Elon Musk surprised and delighted the audience at SXSW when he made a surprise appearance and spoke for nearly two hours in front of a packed house about spaceships, digital super-intelligence and why business plans are rubbish.
“Made on earth by humans” is the personal message Musk included on the Tesla he launched into space recently to “keep the aliens guessing”. This level of detail as well as his visionary mind, which appears to oscillate between being completely bonkers and genius as he spoke made us wonder if indeed he slept at all.
As CEO of four revolutionary organisations he spoke of his hopes and greatest fears at SXSW today. Below are some Elon Musk gems and highlights. These are the answers to questions from the audience.
Who inspires you?
“Kayne West obviously,” he quipped and then added: “Actually Fred Astaire. Really. If you haven’t seen his movies, you have to watch them. He’s incredible”.
From Fred Astaire he then went on to add that he never really looks at things from a business perspective or a financial one because if he did, building cars and rockets would be “at the bottom of the financial barrel”.
He said he looks at things from the standpoint of how they can improve humanity. He then added he thought that Space X and Tesla were less than 10 per cent likely to succeed. His drive to solve problems and his relentless quest to know why problems weren’t being solved was what motivated him everyday. He said he just kept asking “why aren’t we going to Mars? Why aren’t we exploring the way we did in the Apollo era?”
From there he talked about the human spirit of possibility. Musks’ monologue moves from inspirational statements to a granular explanation of space engineering. He was captivating and confusing all in the space of three minutes. The cost of access to Space was obviously the block but “imagine building a base on Mars and the entrepreneurial energy required and the immense opportunities from glass houses to night clubs to growing food,” he said, as though this is something we mere mortals pontificate on over our cereal and coffee in the morning.
Musk went on then in how he just started reading rocket books (as you do) till he figured out the problem was “reusability”. Of course, he added the Space Shuttle disaster disproved that but “you can’t take a single case study and make a complete theory out of it”.
What’s your biggest failure and did it change you?
“Oh I don’t know about those,” he laughed before proceeding to describe in excruciating detail the number of failures he experienced. Indeed, significantly more than most peoples’ pain thresholds. He reflected on his worst year of his life, 2008, where three consecutive rocket launch failures with Space X and Tesla left him 2 days from bankruptcy and with $31 dollars in the bank. And the list went on ending with why business plans always go wrong and so he never bothered with them.
What’s your biggest fear?
“Artificial Super Intelligence. We are all less smarter than we think we are. By a lot. Smart people can’t imagine machines being smarter than them and that’s the blind spot with smart people.” He went on to assert the development of AI and the exponential rate of improvement AI provides was never expected and consequently, in his opinion, is a much greater danger to humanity than nuclear warheads. “Yet we don’t let anyone just build nuclear warheads. Government regulation is required to keep it benign and for its utility to help humanity and not destroy it.”
Simple laws though he concluded, “like the constitution – not like modern law which is hardening the arteries of civilisation with all its stupid rules.”
That’s what keep Elon Musk awake at night. If indeed he ever sleeps.
Below is Musk’s entire interview complete with very bad dancing from the billionaire. It’s long, but is the most up-to-date insight into his crazy, brilliant mind.