“Somebody should do it. If somebody doesn’t do it, then I think I should probably do it.”
– Elon Musk
I recently watched a very interesting interview with Elon Musk filmed at Code Conference 2016. The full interview is available on Youtube and is embedded below. Here is a short summary of the things Elon talked about:
He started by explaining why his company SpaceX needs drone ships in the Atlantic, for rocket launches from Cape Canaveral: these ships will serve as landing platforms for reusable first stages of their rockets, which are worth about 70% of the cost of the rockets. Here is a video of a successful Falcon 9 first-stage landing, filmed with an onboard camera (video is sped up):
At 13:43 mark into the interview Elon describes SpaceX’s plans for the future. In a few months they plan to start re-flying the landed first stages (which they now have 4 of them). Then, by the end of 2016 they want to launch Falcon Heavy, soon-to-be the most powerful rocket in the world.
In 2017 SpaceX will fly Dragon 2 spacecraft which is capable of taking up to 7 astronauts to International Space Station, as well as being able to fly to anywhere in the Solar system. In 2018 they intend to send one of them to Mars (on an unmanned mission). Elon said he will present the architecture for Mars colonization in September this year, but he gave us a little preview of the timing: if things go well, he wants to launch people to Mars in 2024, with arriving there the next year. Pretty ambitious, considering NASA is thinking about sending people to Mars in the 2030s.
At 24:10 the conversation shifts to the future of electric vehicles (EV) and autonomous driving. Tesla Motors, another Elon’s company, is working on scaling up the production – in 2018 they aim to make half a million vehicles in total and then a million per year by 2020. Their next model (Model 3) will have a starting price of $35,000, but it is important to note that operational costs will be lower compared to a gasoline powered car – electricity is cheaper than petrol, and EV maintenance costs are much lower. He also predicted that we are less than 2 years away from complete autonomous driving technology.
At 41:35 Elon gets asked about his views on artificial intelligence (AI). He is convinced that any AI we develop has to be friendly, and AI power has to be broadly distributed (not concentrated in the hands of a few people), otherwise the future may not be good.
The wackiest thing Elon talked about, when asked by a member of the audience, was his belief that it is likely that we live in a computer simulation. His reasoning goes like this: the technology is developing very fast, so relatively soon (on an evolutionary scale) we will have a virtual reality capabilities that will be indistinguishable from the reality itself, so if these kind of things are possible then we must also conclude that there is only a one in a billion chance that we are living in a base reality.
I don’t know how you can estimate the odds about that. Also, there is no evidence that we are living in a simulation, so I find pondering about these things pure speculation. But, if someone could devise an experiment that would either prove or disprove this hypothesis, it would be worth finding out.
During the interview Elon also talked about Hyperloop, American presidential elections 2016 (he didn’t want to answer questions directly), becoming a cyborg (merging with digital intelligence by having a direct brain-computer interface), direct democracy on Mars, his family life, and more.
Elon Musk at Code Conference 2016 – full interview.
I don’t have a smartphone. I never had one and never thought that I would need one. I have a regular mobile phone that does have some limited internet capabilities, but they are a joke, so I never use them. I liked the fact that I was disconnected from the internet when I was away from my computer. I have a slight addiction to internet, so not having a smartphone seemed like a good idea.
Recently, I was travelling in England for a couple of weeks and I discovered that the world has changed. Most hostels don’t even bother to have a computer available for their guests anymore. They just offer free Wi-Fi and that’s it. Only one hostel had a computer available, but you couldn’t even connect to the internet there, because the connection didn’t work. Actually, the computer itself looked like it will crash if you press any key.
Internet cafés became a rare thing, too. I only found one, and they charged £3 per hour. Worse yet, they kicked me out after 40 minutes, because it was 8.30pm and they were closing. I still had to pay full price. Compare that to the free Wi-Fi in the hostel, which is available 24/7.
Some libraries offer free computer access to anyone. I went to one of them, but they only allow one 30 minute session (per day, I assume). So, the bottom line is that it is a hassle to connect to the internet, if you don’t have a smartphone or a tablet. Of course you could carry a laptop with you, but that is burdensome in it’s own way. My backpack was already too heavy, even though I packed a lot less things than I normally would.
Not being able to connect to the internet can be costly. The train ticket from Salisbury to London costs £38.30, if you buy it at the train station. The same journey can be made for £14–20 (depending on the hour of the day of your train), if you buy the ticket online.
I definitely will get myself a smartphone the next time I go travelling somewhere for an extended period of time. Maybe I will use it only for travelling, and I’ll still use regular mobile phone in everyday life. Who knows. But, the one thing I do know is that technology is changing fast and that old-fashioned infrastructure is no more. Evolve or suffer consequences, your choice.