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Elon Musk on Boring Company, Semi-Truck, Mars – TED Talk [transcript]

Elon Musk discusses future plans for Tesla and his other endeavors with curator Chris Anderson at a TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada, April 28, 2017. The transcript below is an attempt to capture the conversation as accurately as possible. 

Chris: Elon. Hey, welcome back to TED. It’s great to have you here.

Elon: Thanks for having me.

Chris: So, in the next half hour or so we’re going to spend some time exploring your vision for what an exciting future might look like, which I guess makes my first question a little ironic. Why are you boring?

Elon: Yeah. I ask myself that frequently. We’re trying to dig a hole under L.A. And this is to create the beginning of what will hopefully be a 3-D network of tunnels to alleviate congestion. So, I mean right now, one of the most soul-destroying things is traffic. It affects people in every part of the world. It takes away so much of your life. It’s…it’s horrible. It’s particularly horrible in L.A. And…

Chris: I think you’ve brought with you the first visualization that’s been shown of this. Can I show this?

Elon: Yeah absolutely. So this is the first time. Just sort of show what we’re talking about. So a couple of key things that are important in having a 3D tunnel network. First of all, you have to be able to integrate the entrance and exit of the tunnel seamlessly into the fabric of the city. So by having an elevator, sort of a car skate that’s on an elevator, you can integrate the entrances and exits to the tunnel network just by using two parking spaces. And then the car gets on a skate. There’s no speed limit here. So we’re designing this to be able to operate 200 kilometers, about 130 miles.

Chris: What?

Elon: 200 kilometers an hour or about 130 mph. So you should be able to get from say Westwood to LAX in six minutes. Five, six minutes.


Chris: So possibly, initially done, it’s like on a sort of toll road type basis.

Elon: Yeah.

Chris: Which I guess alleviate some traffic from the surface streets as well.

Elon: So I don’t know if you notice in the video but there’s no real limit to how many levels of tunnel you can have. You can go much further deep than you can go up. The deepest mines are much deeper than the tallest buildings are tall, so you can alleviate any arbitrary level of urban congestion with a 3D home network. This is a very important point. So a key rebuttal to the tunnels is that if you add one layer of tunnels then that will simply alleviate congestion, it will get used up and then you’ll be back where you started, back with congestion. But you can go to any arbitrary number of tunnels any number of levels.

Chris: But people, seen traditionally it’s it’s incredibly expensive to dig, and that would block this idea.

Elon: Yeah. Well, they’re right. To give an example, the LA subway extension, which is, I think it’s a two-and-a-half mile extension that was just completed for two billion dollars. So roughly a billion dollars a mile to do the subway extension in LA and this is not the highest utility subway in the world. So, yeah, it’s quite difficult to dig tunnels normally. I think we need to have at least a tenfold improvement in the cost per mile of tunneling.

Chris: And how could you achieve that?

Elon: I guess actually if you just do two things you can get to approximately an order of magnitude improvement. And I think you can go beyond that. So the first thing to do is to cut the total tunnel diameter by a factor of two or more. So it’s a single road lane tunnel according to regulations has to be 26 feet maybe 28 feet in diameter to allow for crashes and emergency vehicles and sufficient ventilation for a combustion engine cars. But if you if you shrink that diameter to what we were attempting which is 12 feet which is plenty to get an electric skate through you drop the diameter by a factor of two and the cross-sectional area by a factor of four and the tunneling costs scale with the cross-sectional area. So that’s roughly a half order of magnitude improvement right there. Then tunneling machines currently tunnel for half the time then they stop, and then the rest of the time is putting in reinforcements for the tunnel wall. So if you design the machine instead to do continuous tunneling and reinforcing, that will give you a factor of two improvement. Combine that and it’s a factor of eight. Also, these machines are far from being at their power or thermal limits, so you can jack up the power to the machine substantially. I think you can get at least a factor of two, maybe a factor of four or five improvement on the on top of that. So I think the there’s a fairly straightforward series of steps to get somewhere in excess of an order of magnitude improvement in the cost per mile. And our target actually is, we’ve got a pet snail called Gary, this is from Gary the snail from “South Park”, I mean, sorry, SpongeBob SquarePants”. So Gary is as capable of… Currently, he’s capable of going 14 times faster than a tunnel boring machine. OK.

Laughter in the audience

Chris: You want to beat Gary

Elon: We want to beat Gary. yeah. He’s not a patient little fellow. And we want to… That will be victory. Victory is beating the snail.

Chris: But a lot of people imagining, dreaming about future cities, they imagine that actually, the solution is… is sort of flying cars, drones etcetera. You go above ground. Why isn’t that a better solution? You save all that tunneling cost.

Elon: Right. I’m in favor of flying things. Obviously, I do rockets, so I like things that fly. This is not some inherent bias against flying things, but there is a challenge with flying cars in that they will be quite noisy. The wind force generated will be very high. They just… Let’s just say that if something is flying over your head. There is a whole bunch of flying cars going all over the place. That is not an anxiety-reducing situation. You don’t think to yourself: “Well, I feel better about today.” You’re thinking like: “Did they service their hubcap or is it going to come off and guillotine me?” Things like that.

Chris: So you see this vision of future cities with this rich 3D network of tunnels underneath. Is there a tie-in here with Hyperloop? Could you apply these tunnels to use for this Hyperloop idea you had, you had released a few years ago?

Elon: Yes, so… You know we’ve been sort of puttering around with the Hyperloop stuff for a while. We built a Hyperloop test track adjacent to SpaceX, just for student competition, to encourage innovative ideas in transport. And it actually, ends up being the biggest vacuum chamber in the world after the Large Hadron Collider, by volume. So it’s sort of quite fun to do that, but it was kind of a hobby thing and then we think we might.. We developed a little pusher car to push these student pods. But we’re going to try seeing how fast we can make the pusher go if it’s not pushing something. So I mean, we are cautiously optimistic we’ll be able to be faster than the world’s fastest bullet train even in a 0.8 mile stretch.

Chris: Wow. Good brakes.

Elon: Yeah, I mean it’s either going to smash into tiny pieces or go quite fast.

Chris: You can picture then, a Hyperloop in a tunnel running quite long distances.

Elon: Yes. Exactly. So in looking at tunneling technology, it turns out that in order to make a tunnel, you have to… In order to seal against the water table, you’ve got to typically design a tunnel wall to be a good to about five or six atmospheres. So to go to vacuum is only one atmosphere, or near vacuum. So actually, it sort of turns out that automatically, if you build a tunnel that is good enough to resist the water table, it’s automatically capable of holding vacuum. So yeah.

Chris: So you can actually picture, what kind of length tunnel is in Elon’s future to running Hyperloop?

Elon: I think there’s no there’s no real length limit. You could you could you could dig as much as you want. I think, like if you were to do something like D.C. to New York Hyperloop, I think you’d probably want to go underground the entire way because it’s a high-density area. You’re going under a lot of buildings and houses. And if you go deep enough, you cannot detect the tunnel. And this is… so many people think well it’s going to be pretty annoying to have a tunnel dug under my house. Like, if that tunnel is dug more than about three or four tunnel diameters beneath your house, you will not be able to detect it being dug at all. In fact, if you’re able to detect the tunnel being dug, whatever device you are using, you can get a lot of money for that device from the Israeli military, who is trying to detect tunnels from Hamas, and from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol that try to detect drug tunnels. So if you… The reality is that Earth is incredibly good at absorbing the vibrations, and once the tunnel depth is below a certain level, it is undetectable. Maybe you have a very sensitive seismic instrument you might be able to detect it.

Chris: So you started a new company to do this called The Boring Company. Very nice, very very funny.

Elon: What’s funny about that?

Chris: How much of your time is this?

Elon: It’s maybe two or three percent.

Chris: So you’ve bought a hobby. This is what an Elon Musk hobby looks like.

Elon: I mean, it really is like, we actually… You know, this is basically interns and people doing it part time. So this is like, we bought, you know, some secondhand machinery and it’s just, it’s kind of puttering along but it’s making good progress so…

Chris: so an even bigger part of your time is being spent on electrifying cars and transport through Tesla. Is one of the motivations for that for the tunneling project, the realization that actually in a world where cars are electric and where they’re self-driving, there may end up being more cars on the roads on any given hour than there are now?

Elon: Yeah exactly. The… A lot of people think that once… When you make cars autonomous, that they’ll be able to go faster and that will alleviate congestion. And to some degree that will be true. But once you have shared autonomy where it’s much cheaper to go by car and you can go point to point, the affordability of going in a car will be will be better than that of a bus. Like, it would cost less than a bus ticket. So the amount of driving that will occur will be much greater with shared autonomy, and actually traffic will get far worse.

Chris: You started Tesla with the goal of persuading the world to… that electrification was the future of cars. And a few years ago people were laughing at you. Now not so much. I mean…

Elon: Ok


Elon: I don’t know. I don’t know.

Chris: But isn’t it true that pretty much every auto manufacturer has announced serious electrification plans for the short- to medium-term future?

Elon: Yeah, yeah. The… I think almost every automaker has some electric vehicle program. They vary in seriousness. Some are very serious about transitioning entirely to electric, and some are just dabbling in it. And some, amazingly, are still pursuing fuel cells, but I think that won’t last much longer.

Chris: But isn’t there a sense, though, Elon, where you could now just declare victory and say, you know, “We did it.” Let the world electrify and you go on and focus on other stuff?

Elon: Yeah. Ehm. I intend to stay with Tesla as far into the future as I can imagine. And there are a lot of exciting things that we have coming. We’ve got the Model 3. It’s coming soon. We’ll be unveiling the Tesla Semi-Truck and…

Chris: Ok. We’re going come to this. The Model 3. It’s coming. It’s supposed to be coming in July-ish.

Elon: Yeah it’s looking quite good for starting production in July.

Chris: Wow. One of the things that people are excited about is the fact that it’s got autopilot and you put out this video a while back showing what that technology looks like or would look like. There’s obviously an autopilot in Model S right now.

Elon: Yeah

Chris: What are we seeing here?

Elon: Yes, this is using only cameras and a GPS. So there’s no LIDAR or radar being used here. This is just using passive optical which is essentially what a person uses. The whole road system is meant to be navigated with passive optical cameras. And so once you solve camera’s vision, then autonomy is solved. If you don’t solve vision, it’s not solved. So that’s why our focus is so heavily on having a vision neural net that’s very effective for road conditions.

Chris: Right. Many other people are going the LIDAR route. You want cameras plus radar as most of it.

Elon: You can absolutely be superhuman with just cameras. Like, you could probably do ten times better than humans would, just, just cameras.

Chris: So the new cars being sold right now have 8 cameras in them. They can’t yet do, what that camera showed. When will they be able to?

Elon: I think that we’re still on track for being able to go cross-country from LA to New York by the end of year, fully autonomous.

Chris: So by the end of the year, you’re saying, that someone is going to sit in a Tesla without touching the steering wheel. Tap in “New York”, off it goes.

Elon: Yeah.

Chris: Won’t have to ever touch the wheel. By the end of 2017.

Elon: Yeah essentially November or December of this year we should be able to go from all the way from a parking lot in California to a parking lot in New York. No controls touched at any point during the entire journey.


Chris: Amazing. Part of that is possible because you’ve already got a fleet of Teslas driving all these roads. You’re accumulating a huge amount of data of national road system.

Elon: Yes. But the thing that was interesting is that I’m actually fairly confident it will be able to do that route even if you change the route dynamically. So it gets it’s fairly easy… If you say I’m going to be really good at one specific route, that’s one thing, but it should be able to go, really be very good, so once you enter a highway, to go anywhere on the highway system in a given country. It’s not sort of limited to LA or New York. We could we could change and make it. Seattle-Florida, that day, or you know, in real time. So you are going from L.A. to New York now go from L.A. to Toronto.

Chris: So leaving aside regulation for a second, in terms of the technology alone, the time when someone will be able to buy one of your cars and literally just take the hands of the wheel and go to sleep and wake up and find that they’ve arrived. How far away is that? To do that safely?

Elon: That’s about two years. So the real trick of it is not in how do you make it work say 99.9 percent of the time, because if a car crashes, say one in a thousand times, then you’re probably still not going to be comfortable falling asleep. You know, you shouldn’t be, certainly. But, it’s not going to be… It’s never going to be perfect. No system is going to be perfect. But you say it’s perhaps, the car is unlikely to crash in a hundred lifetimes, or a thousand lifetimes, then people like, OK, wow, if I would live a thousand lives, I would still most likely never experienced a crash, then that’s probably OK.

Chris: To sleep, I guess a big concern of yours is that people get seduced too early to think that this is safe.

Elon: Yeah

Chris: And that you’ll have some horrible incident happen that puts things put things back.

Elon: Well, I think that the autonomy system is likely to at least mitigate the crash except in rare circumstances, but the thing to appreciate about vehicle safety is this is probabilistic. I mean, there is some chance that any time a human driver gets in the car, that they will have an accident that is their fault. It’s never zero. And so really the key threshold for autonomy is how much better is autonomy need to be than a person before you can rely on it.

Chris: But once you get that literally safe hands-off driving, the power to disrupt the whole industry seems massive, because at that point you’ve spoken of people being able to buy, car drops off work and then you let it go and and provide a sort of Uber-like service to other people, earn you money, maybe even cover the cost of the lease of that car.

Elon: Exactly

Chris: So you kind of get a car for free. Is that really likely?

Elon: Yeah absolutely this is what will happen. So there will be a shared autonomy fleet where you buy your car and you can choose to use that car exclusively. You can choose to have used only by friends and family only by five star… other drivers who are rated five star. You can choose to share it sometimes but not other times. That’s  100 percent what will occur. It’s just a question of when.

Chris: Wow. So you mentioned the Semi and I think you’re planning to announce this in September, but I’m curious whether there’s anything you could show us today?

Elon: I will show you a teaser shot of the truck. It’s alive.

Chris: OK.

Elon: Now this is definitely a case we want to be cautious about the autonomy features because.

Chris: We can’t see that much of it. It doesn’t look like just a little friendly neighborhood truck. It looks kind of bad ass. What sort of semi is this?

Elon: So this is a heavy duty, long range, semi-truck. So it’s like the highest weight capability and and with long range. So essentially it’s meant to alleviate the heavy duty trucking loads. And this is something which people do not today think is possible. They think the truck doesn’t have enough power or it doesn’t have enough range. And then with those with the Tesla semi we want to show that no, an electric truck actually can out-torque any diesel semi and if you had a tug-of-war competition, the Tesla semi what will tug the diesel semi uphill.


Chris: That’s pretty cool. And short term these aren’t driverless? These are going to be trucks that truck drivers want to drive?

Elon: Yes. So what will be really fun about this is you have a flat torque RPM curve with an electric motor, whereas with a diesel motor or any kind of internal combustion engine car you’ve got a torque RPM curve that looks like a hill. So this will be a very spry truck. You could drive this around like a sports car. There’s no gears. It’s like single speed.

Chris: So, there is a great movie to be made here somewhere. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know that it ends well but there is a great movie.

Elon: I mean it’s quite bizarre test driving. You know, when I was driving the test prototype for the first truck, it’s really weird because you’re driving around and you’re just you’re so nimble and you’re in this giant truck.

Chris: Wait, wait. You’ve already driven the prototype?

Elon: Yeah, yeah. I drove it around the parking lot. I was like this is crazy.

Chris: Wow. This is no vaporware.

Elon: It is just like driving this giant truck and sort of making these mad maneuvers.

Chris: This is cool. OK, from a really bad ass picture to a kind of less bass ass picture. This is just a cute house from “Desperate Housewives” or something. What on earth is going on here?

Elon: Well this illustrates the picture of the future that I think is how things will evolve. You’ve got an electric car in the driveway. If you look in between the electric car and the house there are actually three power walls stacked up against the side of the house and then that that house roof is a solar roof. So that’s the actual solar glass roof.

Chris: OK. So those…

Elon: That’s a picture of a real, well… admittedly it’s a it’s a real fake house. That’s a real fake house.

Chris: So this these roof tiles. Some of them have in them…

Elon: Yeah.

Chris: basically solar power. The ability to…

Elon: Yeah. Solar glass tiles where you can you can adjust the texture and the color to a very fine grain level. And then there’s sort of micro louvers in the glass, such that when you’re looking at the roof from street level or close to street level. All the tiles look look the same whether there is a solar panel behind it or a solar cell behind it or not. So you have an even color from from the ground level. If you look at it from a helicopter you’re actually able to look through and see that some of the glass tiles have a solar cell behind them and some do not. You can’t tell from street level.

Chris: Right. You put them in the ones that are likely to see a lot of sun and that makes them super affordable right? Not that much more expensive than just tiling the roof.

Elon: Yeah, we’re very confident that the cost of the roof plus the cost of electricity… A solar glass roof will be less than the cost of a normal roof plus the cost of electricity. So in other words, this will be economically a no-brainer. It will look… We think it will look great… And it will last… We thought about having the warranty be infinity, but then people said, well, that might sound like we were just talking rubbish, but I actually this is toughened glass. Well after the house has collapsed and there’s nothing there, the roof… the glass tiles will still be there.

Chris: I mean this is cool. So you’re rolling this out in a couple weeks time, I think with four different roofing types.

Elon: Yeah, we’re starting off with two. Two initially and the second two will be introduced early next year.

Chris: What’s the scale of ambition here? How many houses do you believe could end up having this type of roofing?

Elon: I mean, I think eventually. I think eventually almost all houses will have a solar roof. Now the thing is to consider the time scale here to be probably on the order of 40 or 50 years. So on average the roof is replaced every 20 to 25 years. So but you don’t you don’t start replacing all roofs immediately, but eventually, if you say you were to fast forward to say 15 years from now, it will be unusual to have a roof that does not have solar.

Chris: Is there a mental model thing that people don’t get here that is been because of the shift in the cost, the economics of solar power that like most houses actually have enough sunlight on their roof, pretty much to power all of their needs if you could capture the power. You could pretty much power all that needs right? But you could go off grid kinda?

Elon: Yeah. It kind of depends on where you are and what the house size is relative to the roof area. But it’s a fair statement to say that most houses in the U.S. have enough roof area to power all the needs of the house.

Chris: OK. So the key to the economics of the cars, the Semi, these houses, is the falling price of lithium ion batteries which you have made a huge bet on as Tesla and in many ways that’s the core competency. And you’ve decided to really, like, own that competency, you just have to build the world’s largest manufacturer to double the world’s supply of lithium ion batteries.

Elon: Yeah.

Chris: With this guy. What is this?

Elon: Yes, so that’s the Gigafactory, the progress so far on the Gigafactory. Eventually, you could sort of roughly see that there’s sort of a diamond shape overall. When it’s fully done it’ll be it looks like a giant diamond or that’s the idea behind it. It’s aligned on true North. That’s a small detail.

Chris: And capable of producing like one hundred or eventually like a hubdred gigawatt hours of the batteries a year.

Elon: A hundred gigawatt hours. We think probably more, but yeah.

Chris: And they’re actually being produced right now. Right. This is the video. I mean is that speeded up?

Elon: That’s actually the slowed down version.

Chris: Yeah. How fast does it actually go?

Elon: Well when it’s running at full speed you can’t actually see the cells without a strobe light. It is just blur.

Chris: I mean one of your one of your core ideas, Elon, about what makes an exciting future is the future where we no longer feel guilty about energy. How? Help us picture this. I mean how many Gigafactories, if you like, does it take to get us there.

Elon: It’s about a hundred roughly. It’s not ten. It is not a thousand. Most likely a hundred.

Chris: I kinda find this amazing. You can actually picture, if that’s right, you can picture what it would take to move the world off this vast fossil fuel thing. It’s like you’re building one. Cost five billion dollars maybe the next one or whatever, five to 10 billion dollars. Like it’s kind of cool that you can picture that project. And you’re planning to do, at Tesla or at least announce another two this year.

Elon: I will announce locations for between two and four Gigafactories later this year probably four. World.

Chris: Wow.


Chris: No more teasing from you for here. Like where? Continents. You can say no.

Elon: We need to address a global market.

Chris: OK this is cool. Hehe. I think we should actually double mark it so I have to ask you one question about politics, only one. I’m kind of sick of politics but I do want to ask you this. Your on a body now giving advice to a guy who has said he doesn’t really believe in climate change and there’s a lot of people out there who kind of think you shouldn’t be doing that. They’d like you to walk away from that. What would you say to them?

Elon: Well I think that this first of all I’m just on two advisory councils where the format consists of going around the room and asking people’s opinion on things. And so there’s like a meeting every month or two. You know that’s the sum total of my contribution. But I think to the degree that there are people in the room who are arguing in favor of doing something about climate change or, you know, other sort of social issues. You know, I mean, I’ve used the meetings I’ve had thus far to argue in favor of immigration and in favor of climate change and if I hadn’t done that there wouldn’t… that wasn’t on the agenda before. So maybe nothing will happen but at least the words were said.

Chris: OK. So, let’s talk SpaceX and Mars. Last time you were here, you spoke about what seemed like a kind of incredibly ambitious dream to develop rockets that are actually reusable. And you’ve only gone and done it.

Elon: Yeah. Finally. It took a long time.

Chris: Talk us through this. What are we looking at here?

Elon: This is one of our rocket boosters coming back from very high and fast in space. So just delivered the upper stage at high velocity. I think this may have been sort of Mark 7 or so. Delivery of the of the upper stage.

Chris: That was sped up…

Elon: That’s the slowed down version.

Chris: I thought that was the sped-up version. But, I mean, that’s amazing. And several of these failed before you finally figured out how to get to do it. But now you’ve landed, you’ve done this what five or six times?

Elon: Eight or nine or something.

Chris: Yeah. And for the first time, she re-flown one of the rockets that landed so…

Elon: Yeah, we landed the rocket booster and then prepped it for flight again and flew it again. It’s the first re-flight of an orbital booster where that re-flight is relevant so it’s important to appreciate that reusability is only relevant if it is rapid and complete.

Chris: Right.

Elon: So like an aircraft or a car, the reusability is rapid and complete. You do not send your aircraft into Boeing in between flights.

Chris: Right. So this allowing you to dream of this really ambitious idea of sending like many, many people to Mars in 10 or 20 years time, I guess. In the next 20 years.

Elon: Yeah.

Chris: And you’ve designed this outrageous rocket to do it. Help us understand the scale of this thing.

Elon: Well visually you can see that’s a person. That and that’s the vehicle.

Chris: So if that was a skyscraper. That’s like 40 stories high skyscraper?

Elon: Yeah. Probably a little more. Yeah. The thrust level of this is really… This configuration is about four times the thrust of the Saturn V moon rocket.

Chris: Four times the thrust of the biggest rocket humanity ever created before.

Elon: Yeah yeah. I mean…

Chris: As one does

Elon: Yeah.


Elon: I mean in units of 747… 747 is only about a quarter million pounds of thrust. So that’s. So there are probably 10 million pounds of thrust there’s 40 747’s. So this would be the thrust equivalent of one hundred and twenty 747s… with all engines blazing.

Chris: And so even with a machine designed to escape Earth’s gravity, I think you told me last time, this thing can actually take a fully loaded 747, people, cargo, everything into orbit?

Elon: Exactly. This thing can take a fully loaded 747 with maximum fuel, maximum passengers, maximum cargo on the 747. This can take it as cargo.

Chris: So based on this you presented recently this Interplanetary Transport System which is visualized this way and this is a scene you picture in, what, 30 years, 20 years time? People walking into this rocket.

Elon: I mean I’m hopeful it’s sort of in the eight… Eight to 10-year timeframe. Aspirationally that’s our target. Our internal targets are more aggressive. But I think. Yeah. So this seems quite large and it’s large by comparison with other rockets. I think… The future spacecraft will be will make this look like a rowboat. I mean this is. The future spaceships will be truly enormous.

Chris: Why, Elon. Because of this…  Why do we need to build a city on Mars with a million people on it in your lifetime, which I think is kind of what you’ve said you’d love to do?

Elon: Yeah, I think it’s important to have a future that is inspiring and appealing. I mean, I just think that 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 and being a multi-planet species, I find that’s incredibly depressing if that’s not the future that we’re going to have.


Chris:  People want what position this as an either or. That there are so many desperate things happening on the planet now from climate to poverty. You know you pick your issue and this feels like a distraction. You shouldn’t be thinking about this. You should be solving what’s what’s here now. And to be fair, you’ve done a fair old bit to actually do that with your, you know, work on sustainable energy. But why not just do that?

Elon: I think there’s. I look at the future from a standpoint of probabilities. It’s like it’s like a branching stream of probabilities. And their actions that we can take that affect those probabilities. Or that accelerate one thing or slow down another thing, or make you know, introduce something new to the probability stream. Sustainable energy will happen no matter what. If there was no Tesla. If Tesla would have never existed, it would have to happen out of necessity. It is tautological. If you if you don’t have sustainable energy, it means you have unsustainable energy. Eventually, you run out and the the laws of economics will drive or drive civilization 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.

So I think like what is the fundamental good of a company like Tesla, I would say, hopefully, if it accelerated that by a decade, potentially more than a decade, that would be quite a good thing to occur. That’s what I consider to be the fundamental sort of aspirational good of Tesla.

Then, there’s becoming a multi-planet species and space-faring civilization. This is not inevitable. It’s very important to appreciate this is not inevitable. The sustainable energy future, I think, is largely inevitable but being space-faring civilization is definitely not inevitable. If you look at the progress in space, in 1969 were able to send somebody to the moon. 1969. Then we had the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle could only take people to low Earth orbit. Then the space Shuttle retired, and the United States could take no one to orbit. So that’s the trend. The trend is like down to nothing. This is not… We’re mistaken when we think that technology just automatically improves. It does not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better. And actually it will, I think, it by itself degrade actually. We look at great civilizations like ancient Egypt and they were able to make the pyramids and they forgot how to do that. And the Romans they built these incredible aqueducts. They forgot how to do it.

Chris: You know, it almost seems listening to you and looking at all the different things you’ve done, that you’ve got this unique double motivation on everything, that I find so interesting. One is this desire to work for humanity’s long-term good. The other is the desire to do something exciting. And it often, feels like you, you feel like, you need the one to drive the other. With Tesla you want to have sustainable energy so you make these super sexy exciting cars to do it. You know, solar energy, we need to get there so we need to make these beautiful roofs. We haven’t even spoken about your newest thing, which we don’t have time to do, but you want to save humanity from bad AI, and so you’re going to create this really cool brain-machine interface to give us all infinite memory and telepathy and so forth. And on Mars, it feels like what you’re saying is, yeah we need we need to save humanity and have a backup plan, but also we need to inspire humanity. And this is this is a way to inspire.

Elon: I think that the value of using inspiration is very much underrated. No question. But I want to be clear, I am not trying to be anyone’s savior. That is not the… I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.

Chris: Beautiful statement. I think everyone here would agree that it is not. None of this is going to happen inevitably. The fact that in your mind, you dream this stuff. You dream stuff that no one else would dare dream or no one else would be capable of dreaming at the level of complexity that you do. The fact that you do that, Elon Musk, is a really remarkable thing. Thank you for helping us all to dream a bit bigger.

Elon: But you’ll tell me if it ever starts getting genuinely insane right?

Laughter & applause

Chris: Thank you, Elon Musk. That was really, really fantastic. That was really fantastic.

Watch the video below for the entire interview:

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Avatar for Haye Kesteloo Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Main Writer at DroneDJ, where he covers all drone-related news and product reviews. He also contributes to the other sites in the 9to5Mac group such as; 9to5Mac, 9to5Google, 9to5Toys and Electrek. Haye can be reached at or @hayekesteloo