WHAT DO YOU THINK IT MEANS TO BE A FUTURE THINKER?
Well, you want to have a future where you’re expecting things to be better, not one where you’re expecting things to be worse. If something is important enough you should try, even if the probable outcome is failure. I think it’s important to have a future that is inspiring and appealing. I just think there have to be reasons that you get up in the morning and you want to live. Like, why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future? And if we’re not out there, if the future does not include being out there among the stars, I find that it’s incredibly depressing if that’s not the future that we’re going to have.
WHY DO YOU FOCUS SO MUCH ON THE FUTURE INSTEAD OF THE PROBLEMS WE HAVE RIGHT NOW?
I look at the future from the standpoint of probabilities. It’s like a branching stream of probabilities, and there are actions that we can take that affect those probabilities or that accelerate one thing or slow down another thing. I may introduce something new to the probability stream. Sustainable energy will happen no matter what. If there was no Tesla, if Tesla never existed, it would have to happen out of necessity. It’s tautological. If you don’t have sustainable energy, it means you have unsustainable energy. Eventually you will run out, and the laws of economics will drive civilisation towards sustainable energy, inevitably. The fundamental value of a company like Tesla is the degree to which it accelerates the advent of sustainable energy, faster than it would otherwise occur. Now when it comes to the type of problems we’re trying to solve with Space X, these are not things that will happen inevitably. We need to push ourselves to go beyond what would otherwise inevitably happen.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE YOU WANTED TO CREATE SPACEX AND GO TO MARS?
The idea wasn’t really to create a company. It was to try to figure out why we hadn’t sent people to Mars yet. You see, we went from Zip 2 to PayPal, and then grew from PayPal to sort of the next thing, and this was sort of thinking well, is there some way to reignite the dream of Apollo? And, I thought, is it maybe a question of “have we lost the will to explore?” But I actually think this original premise was wrong, we have not lost the will to explore, but people did not think there was a way. If people don’t think there is a way, if they don’t want to bash their head against the wall, they sort of give up. But in the beginning I thought it was a question of will. So, the idea now is that if we manage to get this little greenhouse on the surface of Mars, people tend to respond to precedents. If we get this started maybe that will get people excited about sending people to Mars. Actually, initially, the goal was to get people excited about Mars, and get NASA’s budget increased.
DO YOU START ALL YOUR PROJECTS WITH A VISION?
Well, if you’re trying to convince the public to do something, you have to say “Ok, how’s this going to read? What will people respond to? What would I respond to if I was an objective member of the public?” So that’s it, it’s really that simple. If you’re trying to change peoples minds or get them fired up about something then you gotta think, “Ok, what is that message? What is going to get hem really excited?” And then, talk to them like adults.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BENEFITS OF A VISION-DRIVEN COMPANY WITH A CLEAR PURPOSE?
Well, I think that having a purpose certainly is going to attract the best talent you can get. If the benefits are enjoyable, the financial rewards are good, that’s great, but if this is going to genuinely change the world then that’s a pretty powerful motivator. But I don’t think everything needs to change the world you know?
I mean honestly, there are lots of useful things that people do. What I think it should be is like, useful optimisation. As in: “is what I’m doing as useful as it can be?” Even if something isn’t changing the world but it’s making people’s lives better, then that’s great!
WHAT’S YOUR VISION OF THE FUTURE?
It’s always sort of tricky to predict the future, don’t you think? Some things are pretty obvious, like, computer power is going to be just crazy. I mean, just ubiquitous computing everywhere. AI is going to be incredibly sophisticated in 20 years. The hard thing to see is that it is accelerating. It seems to be. But the tricky thing about predicting when there’s an exponential is that exponentials, from up-close, look linear, but they’re actually not linear. So, AI appears to be accelerating as far as I can see. I obviously also think that most of our vehicles will be electric and our main source of energy will be mostly solar, of course. Sooner would be a lot better but I think by 2035 would be acceptable.
* THIS FUTURE THINKER NON-INTERVIEW WAS CREATED FROM ELON MUSK’S PUBLIC INTERVIEWS WITHOUT HIS PARTICIPATION. THE WORDS ARE HIS, THE QUESTIONS ARE OURS.