politics while commenting on an article that had zero mentions of it.

      • Peethan

        Not to mention, his success at this point is predicated on the environment of the country, and, even more damning, the financial supplement that is being given directly to him by government (rebates to make Tesla more enticing to consumers, SpaceX contracts, etc).

        Also, if SpaceX is not literally reinventing the rocket, much of what they’re doing is now on the backs of NASA’s previous contribution when it was even more risky for private entities. In fact, Bill Nye, who is now apparently somewhat close to Musk and SpaceX, has said this of their engineers: they’re just looking at what NASA already did and then doing it better.

        • Ryder

          You are making the error of thinking that just because someone get’s “help”, that they otherwise wouldn’t make it on their own.
          When someone goes into the street to help an old woman cross the road, *it’s not evidence that she was incapable of making it on her own*, it is only evidence that the person helping, thought they should help.
          The reasoning behind Musk taking up SpaceX, is specifically because he saw so many areas of technology that had advanced radically… like the computer or cell phone for example. And yet he notice that SPACE technology had not been advancing well at all, and seemed to be lagging behind dramatically.
          (no doubt because it was in the hands of governments)
          So he *reasoned* that there was opportunity sitting right there. In other words… because government had not advanced space nearly as rapidly as the private sector advances technology, he saw an opportunity.
          If governments had been able to push space forward well… then that opportunity would not be there. It would be pointless for him to toss his hat into the ring.
          ’nuff said.

          • Blubblub123

            Dear Ryder as a German I have to disagree with your simple example about west and east German cars. Taking in account that for example Volkswagen is and always has been government and union controlled…. and also about free markets do not stand a chance if you look at very fast growing economies like China (no democracy, most big companies government controlled and owned….) or South Korea (past growth was mostly government planed….) – also in no western country markets are free when it comes to labor forces … So maybe things are more complicated than just having free markets, private property rights, and private control of means of production….

            • Ryder

              Hi Blubblub… you could disagree, but you’d be wrong.

              I said nothing about Volkswagen specifically. (I was thinking about Mercedes Benz vs the E. German Trebant truth be known.)

              But you are wrong even about Volkswagen. The Volkswagen group is a multinational company that is publicly traded.

              ~30 % is owned by Porche

              25% is owned by institutional foreign investors

              16% is owned by Qatar Holding LLC

              13% is owned by the State of Lower Saxony

              9% owned by individual private investors

              Porsche has > 50% of the voting rights, and the State of Lower Saxony (which I assume is what you meant by government controlled), is only 20%.

              But nice try.

              Re: China. I guess you need to learn about Hong Kong.

              When the communists took control of mainland China in the late 40’s, they did NOT hold Hong Kong. That was returned to British control after WWII.

              Hong Kong became a major industrial force under British control, noteworthy for it’s very high marks in economic freedom. When it returned to Chinese control in 1997, the Chinese were smart enough to leave Hong Kong to operate as the economic giant it had become (you don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg). China then expanded the Hong Kong paradigm…

              A few factoids from Wikipedia:

              It has its own currency (the Hong Kong dollar), and is the 3rd most important financial center after New York and London.

              It consistently ranks among the highest cities in the world for economic freedom.

              Free market Hong Kong is what China is emulating in order to grow… and the results have been rapid and spectacular… pulling the stagnant economy of China into the modern age.

              You would do well to read this article about HK from The Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/09/economist-explains-22

              From the article: “in several dimensions its position has actually been consolidated, not eroded, in recent years. Hong Kong has proved to be more reliable than the mainland as a source of equity financing. Since 2012, Chinese companies have raised $43 billion in initial public offerings in the Hong Kong market, versus just $25 billion on mainland exchanges, according to Dealogic. More than anywhere else in the world, Hong Kong has also provided Chinese companies with access to global capital markets for bond and loan financing. What’s more, Hong Kong is the key hub for investment in and out of China. It accounted for two-thirds of foreign direct investment into China last year, up from 30% in 2005.”

              You’ve done an excellent job of proving my point… I should thank you!

            • Blubblub123

              Ryder did you know that there was a special low in place sine the 1960 until 2009 that would grant the State of Lower Saxony a complete veto right even though it did not hold the 25% of the shares? It also allowed the government of Lower Saxony to appoint two members to Volkswagen’s board.

              Also by looking at the share distribution today is kind of pointless when talking about the past…. So saying that I am wrong about VW is a bit miss leading don’t you think?

              And you did not touch on the argument that some of the most successful economies are not at all having completely free markets, private property rights, and private control of means of production….

            • Ryder

              Well, I think that your point has merit, although I took you at face value when you said that VW *is* government controlled. It’s not.

              But beyond that, it is totally fair to say that a meaningful examination would have to be made during the time when East and West Germany were producing cars. You are exactly correct.

              But here, *you* are now guilty of not operating in the full and proper context. You are pretending that just by considering who owns a single car company, that you can paint the E. German and W. German systems of manufacture as essentially identical, such that one may not differentiate between broader social systems (namely the free market and price systems).

              In other words, your argument has to be condensed to this: “The car companies of each were substantially the same (government controlled), such that the effect of political/social structure can not account for the wild differences between the cars of each.”

              To which I say: bullshit.

              One car company, with SOME degree of government influence, does not paint an adequate representation of the situation, any more than looking at VW today represents how VW was in the past. Namely, that car companies cannot be used as a proxy for the entire stimulus for the manufacture of cars… not even close. What comes out of a car manufacturing plant is not only the result of the work done there, but the entire stream of market interactions that delivers every part and every technology that they put to use.

              I could become a “car company”, by buying tires from a tire manufacturer, leather from a leather producer, glass from a glass factory, steel from a steel mill, aluminum from a foundry, and on and on and on. Financial services, and other “service sector” products of the market count as well.

              In short: The massive web of actors, especially in a free market economy, prevent one from simply looking at the structure of car companies, let alone an individual one, in order to characterize the system under which manufacturing takes place.

            • Ryder

              “you did not touch on the argument that some of the most successful economies are not at all having completely free markets, …”

              Of course I did. China and HK were the example. In the ONE PLACE, where China drastically compromised it’s Communist core in favor of the free market, is the same place where it’s economic power has reached astounding proportions. A coincidence it is not.

              Something so powerful that causes Communists to give up communism… is worth paying attention to. That they are duplicating the successful HK experiment in Shanghai is worth paying attention to as well.

              Here is a good read from the Pew Research Center:

              “While China’s government may be officially communist, the Chinese people express widespread support for capitalism. Roughly three-quarters of the Chinese (76%) agree that most people are better off in a free market economy. And since 2002, the Chinese have consistently been one of the strongest proponents of capitalism compared with other publics around the world, even more so than Americans and Western Europeans.”


              What does it tell you, sir, when people with actual first hand experience with both statism and free markets… express overwhelming support for the latter?

              The ones that support state control, are those that have never lived under it.

        • Ryder

          Oh, and with respect to “they’re just looking at what NASA already did”…
          This is rather a load of bs.
          NASA is in the management business. The rockets that took us to space and the moon were engineered and built by companies like Boeing, Douglas, Grumman, and so many others. “What NASA did” Yeah, right. They had their role, but with very few exceptions, it wasn’t space hardware.

          And I’m rather of the opinion that Bill Nye is a bit of a door stop.

        • Ryder

          “…his success at this point is predicated on the environment of the country…”

          Think about what you are saying here… that a businessman can only be successful if the public aligns itself to the businessman’s product.

          You have it backwards… clearly.

          A successful business man SURVEYS the environment, to see what it needs, and ALIGNS HIMSELF to the environment.

          When the public is scared over nuclear war… you sell backyard bomb shelters… When they are scared about global warming, you sell electric cars and solar panels.

          His success is therefore predicated on his ability to divine the environment and offer the right product at the right time.

          It’s on him. Not the environment.

          • Big Bird (aka Peter Pan)

            For if you happen to be taking a break from Atlas Shrugged:

            The point is, Space X is significantly funded by tax dollars through NASA, and Tesla is being incentivized through gov rebates and tax deductions that can lower the cost by a significant amount. Why would this need to happen if private demand was sufficient?

            He identified some possible solutions to problems that may be good for mankind. We agree. You’re outlining why people think government regulation is good, though: because it’s possible free markets don’t always choose the thing we should value most (that said, what we should value is not a trivially question).

            Without government action, and without waiting until climate change has progressed so much that symptoms are undeniable to the public, if you invest in renewables and I invest in fossil fuels, I’ll have a greater ROI than you. This is a problem, no? Isn’t it also a problem that research for a disease even as prominent as Alzheimer’s requires significant funding through gov?

            • Ryder

              “The point is, Space X is significantly funded by tax dollars through NASA”

              Obviously false.

              First off, you are misusing the term. Funding usually refers to *internal* expenditures of cash. The government *funds* government projects.

              The term you are searching for is *financing*, which is when an external source devotes cash to someone else’s project.

              And even then… it’s STILL wrong.

              NASA is just a customer. Not a financier. It is paying for services, in contract with SpaceX. It’s trade. Not financing nor funding.

              Many entities need launch services… NASA is only one.

              Lesson concluded.

              BTW, nothing *requires* government funding. Period. Just like anything else… there will be advantages and disadvantages to any selected means of transacting trades…

              One of the very consistent problems with government expenditures is that they are rife with cronyism, and political distortion… historically very inefficient, and even counterproductive ways to do things.

              One could just as easily say “Isn’t it also a problem that funding something as important as student loans requires significant funding through government?” Sure… as long as you don’t bother noticing that it is the government loan programs that make the cost of education so insanely high… necessitating the “need” for the loans in a horrific positive feedback loop, and enslaving more Americans to high levels of debt… with educations that are of very questionable value on the whole. How many shrinks and English majors does a country need?

              By circumventing/distorting the market, the subjective (but hugely important) human valuation of services and activities is adulterated to the point of uselessness.

      • Ryder

        #1, Why are you pretending to tell me what I believe? That’s a rather perverse place to launch a rebuke. I am the only expert here on what I believe. I never mention government regulation once. You’ll have to try again. Yet another straw man.

        Is there anything you jokers can actually address without having to make stuff up?

        “fanatical personal politics”… yeah… the standard American view for 200 years… is now “fanatical”.

        Pretty lame, fellas. Maybe when you can write a cohesive argument that isn’t so “inventive”, you could let me know.

        • Mike Wilson

          My argument was not a straw man. You complain of Americans being poisoned against “capitalism” and “big business” by people like Hilary Clinton. Regulations stand in the way of the mechanisms of the free market (Capitalism). The democratic party is more open to regulating business than the Republican party as a matter of principle. Hilary Clinton is a Democrat, hence why you are complaining about her. Still not making sense to you? I’m not telling you your beliefs. You have told us them.

          There’s a reason you ignored what I said and instead resorted to an ad-hominem attack. It’s because my logic is sound. Designing a system around an anomaly (ie. Elon Musk) and expecting the system to repeat the anomaly (ie. create more Elon Musk’s) is idiotic. Unchecked Capitalism simply serves to create a society of Robber Barons and exponentially-increasing income inequality. History has proven this time and time again.

          Americans have always been fanatical. In the past when times were good it was charming and even endearing. After the recent near-collapse of the economic system at the hands of unregulated “true capitalists,” it is no longer endearing. I’m sure Elon would agree, having his companies face near-death during the credit crisis was not fun.

          • Ryder

            Mr. Mike…

            You’re making things up again… “You complain of Americans being poisoned against “capitalism” and “big business” by people like Hilary Clinton”.

            Plain silly. That appears nowhere… and you know how I know? Because you could quote it if it did. But you’re not going to do that.

            Next, who knows where you came up with free markets being designed around Elon Musk (or people like him). That’s just a special slice of insanity.

            We are talking about fertile soil. A great farmer will grow better than those around him given the same circumstance… but when that farmer has the benefit of rich soil, he’ll do that much better (and so will everyone else!).

            The most astounding growth in the world will happen where the soil is most fertile. End of story. It’s not designed around great farmers… but the great farmers show best what the soil is capable of producing.

            It’s all rather depressing that these concepts are foreign to anybody. Everyone should know this.

            Income is supposed to increase. That is how you know you are doing it right.

            It’s not hard to understand.

            When an economy sucks total rocks… then income distribution is tight… everyone has squat.

            When you start to improve, the distribution widens… from having no income… to whatever is considered rich.

            As society expands more… then the line from nothing to rich expands even more.

            You can’t MAKE people go and get an income in a free society. This is not N. Korea. Where people are free… they are free to just do nothing… and get by off of the generosity of the state or their neighbors.

            So in the end, all “income inequality” is measuring, is the fact that we’re not North Korea. Which is a good thing.

            Free markets and the price system are the best system in history to end the grinding poverty you seem to be worried about. No other system has done as well. It’s not even close.

            And you really should stop confusing cronyism with capitalism.

            The financial services sector is one of the most regulated industries in the world. In fact is may be.

            If you can think of an industry that is MORE regulated than the cronies (not capitalists) of the failed financial services sector… then please do tell us.

            How amazing is that… that you literally called the most regulated industry on the planet “unregulated”.

            Wow. That’s some serious denial you have going.

            But don’t let me interrupt your template…

    • Peter Pan

      You think Musk is so smart, yet he wouldn’t agree with you here. He would admit that his businesses aren’t good private investments — at least not initially.

      “As correct as you think you are”, “it still astounds me that people like you can be so” certain of what you believe to not even see the legitimacy of a counterargument to your idea.

      If you believe what you say, you should think that anything post PayPal that Musk has worked on should not exist, because each’s survival depends on government directly manipulating incentives in their favor. (Or as some would think, *enabling* a correction of private incentives by distributing risk among many taxpayers. The same is true of Alzheimer’s research. In your view, you’d think there would be the private incentive to stop Alzheimer’s given it’s prevalence, eh?) Musk has not been shy about the role of government in his success.

      • Ryder

        Why are you #1, pretending to tell me what Elon Musk would agree with or not… and secondly, why is the issue of “good investment” raised? I certainly never raised it. A blatant straw man. You’ll have to do a lot better than that.
        If you actually have anything that *I* actually said that you disagree with… then please proceed… but do show your work.
        You seem like a simple contrarian to me.

  • jasvisp

    Ryder, excellent points and so well written. I often wonder why so many incredibly smart people in this generation do not see the hypocrisy of the political left and how their policies undermine America. There seems to be a point at which their intellectual curiosity stops and a believe system kicks in which will not be questioned.

  • Ugo

    i’m a bit afraid to say this, but somehow i feel that discussing genetic reprogramming you missed the point…
    the problem is not to live forever, nor to reach a reasonable (?) 150 year of life expectancy…

    the problem imho, is that sooner or later (and i’m worried that it’ll be sooner than later) we’ll have to switch to to genetic reprogramming just to survive.
    all our health systems are based on antibiotics, vaccines, and antiviral drugs, but misuse, reduction of genetic pools, the growing population (which is lately thought will level around 10 billion people), promiscuity and the extension of worldwide transportation are making their job harder.
    we’re running out of ammo against once pretty simple illnesses. fast.
    i have some feeling that someday we’ll be forced to change our genetic code in the same way we did with ogm vegetables…
    doin the same on bacterial or viral dna/rna would be doable as well, but we cannot have control over their whole circle, not the same way we can manage our reproductive and mutation process.
    and this not even to mention that modifying genetic code early in a person’s life could be the only effective way to scale down cancer developing probability when older…

  • JessicaLF

    So worth the wait! Excellent read… can’t wait for the next dose!

  • marisheba

    Tim, this is amazing! This intro was already a great read, and I can’t wait for the rest! Sounds like it’ll be your best work yet, and I can’t even imagine how much fun (and also stress) you’re having with this.

    It was really cool watching the Tesla battery announcement video. Elon is so obviously different and differently driven than most of the big CEOs and tech billionaires. He seems to just be a guy – a super smart and driven guy – with a mission. I love seeing someone in that position who’s motivated by the work, by his ethics, by internal passion. It’s so refreshing. I hope he was as affable as he seems to be in your sit-down.

    One question though – it’s not clear if Elon is paying you to do this or not. I think it’s totally fine either way, if he is or if he’s not. But I think disclosure one way or the other is important to the integrity of this set of pieces. Sorry to be that person – I am truly excited about the series – but I think this issue needs pointing out.

    • Danilo Faria

      I’m sure he is getting paid. Not that this matters though, as you said.

      • Harvey11

        No– see above

    • Harvey11

      Nope, Tim is not being paid anything by Musk, Tesla or anyone else.

    • Tim Urban

      Fair question but no I’m not being paid anything, and both sides are very clear that I have full autonomy and journalistic integrity here. From my side, that’s the only thing I’d be comfortable with (if readers can’t trust WBW’s integrity, WBW dies), and on Elon’s side, he’s the last person who would want me to bend facts for his benefit anyway—he specifically said he doesn’t want me to focus on him, or even Tesla, but simply to help illuminate the objective facts about the energy, automotive, aerospace, etc. industries. One full disclosure thing is that my flights to and from California to see the factories were paid for—but that was just because it was his idea for me to come out and talk further with him, so he paid to facilitate that.

      • Leonardo Carneiro

        I imagined that this would have happened (he paid for the tickets). It’s totally normal and acceptable. I follow some independent tech blogs that are invited by big companies to show them what’s going on, and the trip is funded by the companies.

        I see how these bloggers often have a hard time to make clear that this is not a paid-post or propaganda, but just a good oportunity to show the readers what will be going on tomorrow.

        Keep going Tim!

      • marisheba

        Thanks for the clarification Tim! This seems totally consistent with the spirit in which he contacted you, so not surprising, but makes the pieces even stronger knowing this with for certain. Can’t wait for the rest of the series.

    • James

      No, I’m sorry, but you are incorrect. Watching the battery announcement video was NOT cool ;)… Hearing the crowd go apeshit after every detail made me lose a big rubbery one… This is not apple. These are serious topics.

  • Lindsey R

    I find it a bit disheartening and perplexing that someone so dedicated to sustainability and survival of the human race (Musk) is still eating meat, given that animal agriculture is incredibly environmentally destructive and totally unsustainable.

    • simplewords

      This is why we can’t have nice things. You really had to come to this article and complain that Elon Musk is not a vegetarian? How sustainable is cutting down rainforests to grow soy, corn, or whatever other vegetable? The story of the human race itself is in itself an unsustainable enterprise. The only way to ensure “sustainability” is to wipe out the human race from the earth.

      There are compromises we make to try to prolong our existence. Completely removing meat from humanity’s diet is unnecessary.

      • Lindsey R

        Well, the vast majority of rainforest destruction is due to cattle ranching and the crops being fed to the animals, so the vegetable argument is pretty moot.

        “Expansion of grazing land for livestock is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America: some 70 percent of previously forested land in the Amazon is used as pasture, and feed crops cover a large part of the reminder.”


        “Extensive cattle ranching is the number one culprit of deforestation in virtually every Amazon country, and it accounts for 80% of current deforestation (Nepstad et al. 2008).”


        A very comprehensive swath of statistics on the environmental destruction from AA in all areas:


        Just because human civilization up to this point has been unsustainable, does not mean it has to continue that way. We now have the technology to provide an incredible abundance for everyone on the planet, and many more, sustainably, if we simply choose to implement it, and think about systems in an intelligent way. It’s just a matter of incentive. Unfortunately, our current antiquated system incentivizes only profit, a fact which may well destroy us before long.


        As for your last point, I’m not sure what you’re getting at. If you’re implying that eating meat is a necessary “compromise we have to make to prolong our existence”, that is simply not the case.

        And as a final aside, for people that don’t want to give up meat, in vitro meat is in the pipeline.


        Maybe Musk wants to invest in that 😉

        • M.B.

          You must be fun at parties. 😉

          Seriously though, I do agree that humans need to invest in ways to keep us fed in a sustainable way.. and it would be great if someone like Musk leads the way – however he is already pretty preoccupied with colonizing another planet and silly stuff like that. Investing would be good though..

          Don’t blame him for eating a burger, he has more important things to worry about 😉

          • Teoh Han Hui

            Perhaps it boils down to whether he can finish the equivalent amount of plant-based products in 15 seconds. Lol…

    • some dude

      You know your solution is basically say meat is bad for environment therefore avoid it to the death. The correct respond is to offer a mean to make it good for environment, we can’t just abandon something because it is bad.

      Also I don’t think I want to live in the world where I can’t eat meat, pretty sure 80% of human think that way too.

  • Anyone who believes artificial intelligence is quickly approaching, or even succeeding, human consciousness, has severely underrated human consciousness.

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    • Robbie

      Nahh you’re completely wrong. Musk is worried about AI’s implications in 40 or so years from now, where it will easily rival — and overtake — human intelligence.

      But then again, you know better than literally the smartest person on the planet.

      • Anon

        You’re a pretty terrible person. Get off the guy’s dick. And get off the internet.

        • Reupii

          Elon’s fear about AI are shared by many, and many arguments favor them.

          Read “superintelligence” by Nick Bostrom for a detailed analysis of the risks at stake.

    • Snowskeeper

      I see this sort of post floating around a lot. You’re entitled to your opinion, but keep in mind that the human mind is basically an incredibly complex computer, in the same way that the human body is an incredibly complex machine. It’s not impossible to build a computer that’s better than another computer. It’s not even particularly difficult, once you know how. And we’re getting to the point where we know how.

      • Being a SW programmer for 20+, analyst and architect for 10+ years, I guess I have some right to ask: how much have you thought about this opinion? Or on the question: how a bucket of grey goo, those 86bn neurons come to what we call human thinking?

        I have done pretty much and I would say NO. A properly working human mind is not a complex computer by definition, by hardware, by how we use it. And about the difficulty, you’d better ask an expert, not an evangelist… If you care reading mine, you may start here:

        On the other hand, you are partly right, according to my favourite quote about this:

        I suppose one way for a machine to pass the Turing test is to wait until
        the quality of actual human conversation is so bad that a bot could be
        an improvement. This seems to be happening here.

        (Patrick Joiner on LinkedIn)

  • Pablo Wasserman

    This already was the best site, now to know Elon Musk likes it and participates in it makes it into a inter-planetary level of awesomeness


    Hey Tim, What’s it like to be the other part of a historic moment?…….. Elon, Good move! I think he knows that you think he knows what you think you want:) That’s a pretty tall order. In your terms Tim, and acknowledging your fascination with comparison data, anything you have looked at has never had this magnitude! So just to sober you up you now have 7.3 billion people sitting on your shoulders. Go for it!

  • Andy Brice

    Great article. Except when you called him a mother****er. That just comes across as inappropriate and disrespectful.

    • Hi Andy

      This is not NYT or AP. He writes as a friend would speak to you. I didn’t even think twice about it until I saw your post.

  • Gautam Kotian

    Thank you for planting that seed. I hope I will be able to buy you that drink 250 years from now.

  • Ravion

    Awesome to see someone who knows what he’s talking about with good intentions for everybody became so successful 🙂

  • Eli Peter

    As a fan of WBW and an Engineer, you totally gave me a nerdgasm with this post. This series is going to be great!

  • Rachana

    Wow, I think it’s super cool that you have the chance to do this! I’m really excited about your upcoming posts. I am especially curious as to why Elon wants the human species to continue. I mean, what is it about the human race that is so special, that pushes him to explore living in other planets? What convinces him that we won’t fuck up Mars as much as we’ve fucked up the Earth? Or if he’s assuming we will, why does he want to give us the space to do that? I guess what I’m asking is, what does he see as the inherent value of the human race? One of my favorite things about WBW is that your posts are about concepts that are not necessarily philosophical, but it’s clear that you see things through a philosophical bent of mind. I think you’d really be able to do justice to this question and his response. Thank you 🙂

    • Snowskeeper

      Okay quick thing who the fuck cares about Earth or Mars?
      They’re giant rocks with stuff on them
      This is part of what we need to get beyond. You’re not fucking up Earth or Mars, you’re fucking up your house. When your house gets too fucked up, you clean it up, or you move. When your kids get old enough, you let them move out to a new house.

      Planets are not living breathing sapient entities, and they can’t be fucked up. If every ounce of biological material on Earth were to die, tomorrow, Earth would still be Earth (as far as any concept can continue to exist once the individuals who are conceptualizing it cease to exist but whatever); we’d just all be dead. The idea that planets are somehow sacred is genuinely nauseating to me; it’s life that’s ‘sacred,’ insofar as anything can be sacred, so while, yes, it’s our responsibility (to _ourselves_, not to the planet) to clean up after ourselves, it’s not our responsibility to intentionally raise the probability of our own extinction because we made mistakes that we should have seen coming.

      • Rachana

        Good catch, I was being vague when I was referring to the fucking up of planets. I totally agree with you that at a broad level, these planets are just rocks with stuff on them. I thought it was interesting that you found in my questions, a belief that these planets are ‘living breathing sapient entities’ and therefore inherently sacred. I don’t think that at all. (It seems as though you might have had a couple of uncomfortable encounters with people who believe that every rock and tree and creature has a life, a spirit and a name. My sympathies.)

        When I said fucking up, I meant stripping off all of a planet’s resources, leaving behind a bunch of waste, and consequently making it unfit for all (not just human) life.

        I am also not sure about life being sacred. (yes I know. You’re not saying life is sacred, you’re just positing that compared to everything else, life has a higher likelihood of being sacred) But that’s actually closer to the question I was asking. Why, particularly, are human lives important?

        I’m not even sure if ‘important’ is the right word to use. When a thing is important, it seems to mean that it requires more attention *compared* to other things. So what are we comparing it to? And we seem to give things attention for a reason. What’s the reason here? What’s the larger context? And this ties to part of Tim’s elaboration on the new Dinner Table question, why is there something rather than nothing?

        So maybe I can re-frame this to, why should the human race continues to exist?

        • Rachana

          But we’ve asked and answered this question in a different post, so there’s no point in continuing this conversation here

        • Snowskeeper

          There’s no inherent reason that any particular species should continue to exist. I agree that we should be careful to keep our house clean and habitable, so that we don’t kill ourselves, but as a biological species, the most inportant thing to us is our continued existence. That’s why immortality, accompanied by the cessation of biological reproduction and the expansion of our species through controlled artificial reproduction on several planets and moons, is an ideal state for us, and one which might actually be achievable, assuming we don’t accidentally off ourselves in the next few centuries. But if it’s not, our goal should be to do what every other species is doing and worry primarily about our selves and secondarily about our house.

          (Sorry about the tone of that post. Apparently washing antidepressants down with coffee is a bad idea.)

  • M.B.

    I can’t wait for the next articles.. It’s always things I wanted to know more about, but it’s easy to get too in depth which makes it so time consuming. Thanks for doing the work for us, Tim!. 😉

  • Nate S.

    This was a fascinating article, but I would really like to see the other side of the equation. Tim seems very in support of Elon Musk, and I would like to see some research into AC Propulsions and the other companies that Tesla/SpaceX have blindsided in their race to the top. Many would say that Alan Cocconi and Wally Rippel created the car that is now the Tesla Model S.
    It would be interesting to see an article looking at all the little people that are ignored, in favor of the more charismatic Musk.
    Just my 2 cents!

    • PaulScott58

      It is my understanding that the president of AC Propulsion at the time, Tom Gage, was offered the chance to fold AC Propusion into Tesla, but turned it down for the chance to be their supplier of drive trains for the Roadster. Only the first 500 units were licensed from ACP. Telsa improved the drivetrain enough to go out on their own. Missed opportunity? Most assuredly.

      For the record, Tom is a great guy, and Wally and Alan are amazing engineers. Their role in the history of the modern electric car is very important. If they had not made the t-Zero, it’s unlikely Elon and company would have seen the way forward. But then, Elon’s pretty darn smart, so…

  • Anon

    He sounds like an extremely successful businessman. But you make him out to be a god. I normally like your posts but this was kind of nauseating.

    • James

      an extremely successful BUSINESSMAN? for god’s sake Anon, that is just downright hurtful.. you should be ashamed of yourself.

      • C’mon James

        ok… this is not “hurtful”. You’re proving Anon’s point a little. He IS much more interesting than Anon seems to think, but not literally a deity that we must shield from this sort of “hurt”. Dear lord…

    • Ryder

      Who is the most noteworthy person you got a personal call from? And how did you react?

    • some dude

      I don’t know dude, if I meet a god I definitely wont act that way. you probably need to chill

  • Cliff

    I think Musk is a fantastically smart, driven individual who doesn’t listen to the “expert” nay-sayers when he decides to do something. I respect and admire him greatly, and I’m amazed and impressed at what he has accomplished — and moreso that he has made much of the work open-source and license-free. I totally see myself buying a Tesla or Tesla-inspired car in the future, and I will not be surprised to have a couple of Powerwall units in my next home.

    That said, I hate that people put so much stock into the things Musk says won’t work. It’s the other side of the same coin. Musk is confident in his opinions and analyses, and that’s good. It makes him successful at the things he believes in. That does not, however, mean he is always right about the things he doesn’t believe in. He makes very good points about the drawbacks of hydrogen fuel cells, but I think he writes them off too quickly. Why can’t someone overcome those problems and make them a viable complementary solution to battery technology (which itself needs vast improvements)? He’s done that very thing with battery technology! His biggest criticism is that hydrogen is less efficient than batteries for energy storage, but with immense quantities of renewable energy still going untapped, why is that a problem? Moreover, we haven’t reached the theoretical limits of efficient hydrogen creation. Hydrogen fuel also has some advantages over current battery technology that might make it a better solution for some applications. Maybe Musk will be proven correct, but it’s just as likely he’ll eat his words in a few years (which I have no doubt he’ll do with grace, composure, and humor).

    Elon Musk is trying to do great things for the world, succeeding in many ways, and has his heart in the right place. But when he says something can’t or shouldn’t be done, we’d all be well-advised to do what he would do if someone else said it: assume he might be wrong.

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    • Ryder

      One of the answers to your question of hydrogen fuel cells… has to do with the direction that you are asking the question.

      In my experience, it’s not fruitful to ask: “How do I make chocolate a viable solution to global warming…” it’s a leading question. If hydrogen fuel cells are not a good idea… then they are not… (at least for the application being considered)

      In other words… don’t ask “how can I make this into something it’s not?”

      The kind of question you should probably ask is a more basic question… which relates to why you are interested in a fuel cell to begin with…. and not presuppose an answer.

      Maybe the idea is no co2 emissions… or compactness, or efficiency.

      You might ask: “How can I make cars that don’t emit CO2 at the same basic price point and performance (or better) than what we currently have…” and then see what technology floats to the top… and not try to shoe-horn in a pet technology.

      Now this is not to say it *can’t* be done… maybe you can solve global warming with chocolate… it’s just that it’s a much harder task.

      As an analogy… I’d be unwise to ask: “How can I turn my neighbor Kara into the woman of my dreams?” Instead… just cut to the chase: “Who is the woman of my dreams?”

      • Cliff

        Agreed, again 🙂

        That is, I agree with your point. Using chocolate to solve global warming is a strawman, so I won’t address it further.

        I didn’t say that we should try to shoehorn pet technology into solutions. That’s what we call Maslow’s [golden] hammer, and it’s a pitfall well-known to software developers and engineers (see also: The Simpleton [Anti-]Pattern).

        In this case, though, we’re not talking about forcing a technology into a solution. We’re talking about a technology that other really smart people already believe could be a good solution. No solution is perfect, and there are always hurdles to overcome. The same is true of batteries and solar power — are we shoehorning those into a solution just because they have problems/inefficiencies? Some might argue yes, but Musk seems to be proving them wrong. Musk didn’t give up because of the challenges, so why should everyone give up on fuel cells because there are challenges? Should we focus all effort on one technology and hope it works out? Is there a 3rd technology that’s better than fuel cells (or at least hydrogen) that we should be pursuing instead?

        Anyway, hydrogen fuel cells were just an example, because it’s one that Musk is so vocally against. The point stands for any reasonably viable technology and any reasonably eccentric billionaire/genius.

        • Ryder

          Actually, I think we are talking about forcing a technology into a solution.

          Musk objects to hydrogen fuel cells specifically in cars. Technology+application.

          I mentioned his degrees above… he also started on his PhD in energy physics, but decided he’d better become a billionaire instead. (smart move)

          His criticisms relate the application in the automobile, cost, volume, and mass.

          Now, they were used in Apollo, and we MIGHT find that he would agree to their use in that application as cost was no object, and perhaps high reliability and the fact that they produced water as well as electricity… were important enough considerations for moon missions to justify their use.

          The mass of the fuel cell was offset in Apollo because it allowed them to not have to send enough water for three men for several days.

          I’d be curious what he might say.

          For now, I can see no reason to think that his comments are not application specific.

          Musk is, indeed, against fuel cell use in cars. Of that there can be no doubt.

          The market will, in time, prove or disprove his view.

    • Ryder

      “…when he says something can’t or shouldn’t be done, we’d all be well-advised to do what he would do if someone else said it: assume he might be wrong.”

      Obviously. That is basic human interaction when someone expresses their opinion… This should go entirely without saying.

      All he is doing is stating his opinion.

      • Cliff

        Agreed, and I’m definitely not knocking Musk for giving an opinion. My problem isn’t that he has a negative opinion of these things, but that so many people say, “Well, Elon Musk says it isn’t a good idea, so it must not be.”

        Musk’s opinion is the reason he chose batteries over other options, and that has gone well so far. It will probably continue to go well, and he’ll help us make advances in battery technology. I’m very excited about that. But his opinion does not automatically invalidate fuel cells (or any other tech he views negatively). Moreover, making that decision and going into the battery business will now ensure that he maintains that opinion due to cognitive biases unless confronted with some very strong evidence.

        But again, I’m not knocking Musk for his opinions or biases. Everyone has them. We just shouldn’t assume his are always right, especially when it’s about what won’t work.

        • Ryder

          Oh, I see… so you are really directing this at “worshipers” in a sense… and that’s fair, although, as America is still a meritocracy (despite a lot of people trying to change that), he has done things that give weight to his words, and it is fair that people recognize that, and may choose to defer somewhat to his judgement.

          After all, he’s earned degrees in physics AND economics… and has never started a failed company so far as I know.

          So he’s making a judgement, and people are judging the value of his words based on what he has demonstrated. That’s sane.

          But your caution is wise.

          • Cliff

            Exactly, this is about the appeal to authority logical fallacy that so many people stumble on.

            I should probably have clarified that I’m also willing to accept that Musk might be right about hydrogen as a power storage medium, in cars if not in general. I do not, however, assume that he is right. There are some awfully smart folks working on it. Musk is now so dismissive about it, it’s hard to say if he has a complete, cogent argument against them. You can’t blame him — he’s got better things to do than debate about it. Meanwhile, the experts on the other side are probably all too busy working on the technology to piece together Musk’s argument and post a lengthy counter. They probably also don’t consider it significant, just as Musk doesn’t take much stock in his critics’ opinions.

            But again, I just focused on that one argument because it’s well-known enough to discuss. The point is not to assume Musk is always right, especially when he’s negative toward a technology he’s not interested in. If Musk came out tomorrow against wind power, because solar power is the answer, that wouldn’t be a good reason to end wind farming efforts. Musk is invested — both financially and mentally — in solar power, so he will be biased toward it. He won’t have spent the mental energy necessary to authoritatively comment against “competing” or complementary technologies. It simply wouldn’t make sense for him to spend his energy on wind power’s disadvantages. That focus and determination is what makes him so good at what he does. His opinion would be valid, but not authoritative, and certainly not fact.

        • Julian Cox

          Cliff, how do you define ‘work’ or ‘won’t work’ when it comes to Fuel Cells?

          They work to divide political opinion, they work to create anti-ev publicity, they work to divide media opinion, they work to garner ZEV credits, they work to divert environmental subsidies away from renewables.

          They might work to save Japan from having to import fossil fuels by extracting offshore methane hydrates. The hope of staving off a renewable and EV transportation system in the US would definitely work for frackers as an alternative to being driven out of business by the falling cost of EVs, battery storage and solar.

          The fact that they don’t work to reduce emissions and they can never work in a renewable setting (unnecessary conversion cost item) is besides the point to those that promote them.

    • Julian Cox

      Cliff, hydrogen is patent nonsense. You don’t need Musk to tip you off about that. It certainly does not hurt to counteract those that know it is nonsense and pedal it anyway. Hydrogen production is currently responsible for 3% of all man made global CO2 emissions to produce a mere 50 Million metric tons of the stuff. You don’t expand that to cure CO2 emissions any more than you expand smoking in efforts to cure cancer. Hydrogen is the worst CO2 per MJ fossil fuel derivative known to man – that is factual information in addition to Musk’s factual contention that you can’t possibly build a car around it to compete with a Tesla Model 3 under any circumstances regardless of the research $$ you throw at it. That is why he has given up arguing about it and simply stated that it will become obvious. It will. The End.

    • Snowskeeper

      Hydrogen fuel cells will be great for rocket tech from what I’ve read, assuming we get to that point (you need a propellant for rockets as we currently understand them), but there’s no reason to use it as an alternative to electricity for cars because, as has been said, it doesn’t solve The Problem of CO2 emissions and it’s not particularly efficient, so why pump money into researching it when there’s something better sitting right in front of our faces?

      Clarification: once we’ve got a world running on electricity, as opposed to oil, there’ll be time to look into it, but it’s stupid to pump so much money into hydrogen fuel cell research and development when the stated goal is to help deal with global warming.

  • Hokolntha Te’hana

    Thank you for this excellent article. I love your sense of humor, Tim Urban. And now that I’ve learned the Elon likes this place, I am definitely going to follow all future writings. –:)

  • Lili Geek

    Thank you for your article!! you deserve this for all you work you have done in your page. I am happy to be part of this reading your articles. I feel very happy for you 🙂

  • Datscilly

    I didn’t get your explanation of what Musk said about the Fermi Paradox.

    What I know about the Fermi Paradox comes from this write-up from Nick Bostrom: http://www.nickbostrom.com/extraterrestrial.pdf. It lies in the Great Filter camp, and says that the Great Filter may lie behind us, ahead of us, or both. Your set-up to the Musk quote talks as if the Great Filter is behind us, but his quote speaks as if the Great Filter is ahead of us.

  • Matthus Gougeus

    There is no secret sauce. Elon Musk is gifted, and like most gifted people he has two defining things : the first one is intelligence, and the second one is that the biggest problems are not too big for them to see. Normal people don’t have the perspective to be able to agree that space colonization is a top priority for mankind, but most gifted people do. He is the one gifted guy that succeeded so far with those objectives.

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    • Seth Shaffer

      You forgot the 3rd trait of truly gifted people. They seem to have an inexhaustible supply of energy and the ability to focus it on their goals and ideas.

    • Snowskeeper

      To be fair colonizing mars probably isn’t going to do much for us in the long run, as far as “backing up the drive” is concerned. Most of the things capable of killing Earth are just as capable of killing Mars, and unlike Earth, Mars doesn’t have a cushy safe atmosphere for us to hide behind. Tesla and his solar panel stuff are a lot bigger deals, as far as existential safety are concerned.

      (Although his stance on AI is confusing. Yeah we might be summoning a demon but the demon’s getting here one way or another at this point–there’s no way to stop people from building more powerful computers, and there’s no way to stop people programming on those computers once they’re here–so why say “we shouldn’t be doing this” when, in reality, our focus should be on making one /first/, with goals and restrictions that prevent it from wiping us out by accident? I may be misinterpreting his stance here but my antidepressants are backfiring and I’m also high on caffeine so it seems easier to keep writing than to stop right now.)

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  • Vysakh S

    What’s written on the rocket that Musk is riding in Tim’s drawing? I just can’t figure it out.

  • vonskippy

    Too bad you didn’t ask him why he is such a douchebag and bitched out one of his worker drones for taking time off to be with his wife while she was having their baby instead of being at douchebags beck and call.

  • Mars_Ultor

    Great article. Thanks for sharing this. Im curious about Musks religious views and what he sees the future of organized faith to be.

    • Miguel Bartelsman

      My bet is that he is either an Agnostic atheist or an Agnostic theist, intelligent people tend to fall within the two because they value the power of doubt rather than faith (whether in the form of religion or atheism)

  • istvan

    I think his smartness is mainly on the business side. Organizing things and getting stuff done. But his ideas on AI, genetics and space travel seem very cartoonish to me. He’s not an expert in these fields and basically says what any teen reading a lot of scifi and comics could say.

    He is indeed a very talented entrepreneur and businessman but I haven’t heard any truly new or enlightening thing from him that didn’t fit into the typical tropes of the naive transhumanist, you know Ray Kurzweil – Michio Kaku type of stuff.


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    • grendal

      Ideas are a dime a dozen. Anyone can come up with something new. It takes someone with the will to actually do something to be great. Elon acts on his beliefs and opinions. Most people see large problems and does absolutely nothing about them or just complains about them. Elon offers solutions and then shows and provides people the path to those solutions.
      It seems to me that you are trying to diminish what he has accomplished and are trying to downplay his goals as unimportant and naive. Why? To make yourself feel superior? To appear smarter than he is? That is really accomplishing something and moving humanity forward there, istvan. If you have something better then act on it and get it out there. Make the world a better place instead of critiquing those that do.

      • istvan

        There are two issues here. I really dislike cult-of-personality and hero worship as I don’t think the world/history is built by individual giant intellects. This is the classic medieval kind of view of humanity, the reason why the chronicles write about the great deeds of kings but not about the processes and dynamics emerging from the distributed intelligence over the whole of humanity.

        Now at the same time great intellects do give us inspiration and motivation, but let’s not go overboard. Elon Musk is a person, too not a god. You don’t have to drop your head on the floor just because he talked to you poor mortal on the phone.

        The other issue is quite independent of this. I just find him not that great of an intellectual giant. He sure is smart but there are many smart people around the world. And in fact, I haven’t heard many enlightening thoughts from him that you can’t read on any random transhumanist or rationalist or scifi fan forum.

        But I’m not a naysayer in general, for example Richard Feynman or Carl Sagan and others have said things that were really original and inspirational for me.

        • grendal

          Thank you for the response and clarifying your point.

          I too dislike cult worship and try to have a healthy skepticism of any that take a leadership position. However I do like to give credit to someone that walks the walk while talking the talk. That is quite rare in this world. Especially when large sums of money are being thrown about. In watching Elon for many years he has rarely swayed from the statements he made ten years ago. He has focused on his goals and he lets everyone know exactly what they are.

          I find his public discussions simple and to the point. I believe he intentionally makes them simple to allow your average person to understand what he is talking about. That is respectful of his audience. He isn’t trying to prove that he is smarter than anyone else or a deeper thinker. If his goal was to prove he is smart then that is a pretty childish goal. Instead he looks at the larger picture and sets lofty goals that, if achieved, would better humanity.

          As a human being he has a lot of bad qualities. He is not a good spouse or family man. He does not respond well to what he perceives as an unfair slight. He will tell the truth even to his and his companies detriment. Personally I’m not sure I would like the guy. However I really like what he is doing and I am very appreciative that he is doing it.

          I am not a big fan of intellectuals. They are often arrogant and superior. I used to be one, but happily I got better. Gathering knowledge, in my opinion, is only useful if you use it to better the world around you.

          Hopefully that clarifies my position and opinion.

          • ARTHUR FIRTH

            Well said grendal. Elon has to be celebrated. We celebrate and idolize achievement in sports; why not the intellect. Anyway, Elon does not communicate through what he says, it is through what he is achieving!

          • Anonymous

            “I tell you I am standing on the edge of a world so new, so terrible, so wonderful, that I am almost afraid to look over into it.”

            That’s how I feel. Elon Musk looks over the edge, unafraid. And devises an approach. The world needs him. We should all hope he can keep his balance.

            (this quote from the writer of ‘Call Of The Wild’, Jack London, on discovering Freud & Jung later in life)

        • Brad Larson

          I’m pretty sure the dude has a pretty good understanding of electromagnetism and magnetic fields, since he’s heavily involved in energy companies. Richard Feynman was more of a teacher, Musk is more of an entrepreneur, and it shows. So Mr. Feynman was here to teach you, Musk is here to lead you. I’m sure both of them would get along great and have lots to talk about. Anyways, thanks for sharing! + –

    • Red Sage

      People have told me I was ‘smart’ for decades. They don’t realize that from my perspective, I’m not really all that smart. I just happen to NOT be dumb.

      That is, I have the ability to understand things once someone who is smarter than I am figures it out, then takes the time to explain it to me.

      Elon Musk is the sort of individual that I present to others as an example of what I consider to be a ‘smart’ person.

  • bbroome62

    Your insistence on reprogramming DNA kind of baffles me. Mutation tends to lead toward degeneration, not improvement.

    • Tom

      considering that we are primitive bacteria + enormous number of mutations, I for one welcome this kind of degeneration 😉

    • Miguel Bartelsman

      Natural random mutations tend to lead to degeneration because the chances of them fucking bad are great (mostly in the form of cancer). But with some meddling and investigation in the subject we will be able to select mutations which are beneficial for us as a whole. (and then Monsanto will start trademarking humans)

    • qwerty

      nonono most of mutations are bad or neutral. But sometimes mutations can sliiiightly increase chance of survival. You can get interesting results after billions years of it.

    • Snowskeeper

      Yeah no that’s only true when we have no control over the mutation. If we’re talking “throw some Crazy Super Mutation Serum at a person and see what happens” mutation, then yeah, fuck that, but if we’re talking guided mutation, IE mutation controlled by intelligent human observers who know what they’re doing, the chances of it not being incredibly shitty increase significantly.

  • wow

    in polish language when we pronounce ‘Musk’ it can be recognized as ‘a Brain’

    huh 🙂

  • istvan

    Dear Tim,

    the pop-ups on this site are extremely annoying. The fact that you acknowledge this in said pop-ups doesn’t make it any better. If anything it just shows you annoy us on purpose. We use pop-up blockers for a reason. Now you’re circumventing it. It feels like you are pressing a post-it note into my eyeballs with your fingers. Don’t.

  • Red Sage

    Well! This was very nice. Thank you. I will return for more.

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  • xinxian kongqi

    I don’t get why the Fermi Paradox is so scary. I just see it as great evidence that it is unfeasible to the point of being impossible to travel at the speed of light. There are probably many civilisations throughout the universe, some less advanced than we are, others more advanced, but all destined to remain in roughly their own neighbourhood in space due to insurmountable constraints set by the laws of physics.

    • Miguel Bartelsman

      Either we are the first ones to have reached a space age or we are the only ones, because once you reach a space age it doesn’t take much to venture into other stars (we already did, voyager I and II) and after that it’s really just a matter of time before you reach another star. Given the timescale of the universe, if we aren’t the first ones then other would have reached this stage hundreds, thousands or millions of years before us, but we haven’t seen a single piece of evidence of other intelligences. And that’s talking about actual space travel, not taking into account electromagnetic comms like radio which DO travel at the speed of light.
      Now, what’s the problem of there not being anyone else in the galaxy? it’s simply an existential issue, nothing bad will happen from not meeting anyone else.

      • Snowskeeper

        The issue with there not being anyone else in the galaxy is the question of /why/ there isn’t anyone else in the galaxy. That’s sort of a big deal, because either life is significantly more rare than we thought it was for reasons we don’t have any grasp on, or there’s something (IE the filter raised in the Fermi Paradox article) that we don’t know about preventing things from reaching the space age.

        Now that might just be the sort of technological boom we’re moving towards now, since there’s a good chance we’re going to be taking on the role of Kid Running Down Staircase With A Strait Razor in Ye Olde Incredibly Graphic Safety Commercial soon, but the more alert we are, the less likely we are to accidentally get wiped out by something we didn’t see coming, yeah?

        (Also worth noting, however, that they might just be communicating in a way that we’re incapable of detecting.)

    • I would not say scary, but let me show you how I see this paradox (although I guess people who spent more than an hour with that should surely come up with more precise explanation)

      Considering the time scale, the weirdness of quantum physics, and our
      development speed in the last 100 years, we can assume that a
      civilization with a million years of advantage, “could” come up with
      solution to the distance problem. Also knowing the size of the Universe,
      it is quite likely that such civilizations “should” exist.

      From this starting point, I can only list the following explanations to the fact that we don’t see them:
      1: It may mean that the civilization development has dangers that already killed them all. Knowing our history and current state, this looks quite possible, but to be inevitable in such a great “lab”… yikes!
      2: They exist, but the galactic communication and travel problem is not solvable. Consequentially, we are doomed to survive in our close neighborhood without ever meeting with others. Knowing how much we enjoy the company of other humans (perhaps with different mindset, religion or sexual behaviors), or in a more polite way: how fragile a tiny portion of Universe like our Solar System is… this can be disappointing.
      3: They exist and know us, but don’t see any reason to help, or at least communicate with us. Knowing what we do today to our only working and comfortable spaceship (planet Earth), this is not a real surprise, but may also be frustrating.

      Like it?

      • Tony Noli

        They are here…

        • Well, I am a kind of mathematician (sw architect&programmer), so I accept your opinion, but would need an indisputable proof for accepting it as a fact. However, based on my knowledge and personal experience, my opinion is also quite close to answer (+1) or (3) above to the Fermi paradox.
          If you know some aliens, please ask them to check out my stuff if they want to contact me 😉 Unless I am an alien too, but not know about it… or they have already helped me as much as I can accept… It’s so disturbing to think! (much easier to drink) 😀

      • Snowskeeper

        Kinda like the idea raised in the AI revolution series that there’s a sort of technological singularity where a species is suddenly significantly more likely to pull a black stone out of the bag and wipe itself out. Mostly because it gives us a chance of survival, whereas, say, a giant wave of psychic radiation regularly pulsing out from the center of the universe and killing everything with a mind leaves us kind of fucked no matter what we do. The whole scientific/medical/whatever idea of “let’s assume it’s a problem we can manage because if it isn’t then what’s even the point of talking about it”.

        • No, it’s Occam’s razor. If you can see how a civilization kills itself without any magic “psychic radiation wave”, then you have a real problem to deal with, regardless of any voodoo. If you can’t – well, that’s not my problem.

          This is in progress today: the drastic decrease of human thinking level, because we are not able to process the gigantic amount of information we constantly receive.
          This is how we got from Lincoln and Gandhi to Donald Trump, Putin, or our prime minister; from Neumann to Zuckerberg (and sorry, to Elon Musk); from Einstein to the Big Bang Theory; from Asimov, Lem (and the Apollo program) to Marvel fairy tales or the Star Trek “moo-views”.
          Now we are just waiting for the next nuclear accidents, or the results of climate change, or the increasing social tensions, or an idiot who tries to solve it with a biological weapon (most likely not a muslim “terrorist”, but an idiot racist from a “developed country”), or simply a serious Sun flare, to finish the job we have done.

          And, after 10+ years of desperate fight and search for a single person whom I could call “grown up”, I am giving up. You know, it’s like having a person with internal bleeding. He feels bad, but your don’t give him a massage or measure the temperature – but get a knife, cut him up, locate and fix the bleeding, regardless of what he would prefer. But after some time, the same person is DEAD, even if he can breathe and talk, because it’s too late to cut him up and save his life. Now, give him a massage, because there is no reason to cause any more pain before he dies.

          Good luck to all of us – as chances are too close to zero.

          • Snowskeeper

            I can see how it’s possible for a civilization to kill itself. I’m pointing out that it’s important to keep looking anyway.

            For the record: there are still Asimovs today. Neal Stephenson exists, as do others. Your theory relies on an extremely cynical view of modern life, which only someone with blinders on could possibly maintain for more than a few minutes of research. The fact that Marvel is /popular/ doesn’t mean it’s the /only thing out there./ There were plenty of popular, non-scientific, non-cerebral stories in print when Asimov was at his peak.

            (And you talk as if we didn’t have issues with people behaving like morons when Einstein and Neumann and Lincoln were around. McCarthy Witch Trials? Fucking human slavery and extreme racism? I mean–really?)

            • Yup, I think you have perfectly proved that I am a retard. I have nothing to add, just put my blinders on. Have fun, take care! 😀

            • Snowskeeper

              I’m not calling you retarded. I’m just pointing out that your viewpoint is clouded. We have, proportionally speaking, as many brilliant people as have ever existed. Popular media (IE “marvel fairy tales”) doesn’t diminish the value of those people. Also worth noting that Einstein wasn’t nearly as popular as he is now when he was alive–it’s very possible that, in the future, we’ll look back on some obscure scientific figure of today in the same way we look at Einstein. That’s to say nothing of figures like Stephen Hawking, who are already famous for their brilliance. You don’t need to be mentally damaged or developmentally delayed to make a mistake.

            • Wow. You do have empathy, a rare value today, I really appreciate that!

              However, if you compare my two texts to you, the second looks too weird isn’t it? (This extremely cynical bastard suddenly calls himself retarded? I mean–really?)

              No. This is called ‘irony’. When I detected that you practically answered to your own preconceptions, I gave you a warning (“do you have any idea what I base my ‘clouded view’ upon?”): answered with a strawman on myself to your strawman on me (see https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/strawman ). You did not get that.

              So thanks for the kind words, but of course I don’t think I am mentally damaged, that was just a test. In fact I do measure what I do to my greatest idols (regardless of how popular they were then, or known above wikipedia-level they are today), but that also means I could not find anyone who would waste a day of his/her precious time to understand what I have created by wasting months of my own. I don’t have more time to repeat this mistake (I guess you know the right quote from Einstein on this).

              Maybe it’s disappointing, but basically I see we mostly agree, and I can’t blame you for entering a long conversation between this world and me just when I gave up. Again, if you care what I mean wasting months and years, you may start here: http://hajnalvilag.hu/projects/TasteOfLuck.pdf – and if you really feel patient after that, here’s a book (check the date, too): http://hajnalvilag.hu/books/MondoAurora_en.pdf

              Of course, this is not “the truth”. But something I really missed from this world, and something that nobody will find on Mars or in computers. A bit of human spirit.

  • DW

    Please tell me Elon actually used the word “Totes”.

  • AnnaQS

    Post – read. Homework – done (I’ve read all the articles and seen all the videos mentioned in this post).
    Waiting for post no 2.

  • db

    He is pretty rad. The hamburger thing was the best part. Smart people hate eating most of the time. They see it more as a chore, so they usually eat like homeless people at every meal. Surprised you haven’t run into that before.

    • mm

      that’s one of the stupidest things I have read recently 😀 Following this assumption smart people basically don’t enjoy anything in their lifes except from work/studies? food, art, sport, travelling is just wast of time? its not really how it works FYI, that’s what actually make people not-open minded

      • Ryder

        Actually, there seems to be plenty of truth to it. Einstein is famous for never learning to drive, and keeping several grey suits, all the same, so he didn’t have to decide what to wear each day. Steve Jobs took to wearing the same thing each day. Mark Zuckerberg, citing a waste of energy, does the same.

        I too have worn the same thing, every day, in almost every circumstance, for many years. When I buy clothes, it’s because the others are wearing out. When I find something I like, I buy several, exactly the same… And I’m done with clothes for the next couple of years.

        Obama is down to two suits.

        I guess he is half as intelligent as the rest of us 🙂

        • mm

          and how does it refer to my comment? 🙂 Never mentioned clothes. Also there are many of those that influenced our life and did care about appearance, I wouldn’t make a rule out of that. Also there are thousands of people that behave like that, and are far from being genius.. unrelated fact, it would be hard to prove any connection, especially being intelligent or genius, doesn’t mean you’re closed in your laboratory 24/7, many inventions and ideas come by inspiration, ex. travelling or like some Banach’s proofs while meetings in cafes or pubs.

          • Ryder

            Well… first, the world doesn’t revolve around you… and in this small corner of the galaxy, the issue is not centered on your comment, but rather what “db” was getting at. He was talking about the behavior of smart people, and in this case… brilliant/ambitious people that have as their primary capital, their minds, and time to use them.

            The point was to expand on that notion… we are talking about tossing the mundane, because other things are far more important.

            To SUPPORT that idea… we should be able to look at other mundane things besides food, and see if it holds true.

            And it does.

            Clothing is one area… and a good one, because these people, when they stand before us speaking… well, we can see their clothes, but we can’t see what they had for lunch.

            But as brilliant people look for ways to optimize their lives… they will often look to optimize their limited time. Just look at the “Soylent” kickstarter campaign… wildly successful, by a guy that wanted to not treat food as a big daily effort. He wanted to know “what does my body NEED” and “how do I get it in there with the least energy/time”. Soylent was the result.

            So when you can take the daily chores of food and dressing out of the picture every day… it can pay big, and it’s a choice that thinkers, especially, are attracted to.

  • db

    and I’m surprised you didn’t ask him what he thinks about how the entire southwestern united states is turning into a desert right before our eyes. It is happening, and it is going to be such an enormous problem. It already is One that is going to touch every single person in this country. And it doesn’t help that when they settled the land and divided up all the rivers, it was one of the wettest times in thousands of years. Shits about to get real.

    • Ryder

      Ahhh… the southwest IS a desert. It was engineered to become a bountiful land. We keep allowing people in, but then don’t do the engineering to keep up with the growth. All that’s happening is that we aren’t deciding to either stop the influx, or engineer a properly sized system.

      It’s a failure to make choices.

  • Pete W

    Came to waitbutwhy for the first time and I must say this Tim Urban guy is an awesome motherfucking writer

  • Teic

    Hell yeah, perfect topic to write about! And even Musk reads your posts, that’s gotta mean something 🙂

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  • fleinkantarell

    “He refuses to advertise for Tesla, —because he sees advertising as manipulative and dishonest.”
    This one left me speachless…..

  • RJ John

    This is a quick summary of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future curated by Kurt Braget. Amazon description: Veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance provides the first inside look into the extraordinary life and times of Silicon Valley’s most audacious entrepreneur. Written with exclusive access to Musk, his family and friends, the book traces the entrepreneur’s journey from a rough upbringing in South Africa to the pinnacle of the global business world. Vance spent over 40 hours in conversation with Musk and interviewed close to 300 people to tell the tumultuous stories of Musk’s world-changing companies: PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, and to characterize a man who has renewed American industry and sparked new levels of innovation while making plenty of enemies along the way.

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  • Mehmet

    I was so dissappointed in you Tim when you left for a month…
    Now I see it was worth the wait.

    I do wonder though, did Elon Musk ever comment on any of your articles? Who else is here reading Tim and checking the comments? Mr. Obama, you there?

    • Yes.

      • Mike

        I disagree with that policy that you did

  • Rodolink

    Fuck Im afraid of that man D:

  • Yiorko Chaz

    Human nature is fond of discovering heroes and villains everywhere but in my opinion reality is almost never so poralized. I personaly admire Elon Musk for his achievment and clarity of vision but I believe you portray him in a biased way. I mean man, even the opening image has a phallic reference!!! But then it might just be the cynic in me talking…:)

    • Snowskeeper

      Normally I’d agree with you, but there /are/ moments in time when heroes and villains emerge. Hitler, for example–*Dodges Godwin’s hammer of truth and justice*–was definitely a villain; he did some good things for the German people, but most of those things were built on the back of social segregation, pseudoscience and other forms of Negative Things. Elon Musk is pretty much the polar opposite of that. Like. Here, read this.


      Elon Musk: *Designs a potentially revolutionary new mode of transportation which, given time, he could market for enough money to keep his descendants rolling in cash for centuries*
      Elon Musk: *Makes it open source and allows anyone who wants to to use it*

      Okay maybe there’s something wrong with his brain which makes it so that every time he does a Good Thing he gets enough of a chemical rush to make sex and cocaine look like party favours, but frankly I have a hard time seeing him as anything less than a hero right now.

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  • Tony Noli

    Thanks Tim for a great interview with our biggest philanthropist today, Elon Musk. 🙂

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    Great article, Thanks! Also thank you for the foot notes and references on Musk. I’m also curious about the sources you read prior to your visit.

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  • Marthinus Bosman

    Wow! Just wow. You know I came across this site looking up A.I. I don’t really have words for how amazing all this is. Tim, I need you to do in depth articles on every single topic that you have with Elon.

    • I agree, Tim and Elon both do great job and it is very inspiring to know about it, I can hardly wait Monday. However, neither of them actually work on AI or seem to know what it is… my 2 cents.

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  • mm

    I read the article with pleasure, topic is indeed interesting, but honestly, at one point a reader gets tired with your amazement about Elon’s personality, please let it go a bit and focus on the facts. I guess Musk would appreciate it… using the mentioned metric, the download speed of the article is horribly slow 😛 waiting for more though, cheers

  • Oil4AsphaltOnly

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned this, but SpaceX is actually the 6th entity to send a rocket into space. Europe/France’s Ariane is #4, and Japan’s H2 #5, both came before China’s Long March. But SpaceX is indeed the only private corporation to do so.

    • Aram McLean

      “…and back to earth again.”

      • Oil4AsphaltOnly

        The H2 test flight payload did come back to earth: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H-II

        And only the payload ever comes back, so the Arianespace rocket would’ve qualified if it simply launched something that was planned to return. Not entirely their fault.

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  • itsgettinghot

    I think Stephen Hawking said that civilizations that reach a stage of advanced technology, like our own, extinguish themselves. That is why we have not found intelligent life in our universe. Makes sense. Afterall, we continue to spew huge amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere which threaten our own species as well as all others on our planet.

    • Snowskeeper

      That’s not really a danger, here. Not saying that Global Warming isn’t real or that we’re not causing it, because I’m not an idiot, but there are a thousand bad things on the horizon, and Global Warming is one of the only ones we’re actually dealing with right now. Not to mention the fact that, as catastrophic as it’s going to be, Global Warming probably isn’t going to destroy civilization or destroy our species. Billions of people will die, but it’s not like our species hasn’t lost huge chunks of its population in the past.

      EDIT: Thinking about it, the AI article uses the term “existential threat” to differentiate between massive threats to human life and massive threats to the continued existence of a species. That might be a good thing to use, here.

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  • Brian Fischman

    Elon Musk’s true goal is to have sex in space. What else could it be. As evidence, he originally tried to make the three Tesla models “S,” “E,” and “X,” and listen to what you get when you try to say “Spacex” several times fast. I’m with him. Let’s all party in space.

    • impfireball

      Sounds awesome.

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  • Asogan Moodaly

    Please ask him why Mars and not Venus. Venus seems to have more chemical feedstocks to work with, more accessible energy and gravity closer to Earth’s. Gravity is nice.

    • sowhat

      Venus is much more harsh when compared to Mars.

      • Asogan Moodaly

        Hi, sorry please see my reply above.

    • RyAgijon

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  • impfireball

    AI could be the extinguisher of civilization. Overpopulation could be what prevents them from achieving a high point, knocked into civil war and major die off periods when their infrastructure fails to sustain them.

    Also, it’s possible thousands of other civilizations exist in this galaxy alone, but none of them are spacefaring, and why are they going to run signal integrity on random signals that get sent searching for them from thousands of light years away at some vague corner of the galaxy?

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  • Thank you Elon Musk for putting humanity among all others! Salute! 🙂

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    While I am a full fledged fan of Elon Musk, you missed the part about the founding of tesla. Elon didn’t start tesla, Martin Eberhart with Tappering did. Of course Elon played a major role from the start, but it doesn’t do justice to the facts that he alone founded tesla.

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  • Jake

    You’ve been engaging in the biggest, longest, slowest corporate fellatio and celebration of the privatization of space exploration I’ve ever seen. I hope whatever you got paid was worth losing all your credibility. 🙁

    • Frank

      Privatization… why you care so much about “who” is exploring space??… States may have political agendas in this, is this that good?, private entrepeneurs may accomplish things outside State’s agendas, is this that bad?

    • guilherme

      this is probably the dumbest comment made here…

    • I’m not a fan of capitalism, but privatisation seems to be a better option than a nuclear themed willy measuring contest

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  • barisan

    Elon Reeve Musk (/ˈiːlɒn ˈmʌsk/; born June 28, 1971) is a South African-born, Canadian-American business magnate,[7][8] engineer,[9] inventor[10] and investor.نمای ساختمان

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  • Claudia M

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  • Ezo

    ” It came with five kilobytes of memory and a “how to program” guide that was intended to take the user six months to complete. Nine-year-old Elon finished it in three days.”

    BASIC? Must’ve been very shitty guide :S

  • Ezo

    Was it that guide: http://www.1000bit.it/support/manuali/commodore/vic20/A_Beginners_Guide_to_Real_Programming_Discover_your_VIC-20.pdf


    Tim, if you could, please ask Musk about it 😀

    Also, is he still programming, or otherwise working with the code?

  • Dump Hole

    This is a great writeup, but no! Genetics reprogramming is unethical! It’s not the reprogramming our DNA is unethical, it’s the process to get there that is unethical! Engineering requires a lot of tests and trial and error. How many mice, rabbits, monkeys, animals, and human beings do you think have to die to test this?

    Yes, Elon Musk is correct. Hitler did try to do this, and so was the Japanese. Guess what happened to them. Idiotic seed you have planted into Elon Musk, or I hope he just thinks you are a crazy psychotic bastard.

    • Snowskeeper

      Catch 22, mate.

      By not testing this, you’re potentially damning billions of people to die by cancer, genetic illness, and old age. By your logic, that makes you a genocidal maniac.

      There’s also the fact that we’re finally moving down the road towards being able to create false biological life, which can then be used to test genetic manipulation.

      Aaaand last but not least: Hitler wasn’t really involved in genetic manipulation as a science. He was chasing a fairy tale about a group of people who probably didn’t exist who were supposedly descended from the survivors of Atlantis. There was no science behind what he was doing. I don’t know what you’re referring to re: the Japanese; could you clarify that?

  • Federico Muffatto

    Hi Tim, great article. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to read something really motivating.
    Plus I’ve discovered through your descriptions the incredible figure behind Elon Musk the icon.
    He’s following Hari Seldon steps so far and that’s truly amazing.

    I hope you’ll read this and, maybe, write something more “deep” about genetic programming.
    It’s easy to start talking about such topic in relation to human beings. Of course, tons of very rich people want to become immortal and live forever.

    Yet this isn’t the target. Because as you mention “reprogamming” life well, there’s much better targets on the short term we could aim to. Like some bacteria that produces cool stuff.
    Regarding this I’d love to drop few names. Amyris Inc, Gingko Bioworks and Transcriptic.

    Apparently there’s a humongous bias related to genetic engineering. When you talk about agriculture is intrisically bad, meanwhile when it’s about humans it’s always good (unless you talk about the ubermensch, but hitler got it wrong back then as inbreeding actually makes humans weaker).
    I love what Musk is doing. He’s raising many questions that will lead brillian minds, in a next future, to look for answers.

    If today we have other challenges other than going to Mars well that’s the chance of truly understand how life works and, by doing so, understanding how to manipulate and control it.
    Everything around us, from cows to flowers, is human-made. We selected for it and, although we made a pretty pretty good work, there’s much room for improvement.

    The improvement is turning biology into a technology and using it as such.
    There’s plenty of examples in literature where brilliant minds investigated the possibility of harnessing the power of biology and I totally believe this could make up a great new series of articles.

    Plus today’s capitalistic culture is touching such moral and ethical sphere in many ways, but sometimes this isn’t that easy to spot.

    Anyhow great article, I would have been curious to know more about Musk’s perspective of biology as technology but, as a true ironman, I see how he’s more focused on hardware.

    Oh, besides reprogramming of mammals there’s much done on yeast, bacteria and plants. That stuff is really useful. Like rocketfuel using genetically engineered yeast.


  • Cloud Starchaser

    OK the thing is this: this guy Elon Musk may be the real Tony Stark but I think he’s behind a conspiracy to suppress the truth that I’m Jesus Christ and the real Superman. That is being an enemy of science since the fact I’m Jesus Christ is an Astrophysical Scientific Truth since you can prove who Jesus Christ is using Astrophysics since The Chosen One is prophesied and then created by The Sun so to suppress the truth is to oppose solar science. Now if Elon Musk is an enemy of science who is suppressing the truth about Jesus Christ than The Sun will destroy SpaceX and cause all his rocket trips to Mars to blow up for his opposition to Astrophysics so it will be Elon’s own fault when all his SpaceX rockets keep blowing up with people inside them if he’s been opposing The Sun by suppressing the truth about how Justin Massler is Jesus Christ which can be prove scientifically by real astrophysicists.

    • Snowskeeper

      Pretty sure we can solve that problem by nuking the sun from orbit.

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  • Ya Qi Zhang

    I enjoyed reading this article. It is meaningful and interesting.I am surprising about how Elon Must smart he is. He can do programming and create a game since 12. That shows the important of book and knowledge. I would like to learn more about Elon’s opinion of the human beings’ future life.

  • Ok I seriously need to do something with my life

  • machosalad

    What is part 4 going to be about?

  • #truth

    I’m a huge fan of Elon Musk who I think is a real inspiration, but these hyper-inflated stories really do need to come back to earth.

    First, he didn’t invent PayPal as the author states, in fact he wasn’t even part of the founding team. That’s not to say he didn’t play a vital role in it’s success, he did.

    Second, Tesla has built an incredible car but it’s yet to be seen as to whether they’ve built a very good company. They’ve adopted the popular internet model of gaining users before worrying about revenue, however cars are not apps and Tesla is not Tinder. When you build a company with enormous manufacturing and Capex expenses, you cannot afford to sell your product at a loss. In Tesla’s case about $6k per car. That said, I am strongly rooting for Tesla’s success and would not bet against Musk. But turning this company into a financial success that isn’t merely surviving off an inflated stock price that’s being propped up by adoring journalists who, like a deer in the headlights, are caught in the Elon hyperloop high-beams, well…that is a real challenge.

    And #three, SpaceX. Take everything I just wrote about Tesla and quintuple it.

    Again, I am not a Musk hater, in fact I am a VERY big fan. I’m just a bigger fan of truth in journalism, even if it is a blog.

    • Snowskeeper

      Tim didn’t say he founded PayPal, to be fair. And this article isn’t really meant to go in-depth on Tesla or SpaceX; those two topics are covered elsewhere (although at this point SpaceX is pretty much officially a success, as far as rocket launches go–still shaky, but not anywhere near as shaky as Tesla, especially considering the history of the industry).

  • João Cavaleiro

    Excellent reading. Thanks a lot for this!

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