Elon Musk recently accepted a podcast interview with the New York Times columnist Kara Swisher. As one of the richest people in the world, Musk, who owns four companies, also has a way to try to prove his vision. In a conversation with Kara Swisher, Musk revealed his views on the future.
The following is the content of Musk’s interview:
Kara Swisher: Elon Musk is complicated. But among all the people I interviewed, no one is as ecstatic as he is obsessed with weird ideas, and at the same time has the chilling tremendous motivation to actually realize these ideas. It may be possible to do this, that is, only Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. However, Musk is the only one of the three who has a company with such a wide range of fields. When I first met him, he was also an entrepreneur in an internet company trying to disrupt banks. It was in 1999, and his company was called x.com, which was later acquired by PayPal and then by eBay. But soon, he returned to his childhood loves-energy, cars and spacecraft.
Since then, he has been exploring these areas. First SpaceX, then Tesla, then Solar City and so on. For example, Boring Company, which digs tunnels to solve traffic congestion, and Neuralink, a neural engineering company. Basically, now Musk is already planning to put a chip in your head.
Media coverage of Battery Day is sad
Swisher:Like many other charismatic people, Musk seems to have his own aura. From time to time, he would show everyone what the never-ending arrogance of Silicon Valley is, thinking that he never made mistakes. Sometimes, he also laughed and scolded on Twitter. There is no doubt about his power. The topics he discussed reached the sky. From the way you drive to the air you breathe, to the planet you live on. Last week was Tesla Battery Day. In fact, it is Musk’s Day, a day to reveal his ambitious plan-to use battery technology innovation to completely change the energy equation. This is okay, it’s just that storing renewable energy is a long-term research issue for him and many others. Musk said that this job is not easy. Therefore, he felt very angry when the media and investors asked him why he did not show the real battery on the event day. He said that he is already testing battery prototypes, but critics have no idea what Tesla and others have already achieved, nor do they know that we have more things to do to realize the future.
Elon Musk:Ordinary people really don’t know this. But no one else knows. Smart guys on Wall Street don’t even understand manufacturing and its difficulties. They think that after you have a prototype, all that is left is to copy. Yes, the prototype is indeed the most difficult part, but that is only 1% of the problem. Large-scale manufacturing, especially the large-scale manufacturing of new technologies, is 1,000 times and 10,000 times more difficult than prototype design. Therefore, the media coverage of Battery Day is really sad.
Musk:Most media reports simply reflect their shallowness.
Swisher: Then explain to them—
Musk:I will try to explain. But I will not try to persuade others. The result will tell everything. We have produced a lot of batteries we discussed. Since May, some of our cars have used these batteries. My premise is, never try to convince people why they should invest in Tesla. Sell Tesla stock, you are free, I don’t care. But what are we doing now? What is the meaning of this podcast?
Swisher: I want to know, what is your goal? Over the years, you have made many achievements in different fields. Of course, batteries have always been a topic of discussion between you and me.
Musk:The world is transitioning to sustainable development. The question is how long will it take to transition to sustainable development? You know, there are indeed two limitations here: affordability and output. There are about 2 billion cars and trucks in the world, and there are a large number of power plants. Basically, the two largest industries in the world are energy and transportation. Therefore, in order to disrupt the energy and transportation industries, you must manufacture a large number of batteries. This is a limiting factor. The longer it takes us to transition to sustainable energy, the greater the risk we take.
Therefore, we should use “how many years in advance we can make sustainable energy available” to measure Tesla. This will happen with or without Tesla. But the fundamental advantage is that we can let this happen many years in advance. In order to speed up, we must reduce the cost of batteries so that more people can afford them. As I said, then we must make an unimaginable number of batteries. Because sustainable energy is mainly solar and wind energy. The wind does not always blow, and the sun does not always shine in the sky. Therefore, we need to store energy in the battery.
Electric cars are the future without a doubt
Swisher: So where are we now? You are an ordinary person, but you want to make the transition from a gasoline car to an electric car. However, for most, this is a difficult decision.
Musk:To be honest, I think this is not a real consumer demand issue. Although, from a personal investment perspective, I don’t think now is a good time to invest in gasoline vehicles. Therefore, buying a brand new gasoline car may not be a wise financial decision in the long run. There is no doubt that electric vehicles are the future.
Swisher: Do you think you have accelerated the popularization of this idea? You often mention existential crises. The last time we communicated, you were going through a very difficult period when you worked hard. Then you said, this is an existential crisis, and I have to work hard.
Musk:I think that Tesla is not in a fatal crisis as it was three years ago. Tesla was faltering for a while. But not now.
Musk:The goal Tesla can achieve is to achieve mass production and have a sustainable positive free cash flow. From the perspective of the car company, this is Tesla’s true achievement. Over the past few years, hundreds of automotive startups have been established. However, only Ford and Tesla did not go bankrupt. Even General Motors and Chrysler went bankrupt in 2009. For an automobile company, it is difficult in itself to achieve mass production and survive. And the only way for a new car company to break through is to create an eye-catching car that will make people willing to pay extra for the car.
Swisher: I know you don’t like to watch the stock market. Investors are discussing Tesla, and the future. What do you think of it?
Musk:I believe that certain critical points in the market have been concluded: Tesla will have the last laugh. I admit that Tesla’s stock price is a bit high. But if you ask me, will Tesla be more valuable in five years than it is now? I think the answer is yes.
Swisher: Because you are already ahead. How do you evaluate the efforts of other car companies? All these companies have recently announced that they will move in this direction.
Musk:This is also part of the goal we want to achieve. Let other automobile companies move towards sustainable transportation as soon as possible. Of course, I am also very happy to see that they are moving in this direction.
Swisher: Do you think you inspired them to move in this direction?
Musk:Tesla is definitely the company that pushes them to work in this direction. They admit it themselves. This is not my judgment. But they revealed it directly.
Swisher: It seems that you feel good, because you haven’t seen the automotive industry much before. I think your focus should now be on the oil and gas industry. You have been talking about this for a while. Recently, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California may ban the sale of new gasoline vehicles. Can you tell me your opinion? California is also the first major state in the United States to make such a decision.
Musk:I think all this shows that fossil fuel vehicles are nearing completion. So, I think this is an optimistic sign. I believe that as long as we continue to have worries and strive for sustainable development, we can achieve sustainable development. As long as we are not arrogant, everything will be fine.
Swisher: How worried are you now? California’s wildfires are raging, and your company is there.
Musk:Of course I am very worried.
Swisher: Specifically, how worried?
Musk:I see these things as probabilities and I am also paying close attention to the Keeling curve. This curve shows the percentage of carbon per million, and the number is increasing every year. You can see how high the carbon content is now compared to the past hundreds of thousands of years. As you can see, the growth of carbon per million is like a wall. But what I want to say is that I don’t think this is the end of the world. It’s just that things have indeed become more and more dangerous.
Swisher: You said this is not the end of the world. what is that?
Musk: The future is not necessarily good or bad. Things are not like this. It’s not black and white. The sooner we transition to a sustainable energy future, of course, the better for the world. I think no reasonable person will oppose this view.
Swisher:Many people still oppose it.
Musk:Those should be people in the oil and gas industry or people who benefit from this industry. I mean, outside of this industry, few people would oppose this view. But to be honest, I feel that being hostile to the oil and gas industry is a bit unkind. These people are just working hard to promote our economic development. But somehow, they became bad guys in everyone’s eyes.
Swisher: You speak for the oil and gas industry, which surprised me too much. Because you have always had strong opinions on people who deny climate change and so on.
Musk:First of all, I want to say that it was not environmental factors that initially aroused my interest in electric vehicles. But later, I was very fascinated by physics, and then I thought, if oil is our only survival dependency, then when the oil runs out, won’t our civilization collapse? Don’t we have to go back to the era of horseback riding? How should our modern civilization be maintained? There may be a famine, and civilization will collapse with it. Therefore, we must have electric cars. Then I have been thinking about electric vehicles, how to solve the energy density problem and so on. When I was at Stanford University, I would continue to study this field in depth, but the Internet attracted me even more. But then I returned to the field of electric vehicles. But you know, what really drives me crazy is that, no matter what, in the long run, we must all transition to sustainable transportation. Because we will run out of oil eventually.
Swisher: Will you change these? You talked to President Trump, and you talked to others. You have tried many things. What do you think?
Musk:Actually I don’t know, and I don’t have an answer. Because I have talked to the president many times about sustainable energy. Sometimes he is quite supportive. But in the end, the oil and gas industry finally convinced him, because the electric vehicle industry is far smaller than the oil and gas industry. Fortunately, the automotive industry is now transitioning to electric vehicles. You know, our opponents were not only oil and gas, but also traditional large automobile companies.
SpaceX needs competitors and Bezos to disagree
Swisher: Let’s talk about SpaceX again. You have achieved a lot of success. By the way, the spacesuit design is also very good.
Musk:We did put a lot of thought into the spacesuit. We have to stimulate the interest of the children. It’s like a child saying after seeing the spacesuit, wow! I want to wear that dress in the future. I want to study hard, study engineering and explore space. This sort of thing.
Swisher: In addition to the spacesuit, you also won the contract with the Ministry of Defense. What do you think will be the impact?
Musk:I think we can reduce the cost of exploring space. Of course, we can save taxpayers a lot of money. We also promote the development of launch technology through reusable rockets. Reusability is too important to improve space exploration. The one-time use rocket is incredible. You think, you made an exquisite machine at high cost, then launched it, and finally fell into the sea with a bang, leaving debris on the seabed. This is simply unreasonable.
Swisher: So, let’s talk about the development direction of rocket technology? I remember you said that similarly, if there are only two or three companies controlled, it means there is no innovation.
Musk:It is better to have two competitors than none, right? Duopoly is better than monopoly, and multi-oligopoly is better than duopoly. But in the end, you still want multiple companies or multiple companies to provide better goods or services. You also hope that multiple companies will compete together to promote the development of the future aerospace industry, so that we can eventually become a transplanetary species in space civilization. I believe that this is really important to ensure the long-term survival of life. I’m not here to preach doomsday destruction, but the fossil record clearly tells us that many species have become extinct in the past millennium. Meteor impacts, super volcanic eruptions, natural climate changes, etc. are all causes. Although things have become serious, we did not realize it. And, eventually, the sun will expand and become bigger, engulfing our earth…
Swisher: Are you sure you are not preaching doomsday destruction? Will the sun explode? So we are going to Mars…
Musk:To be precise, the sun will expand and burn the earth. This is something that is bound to happen, but it is still very, very, very far away.
Swisher: Okay, so we need competitors. Bezos founded Blue Origin. He didn’t get the contract. This time, you beat him. how are you feeling?
Musk:I had a few dinners with Bezos a few years ago. A private dinner, everyone talked about space and other things. He also really pays attention to space and has similar views. He feels that we need to develop space civilization and become a transplanetary species. However, I have some small differences with him. I don’t think we want to live in a space station, I hope we can live on a planet. However, if you have an advanced rocket, you can decide for yourself whether to live on the space station or Mars. So, now, we still have a lot of work to do. Because we can’t go back to the moon now. This is really disappointing. We went to the moon decades ago, but we can’t go back decades later. So you see, we absolutely hope that human civilization can continue to advance over time. However, it is worth mentioning that the development of civilization is like a curve, not always moving in a straight line. For example, ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Babylonians, ancient Greece, etc., they are all curvilinear civilizations. Once had the leading technology, then lost it. Every time I look at the city skyline, there is no change in the skyline, which is not a good sign.
Swisher: Then what should it become?
Musk:I mean, where is our civilization now? To be honest, I am still a little worried that our progress is slowing down. We are getting old and change is slowing down. This is what I worry about.
It’s cool to send Tom Cruise into space
Swisher: Let’s change the topic. What do you think is the most exciting thing about being an astronaut? To become an astronaut, what do you think is the most indispensable technology?
Musk:The most fundamental breakthrough must be a rocket that can be quickly reused. For example, you have to buy a new car every place you go, and you have to drag a car behind your back to facilitate the return journey in the future. In this way, the cost of travel must be much higher. Therefore, rockets that can be quickly reused are really important. But we are achieving this goal. The same goes for the starship we developed.
Swisher: Do you believe we can succeed? Do you think you can embark on the journey you have been dreaming of in your lifetime?
Musk:We may put the starship into orbit next year or sometime.
Swisher: Will there be anyone on the starship?
Musk:No one’s automatic mode. Because if the manned test is conducted for the first time, the risk is too great. But I believe that manned trials can be carried out in two years.
Swisher: Did you play in person?
Musk:Maybe. I haven’t seriously considered this. But I believe that after two or three years, it will be very safe, and people will not go up.
Swisher: Speaking of sending humans into space, I know that Tom Cruise and Doug Lehman have booked two seats for SpaceX space travel. Why do you want to travel in space? Also, it is rumored that you plan to shoot in space. What’s going on?
Musk:In fact, I don’t know. They asked us if this is possible. Then we said, yes. Then we discussed some casts and so on. But I don’t know what will actually happen.
Swisher: What do you think of sending Tom Cruise into space?
Swisher: Will it bring him back to Earth?
Musk:We have brought the astronauts back to Earth.
Artificial intelligence does not necessarily want to destroy humanity
Swisher: Let’s talk about your Neuralink again. Can you explain Neuralink in the simplest and most straightforward terms? After all, this is a chip stuffed into the brain.
Musk:Yes. Just imagine it is a FitBit implanted in your skull. Or an Apple Watch implanted in your skull. To put it simply, we take a small piece from your skull and replace it with a chip, an induction charger, a Bluetooth antenna, and a micro-wire to connect to the brain.
Swisher: Do you think people would be willing to let you put a chip in their brains?
Musk:I think, first of all, we have to try many times. Then, start with the worst-case patients, such as patients with quadriplegia or severe epilepsy. Because, especially at the beginning, it is risky, so we hope that the return will be higher and it is worth taking this risk. The next more important thing is that we also spent a lot of effort to remove the chip. You can remove the chip, implant the chip, upgrade the chip, and put a new chip in. When doing these things, there will be no damage or obvious damage. Because I believe that chip upgrades are very important. You think, if a generation of iPhone is implanted in the mind, and it can only be this generation of iPhone in the future, and everyone else uses iPhone 11, it would be so bad.
Swisher: Exactly. Many years ago, when we met, you said that artificial intelligence would treat us humans like pet cats. They are too smart to resent us. You also said that we will be raised like pet cats. Later, when I met you in your office, you compared artificial intelligence to an anthill. Unless you are a bastard, you will not deliberately kick the anthill. So now, to what extent our artificial intelligence has developed, can you explain it vividly with a metaphor?
Musk:It is likened to an anthill because artificial intelligence does not necessarily hate humans enough to want to destroy us. In a sense, if artificial intelligence wants to move in a certain direction, but we humans are blocking their way, then artificial intelligence will probably eliminate humans without blinking their eyes. It’s like when we walk on the road and see anthills and kick them away. Do you hate ants? of course not. You are just building a road. But this is just a risk, not a prediction. Therefore, I think our approach to intelligence should not be limited to humans. The intelligence potential of computers may far exceed the intelligence potential of biology. A very interesting paper wrote that if a super-advanced civilization comes to the earth, of course this civilization is composed of computers, and then they are surprised to find that the people on earth are all flesh and blood.
Swisher: Unbelievable. But, can you explain, why do we need Neuralink? What is Neuralink doing?
Musk:Turn people into robots.
Swisher: Okay, what shall we do?
Musk:Get rid of flesh and blood. Well, we are already biohazard. You have a computer, a mobile phone, there are applications on the mobile phone, etc., like social media. In fact, if you think about it, you are already part of an electronic device. There is also the fact that when someone dies, their electronic ghosts still wander around us. You know their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, their email and website, etc. Are all there. Even if the Sri Lankan is dead, the electronic heritage is still there. So, what are the restrictions? Even in a good situation, for example, artificial intelligence is friendly enough to us humans, we still need to communicate quickly. But our communication speed is too slow, especially our output. For example, if you type on a mobile phone, we don’t even have ten fingers in the battle.
Musk:Maybe your typing speed is okay-but it is still too slow for artificial intelligence. In this case, communication is difficult. Artificial intelligence may deviate from humans because it cannot communicate with us. Because computers think humans are too boring.
Swisher: I think human beings are boring, it’s so interesting. What should we do? What is the role of Neuralink?
Musk:Neuralink’s role is to improve our communication bandwidth.
Swisher:So we can communicate with artificial intelligence.
Musk:That’s right. Of course, there are many other good things, such as treating diseases related to the brain. With a brain chip, you can actually do many things. You can get disabled people to stand up and walk again. You can resolve extreme depression or anxiety or schizophrenia or epilepsy. You can return the mother’s memory to her and remind her of her child again. Basically, if you live long enough, you will develop some kind of dementia. At this time, you will definitely hope that some technology can help you.
Swisher: Can empathy be programmed? Or something else?
Musk:In theory, you can write anything. Of course, empathy is a good idea.
Swisher: So where do we program?
Musk:We are still in a very early stage. We have successfully implanted chips in piglets. This little pig has been living happily for three months with the chip. Now we have implanted more than a dozen piglets with chips. The sensor is working well.
Swisher: Then you tell people that you plan to implant the human brain with a chip to solve the physical disease. What else? Because this can also be abused.
Musk:Morality comes first. Overall, the initial value of Neuralink is to solve brain injury, then spinal cord injury and so on. So, it’s hard to say good or bad. Like, some people can stand up and walk again, which of course is a good thing. Moreover, it is still far away to finally achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence. So we don’t have to think about it all at once. Then there is FDA approval, which also requires a series of rigorous checks to ensure that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and the implant is reversible. So this is a process.
Elon Musk is in trouble with the new crown virus. Despite the lockdown, he insisted on keeping the factory operating and quarreled with local authorities. On Twitter, he called the home quarantine order “de facto house arrest” and expected that “the number of confirmed cases in the United States will be zero by the end of April.” However, by the end of April, many confirmed cases appeared every day, and he wrote the famous saying “Liberate America now” on Twitter. On this issue, it is difficult for us to agree with Musk.
Musk:This is a sensitive topic, and reason gives way to sensibility. In general, I think it has the characteristics of low mortality but high infectiousness. For young people, the risk is lower; for the elderly, the risk is higher. In essence, the correct approach is not to block the entire country. However, anyone at risk should be quarantined until the epidemic has passed.
Will not get the new crown vaccine
Swisher: The second wave of epidemic seems to have swept again. You have been talking about saving mankind, but now you see, these people have died in the epidemic.
Musk:Everyone will die.
Swisher: I know, I know what you mean.
Musk: The question is how to do better.
Swisher: Do you think the blockade is bad?
Musk:not good. But in this matter, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, the whole thing weakened my confidence in humans.
Musk:The general irrationality of human beings.
Swisher: So what you said weakened your confidence in humans, does it mean human irrationality?
Swisher: Well, one more question, will you be vaccinated? where is your family?
Musk:I am not at risk of contracting the virus, nor are my children.
Swisher: What are you doing now? Working?
Musk:Yes. SpaceX has been operating during this time. We haven’t stopped for a day. We have national security clearance because our work is related to national security. We sent the astronauts into space and brought them back. The state government closed the Tesla factory, which is simply absurd. But other than that, our car manufacturing has never been suspended, which is great.
Swisher: Let me ask a few more questions. You say these things from the perspective of the car manufacturer. Then please allow me to ask questions from the perspective of workers who are worried about their families. If your employees, they say, I think you put me and my family in danger, how would you answer?
Musk: Very good, then stay at home and don’t go out.
Swisher: That’s it?
Musk: That’s it.
Swisher: Will they be punished for this? What should they do if they feel they are at risk of infection?
Musk:If they have a valid reason, then they should stay at home.
Swisher: Well, let’s talk about your electronic ghost again. What do you think of your electronic ghost?
Musk: Maybe I should think about this issue tomorrow. I haven’t really thought about my own electronic ghost. I always try to spend my time on things that can maximize the future and maximize the possibility of happiness in the future at a certain level of civilization.
Survival crisis has been there since childhood
Swisher: One last question. You have been talking about the right way to save mankind. Then why do you want to save these flesh and blood?
Musk:I just hope that humans can exist longer. I think I have this kind of survival crisis since I was a child. It’s like this feeling that life has no meaning. I read all the philosophy books I could find. Then, I read Douglas Adams’s work, and thought his approach might be the best approach, that is, the universe itself is the answer. What’s the question? I later concluded that the more we can expand the scope and scale of our consciousness, the better we can answer or ask questions to understand the nature of the universe. Therefore, we will want to expand the scope and scale of consciousness, and then better ask questions that can reveal the nature of the universe.
Swisher: What is the problem?
Musk:We are not aware of this problem. Therefore, we need to find the problem.