In the last week Elon Musk companies have grabbed some typically diverse headlines, so I think its time to look a bit more closely at the man and the enigma, and by-the-way catch up on my review of his biography.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, here is a snapshot of the evidence:
(1) In its ongoing relationship with NASA* SpaceX has launched a new generation of astronaut-carrying tech, in a test/demonstration mission this week a dummy ‘Ripley’ and a mini blow-up earth (the Musk sense of humour again) in the Crew Dragon capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station.
(2) The Tesla Model 3 is coming to Europe and Asia in 2019 and have announced price cuts and dealership closures. And Musk continues to be the maverick and unpredictable voice of the electric car maker, despite not being the chairman any more after falling out with the US Securities and Exchange Commission ‘SEC’ last year! Against some industry advice Musk wants to make the model 3 affordable. There is also a larger ‘Model Y’ SUV coming soon** – so everything continues apace.
* NASA is covering its bets by seed-funding a rival ‘Starliner’ being developed by Boeing
** ’Y’ being the culmination of his model-naming in joke ‘S3XY’
Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping Our Future by Ashlee Vance
This is a fascinating book. It was interesting to see where Musk came from; his early troubled childhood in South Africa and the roots of his ambitions and drive. He is a complex character, part tech genius, part obsessed control freak, eccentric billionaire, family man and media whore! It’s a bit trite to say that he’s probably on the spectrum somewhere (Ed. aren’t we all!), but he continues well into to his 40’s to have that stereo-typical teenage boys love of technology and learning, a singular vision, self-esteem – or do I mean self-interested arrogance(?) – and persistence.
From an early precocious start, as a 12-year-old he wrote a prize-winning computer game, a typical SciFi nerd and self-taught programmer, he set his aims high, literally, with a desire to help humans to become a multi-planetary species. He was destined for Silicon Valley, via some distant relatives in Canada, and early entrepreneurial adventures with business listings and mapping app Zip2 and x.com. The latter, his online banking platform, merged with a bigger rival Confinity. In these early start-ups we see the signs of Musk’s unconventional and confrontation style in dealing with anyone not entirely on the same page, and that includes partners and loyal staff. As the biggest investor in Paypal (now renamed) when it was sold to eBay, Musk had to seed money to indulge his bigger dreams … he’s still on that same upward trajectory.
Musk not only juggles SpaceX and Tesla commitments, with a detailed understanding of the complex technologies as both continue to disrupt established industries, but he is also heavily invested with his cousins in SolarCity (battery factories and electric car charging infrastructure), Hyperloop (next gen urban transport), the Boring Company (tunnelling!), co-founder of OpenAI (non-profit research company that aims to promote friendly AI) and any number of other tech-related businesses … see ‘Elon Musk investments at the end of this article.
I read an interesting piece about Musk in the business press (January 2018), which includes a brilliant tongue-in-cheek assessment of his character:
Can Elon Musk be human? …there is a growing consensus that [he] is an artificial cyborg, created by science to save mankind.
This is a reference to the aims of Tesla and SolarCity to reduce global warming, but I suspect this is really a sideshow to buy time to colonise other planets!
The article goes on;
…his drive and ambition is simply beyond the reach of mere mortals.
Who’s to say Musk won’t define and build the future for the whole human race as a multi-planetary species? I for one want to see him continue to challenge and push old industries (and risk-averse bankers and cynical protectionist industrialists) and soak up the negative press. The world needs more forward-thinking entrepreneurs – as long as I don’t have to work for him!
As well as Musk and SpaceX, the current race into space is getting a bit crowded, unlike the Cold War 1960’s & 1970’s and later Ronald Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ programme, now its not only nations in the space race, rich individuals and corporations are spending lots and lots of their own money as well. Maybe there is an underlying existential worry about the state of the planet and our future?
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, an adversary of Musk’s, founded Blue Origin to research & develop orbital and sub-orbital flight technologies. Space tourism seems to be a big draw and potential income stream for a lot of these players, including such diverse groups as Soyuz, NASA and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactica. Who wouldn’t want to fly from London to Sydney in 2 hours?!
(Ed – sub-orbital flight follows a trajectory that does not complete a full orbit of the earth, or any other ‘orb’ really)
OneWeb – including backer Sir Richard Branson – are racing to circle the planet with satellites for high-speed internet access and to enable lucrative 5G networks.
And here’s part of the reason why;
Although it [5G] is not yet fully defined as a standard, we are told that high definition films will soon download to smartphones in seconds, or that driverless vehicles will beam swathes of data to control centres and each other as they navigate smart cities.
Not to mention other hot topics, including delivery and other drones, the Internet of Things, continuing to connect humans, our houses and all our stuff together!
Who’s winning the global race to offer superfast 5G? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44968514
Older satellites will need replacing and there is growing and seemingly-insatiable appetite for communication, commerce, navigation/positioning, science and earth observation purposes as well as less transparent government and military uses. And there are already nearly 5,000 satellites up there, with dozens of launches already planned for 2019.
And I’ve not even mentioned Google and its joint venture with SpaceX in this same space – pun intended! (Incidentally Google co-founder Larry Page is a friend and occasional sofa-surfing destination for Musk)
So, Musk, Bezos and Branson et al won’t have it all their own way in this new rich-man’s playground. NASA and the US government notwithstanding, major-league players in Europe (Ariane), China, India, Japan and Russia, amongst others, are looking beyond our Mostly Harmless little blue dot in the milky way – Musk was/is a H2G2 fan* which should not surprise you. So upward and onwards to the moon, asteroids, Mars and outside our solar system to interstellar exploration. Maybe Musk and his interplanetary species dream is not that ambitious after all?
(c) 2019 IT elementary school Ltd.
*If you have to ask … the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy entry for Earth was expanded from ‘Harmless’ to ‘Mostly Harmless’