By : Avery Phillips
There is no denying that Elon Musk is a force to be reckoned with. We drive his cars, live under his roofs, and eagerly await the arrival of his ultra-fast commuter trains. While we’re lining up for his tech, he’s probably lining up his next investment — likely something sexy and world saving.
Where Did He Start?
A South African-born immigrant, Musk moved to Canada, and then eventually to the United States. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania where he received a Bachelor’s of Science in Physics and another in Economics.
He left his graduate program at Stanford in the first week to pursue entrepreneurship, and it obviously paid off. Early conquests include Zip2 and X.com, which later became PayPal. The two companies sold for a combined 1.8 billion.
With some money in his pocket, Musk was free to pursue, well, just about anything he wanted. He casually mentioned he was interested in space and solving humanity’s problems.
For the average human, just one of these might be an overwhelming subject. For Musk, they merely turned into more projects.
How Is He Shaping Our Future?
SpaceX was founded with a singular goal: to launch a successful mission to Mars.
For years, Musk crusaded for the idea of inhabiting Mars. In his eyes, multi-planetary colonization is not only helpful to, but necessary for, the survival of the human race.
Eventually, after failed attempts to buy rockets from the Russians, Musk concluded that the only logical step was to make their own rockets. Nothing else was affordable.
After three failed launches, Musk’s credible was on the line, as well as the money he’d collected for promised launches. If they weren’t able to deliver a successful launch, SpaceX and Tesla both faced doom, likely taking Musk down with them.
In one of his most famous leadership moments, Musk met with his team, rallied them after a devastating loss, and somehow managed to produce a successful launch.
Years later, the voices of naysayers have been silenced as SpaceX continues to grow. Currently, they service the international space station and contract for NASA, though their original goal hasn’t been abandoned.
SpaceX recently re-launched a rocket for the first time, bringing them closer to making Mars colonization an affordable commercial prospect. Musk is confident that eventually, they’ll be able to shorten the six month travel time to a three month journey. This journey, he says, could occur as often as every two years, and he believes the first colonization mission can take place within 10.
Musk’s most well-known holding is arguably Tesla. The electric car manufacturing company debuted in 2003, but Musk didn’t join the ranks until 2004. When he did, it was with the hope that moving away from fossil fuel would prolong the Earth’s lifespan.
The company had it’s share of ups and downs, ranging from problems delivering in their promised timelines to confidence-shattering fires. Since then, Tesla has grown, improved, and released four models including the original Roadster, the Models S Sedan, and the Model X SUV. Soon, the Model 3 Sedan will join the roster.
Designed to be more affordable, the Model 3 is Tesla’s aim at making electric cars accessible. It appears they’ve been successful — at least initially. The Model 3 garnered 150,000 preorders by the time its unveiling ended.
It stills boasts all the fun features you’ve come to expect from Tesla. The dashboard contains a tablet designed to make the driver’s job easier, if they’re even driving. The car boasts Tesla self-driving feature, where all you have to do is plug in your destination and sit back until arrival.
With Tesla-mania only continuing to grow, the company finally outstripped GM and Ford to become the country’s most valuable carmaker.
Tesla isn’t limited to cars, though. In 2014, the company began producing and marketing the “Powerwall Home Battery” as part of its Tesla Energy branch. The battery is designed to be mounted in the home and store solar energy for everything from powering appliances to charging your electric car.
Powerwall is Musk’s push towards become independent of modern power grids, allowing each home to function autonomously. The company currently markets them in bundles with roofs sold by SolarCity — that way, you have a way to store all the energy your new roof is collecting.
One of Musk’s other notable businesses provides another way for individuals to move away from the power grid and towards their energy independence.
SolarCity, which merged with Tesla in November of 2016, markets solar energy sources to individuals and corporations with the mission of providing clean energy at a low cost. They hope to offer their services at a low enough cost that the initial installation fee pays for itself within a few years through money saved on utilities.
SolarCity’s latest product, solar roof tiles, allow you to collect solar energy over a greater surface area without the eyesore of cumbersome panels. The tiles are marketed to be more resilient than traditional roofing materials and come in several different styles.
In his biography by Ashlee Vance, Musk was quoted as saying, “I would like to die thinking humanity has a bright future.” For Musk, that means self-sustaining energy sources must be obtained, and SolarCity is his way of making sure that happens.
Musk’s inventions are born out of convenience as much as they are out of his hero-complex. He reportedly got the idea to build the Hyperloop after being stuck in “soul-destroying traffic” in LA.
The Boring Company (who says billionaire tech-geniuses can’t have a sense of humor?) will provide the tunnel system required for Musk’s high-tech commuting system. The proposition is that pods would travel upwards of 700 mph to deliver passengers from LA to San Francisco in under 30 minutes.
The project is still very much in the testing phases. Recently, a pod traveled at 200 mph during a test run. While this is a far cry from his 700 mph goal, Musk is optimistic that the system will be running somewhere in the world in under 5 years.
While it may seem like luxury transit, even the Hyperloop serves Musk’s mission by eliminating carbon waste created by commuters. However, there are rumors that the system will be designed with the ability to transport cars in some pods, allowing the serviceable population to grow beyond those looking to commute to either city’s downtown.
While Musk’s other ventures focus on pushing known boundaries to embrace possible technology, his stance on artificial intelligence is decidedly more cautious.
It seems like most of Silicon Valley (along with the rest of the world) has been racing towards artificial intelligence with a “come what may” attitude to the consequences.
The problem is, no one knows what the consequences will be, so the “should we” debate about AI is entertained entirely in the hypothetical realm.
Musk has been loud about his opposition to the development of AI. Proponents of AI call him hysterical and are quick to point out that he seems to have inserted himself in what promises to be a lucrative market, just in the nick of time. Criticism pointed at Musk highlights his involvement with the company Open AI, which he co-founded in 2015.
Musk, however, defends this, stating that his intention is to promote safe development of AI technology in an effort to reduce existential threat. In other words, he’s still trying to save humanity, even from its own inventions.
What Drives Him?
Besides a Tesla, that is.
Elon Musk is a man motivated by preservation, but also by the continued enlightenment of the human race. He wants to stretch the boundaries of who we are and what we believe to be possible.
In the same breath, he’s planning for the eventually colonization of Mars as an escape plan for us thoroughly ruining Earth and creating sentient artificial intelligence that is destined to destroy us.
He’s a man of fantastic ideas, undeniable brilliance, and the motivation to make it happen. He not only makes impressive plans, but he delivers. So what’s his secret?
First Principle Thinking
Musk subscribes to a model of thinking called first principles. Under this model, you start with the base of what you know is true and work forward from there.
Most people reason by analogy. In this logic, things are true because that’s how they’ve always been. Presumptions are based on what they’ve seen and how they assume the world operates.
While this school of thought is not inherently wrong (it’s what most of us do, after all), it is limiting. It removes your ability to start from scratch.
First principles thinking is how Musk realized that he could build his own rockets for SpaceX, or produce an affordable battery for the Tesla models.
This model of reasoning serves Musk’s primary purpose — solving problems. By asking what problems he can solve, rather than asking how he can turn a profit, Musk frames dilemmas in such a way that he can provide unique answers. In turn, these unique answers turn into unique products, which turn massive profit because no one’s done it.
By framing his questions the right way, reasoning his way to the best possible answer, and refusing to give up in the face of adversity, Elon Musk has created possible solutions for delaying the extinction of humanity.
The future is his world — we’re just living in it.