October 30, 2018 21:15:21
Puffing on a joint is all anyone really remembers about Elon Musk’s chat with US comedian Joe Rogan on his popular live-streamed podcast last month.
But this line from Silicon Valley’s $30 billion man was arguably the more compelling revelation:
“I don’t think you’d necessarily want to be me … I don’t think people would like it that much.”
That extraordinary admission from one of the most feted innovators of our time was given more context when Rogan asked about Mr Musk’s feverish creative drive.
“It’s very hard to turn it off,” Mr Musk said. “It might sound great if it’s turned on, but what if it doesn’t turn off?
“It’s like a never-ending explosion.”
It was a rare insight into the tumult of being Elon Musk in the midst of his annus horribilis.
‘Most difficult and painful year of my career’
“I’ve seen some wacky stuff in the past,” said Wall Street-based Business Insider correspondent Matthew Debord, who has met Mr Musk and covered him for a decade.
“This is wacky on top of wacky on top of zany on top of crazy. I mean he seems to be doubling down on the nutso stuff.”
It started in June with Mr Musk’s prickly Twitter tirade directed at a British cave diver assisting the rescue of Thailand’s trapped young soccer team.
When diver Vernon Unsworth suggested Mr Musk’s submarine solution wouldn’t work, without evidence the Tesla chief called him “pedo guy”.
In August, as pressure mounted on Mr Musk over production delays of his mass-market Tesla Model 3, the entrepreneur suddenly tweeted he was considering taking the electric car company private, claiming “funding” was “secured”.
It wasn’t, and Mr Musk was charged with fraud by the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC).
In a confessional interview with The New York Times, Mr Musk said his friends were worried about him. There were also reports he was taking pills to sleep.
“This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career,” he said. “It was excruciating”.
Ultimately the SEC settled with Mr Musk, requiring him to step down as Tesla chairman for a few years and to pay a US$20 million fine.
Rarely able to let things lie, this week the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and The Boring Company tweeted that the multi-million dollar penalty was “worth it”.
“There’s no-one like Elon Musk in Silicon Valley. He has an unprecedented amount of power, an unprecedented amount of money, he leads multiple companies”, Ryan Mac who reports for Buzzfeed from San Francisco, said.
Mac was also called a “f***ing asshole” by Mr Musk in an email exchange over his Buzzfeed reports on the Thai cave rescue.
“How is he able to do this and get in a Twitter fight at 2:00am?” Mac asked 7.30.
“I think that kind of perfectly sums up Elon Musk. Someone who is incredibly busy but also incredibly distracted and I think that’s what makes him so fascinating as a character.”
Making of Musk
Born in South Africa in 1971, Elon Musk was a bullied bookworm at school before teaching himself to code and selling a space-themed game called Blastar to a magazine for US$500 when he was 12.
At 17, he moved to Canada and earned degrees in physics and economics before abandoning a PhD at Stanford to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams.
At 28, he sold his first company, which designed online city-guides for newspapers, for $400 million.
With $31 million of that in his own pocket, Mr Musk went on to found an online bank which merged with Paypal before it was sold to eBay, making Mr Musk another $233 million.
Today, Mr Musk is worth about $30 billion.
His various companies all serve a bigger ambition of weaning the world off fossil fuels by creating a sustainable energy ecosystem.
Tesla is not only a leading manufacturer of electric cars but also of solar panels and lithium battery packs.
The mission of SpaceX is to make space travel cheaper, but also to ultimately enable the colonisation of Mars if the earth is one day uninhabitable.
When it’s not selling out of the flamethrowers it’s designed for consumers, The Boring Company digs tunnels underground in Los Angeles for congestion-free electric travel, and later to carry magnetically levitating trains which move faster than aeroplanes.
Year ending on positive note
“What he really believes in more than anything else is that we have to get off fossil fuels,” Debord said.
“He wants to accelerate humanity’s departure from the fossil-fuel era and he’s been about this since the beginning. That’s why all the companies that he runs are the companies that he runs.”
From a geeky, balding 28-year-old, Mr Musk has transformed himself — and his hairline — to rock-star status, with legions of cult-like followers who hang on his every word … and warning.
The species-level threat of artificial intelligence is a common theme.
“We have to figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital super-intelligence is one which is symbiotic with humanity,” he told a conference in Texas.
“I think that is the single biggest existential crisis that we face and the most pressing one.”
Suddenly, Mr Musk’s horrible year is ending on a much more positive note.
Last week, Tesla reported a record profit as prominent short-sellers of the company changed their tune.
“He’s done everything you could possibly think of to damage his own reputation and lower the stock price of the company, and possibly undermine the future of the entire business, and it would seem like he’s basically gotten away with [it],” Debord said.
“In spite of all the crazy stuff that Elon’s been doing over the course of 2018, he’s pulled it completely out of the fire. All is forgiven. Everything looks great now.
“Tesla’s surging toward a future where it’s a major player in the auto industry.”
October 30, 2018 21:01:42