17 things Elon Musk believes
Elon Musk is a fascinating individual who attracts almost fanatical devotion, due to his genuinely groundbreaking work in electric cars and space travel. The founder of SpaceX, and co-founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors is blessed with both an entrepreneurial spirit and the urge to change the world, but what drives his ideology? Here are 16 things that the enigmatic Elon Musk believes.
1. Making money is no longer his primary goal. Forbes says he’s worth $12.1bn, but his interests lie in transformative business and fundamentally changing humanity’s future. “Going from PayPal, I thought: ‘Well, what are some of the other problems that are likely to most affect the future of humanity?’ Not from the perspective, ‘what’s the best way to make money?’”
But he’s extremely aware that failure is a serious possibility. 2. “If something’s important enough, you should try. Even if the probable outcome is failure,” is one of his most enduring quotations. To that end, he even sees failure as inevitable: “If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
3. Musk believes that hard work is essential to combat the high chance of failure. On several occasions, he’s claimed to have worked a 80 to 100-hour weeks. “If other people are putting in 40-hour work weeks, and you’re putting in 100-hour work weeks, even if you’re doing the same thing… you’ll achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve,” he explains in the video below.
(Scientifically, that’s a little dubious, but hey, he’s made a lot more money than me.)
4. Musk puts down much of his ambition to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Speaking to Businessweek, he explained the novel’s famous “ultimate question” confusion: “It taught me that the tough thing is figuring out what questions to ask, but that once you do that, the rest is really easy.”
“I came to the conclusion that we should aspire to increase the scope and scale of human consciousness in order to better understand what questions to ask. Really, the only thing that makes sense is to strive for greater collective enlightenment.”
5. Musk isn’t religious, and doesn’t believe there’s much place for spirituality in science. Asked by Rainn Wilson (yes, Dwight from the US version of The Office) whether the two can co-exist, he answered “probably not.” (6:19 in the video below).
“I didn’t even pray when I almost died of malaria,” he added.
6. Musk’s views on patents have changed over the years. In June 2014, Tesla Motors gave up all its patents. Explaining this on the Tesla blog, Musk wrote: “When I started out with my first company, zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.”
“Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”
7. Elon Musk backs the scientific consensus on climate change, but even if he didn’t buy it, he’d still be in favour of moving away from fossil fuels. “Given that we will run out of oil anyway, it doesn’t make sense to put trillions of tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere and see what happens, which could be catastrophic, when we have to find a non hydrocarbon way of generating and consuming energy anyway. It’s just a dumb experiment,” he explained.
8. Despite this, he sees the dangers of AI as a more pressing threat. “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out,” he said.
9. He thinks that automation could well lead to universal basic income. As a big believer in the power of AI, it’s no surprise that Musk believes robots will take more and more of our jobs. As such, he’s become a proponent of universal basic income – the idea that money will be distrubuted to all, without employment. Musk said, “There’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation. I’m not sure what else one would do. That’s what I think would happen.“
10. He believes that colonisation of other planets could be essential for the survival of humanity. “I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary,” he told Aeon. “In order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen, in which case being poor or having a disease would be irrelevant, because humanity would be extinct. It would be like, ‘good news, the problems of poverty and disease have been solved, but the bad news is there aren’t any humans left.’”
11. He believes that the Earth wouldn’t be better off without humans, despite our faults. “Not everyone loves humanity. Either explicitly or implicitly, some people seem to think that humans are a blight on the Earth’s surface. They say things like, ‘nature is so wonderful; things are always better in the countryside where there are no people around.’ They imply that humanity and civilisation are less good than their absence. But I’m not in that school. I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness, to make sure it continues into the future.”
12. To this end, he believes nuking Mars might be a quick way of making it habitable.
13. He’s open-minded to intelligent life on other planets. “It’s probably more likely than not, but that’s a complete guess,” he finally answers when pressed in the video below (skip to 22:10 for the relevant question.)
14. But he thinks there could be a sinister answer to the Fermi Paradox. “The absence of any noticeable life may be an argument in favour of us being in a simulation. Like when you’re playing an adventure game, and you can see the stars in the background, but you can’t ever get there. If it’s not a simulation, then maybe we’re in a lab and there’s some advanced alien civilisation that’s just watching how we develop, out of curiosity, like mould in a Petri dish.”
15. He’s aware that his space ambitions will likely not be achieved in his lifetime. “I’ve thought about that quite a lot,” he told Aeon. “I’m trying to construct a world that maximises the probability that SpaceX continues its mission without me.”
“I just don’t want it to be controlled by some private equity firm that would milk it for near-term revenue. That would be terrible.”
16. But if they are, he’d like to end his life on the red planet. “I would like to die on Mars,” he said. “Just not on impact.”
17. And (for now at least) he doesn’t see much scope in extending human lifespans, including his own. With a little prodding from Wait But Why, Musk explained why he thinks humans have “expiration dates”. “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 reprogramme the genetics or replace every cell in the body.”
On the other hand, he doesn’t really fancy Apple’s chances of transforming the car.