#252 – Elon Musk: SpaceX, Mars, Tesla Autopilot, Self-Driving, Robotics, and AI | Lex Fridman Podcast

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Key Takeaways

  • The holy grail of orbital rocketry is making a fully reusable rocket
    • This alone would greatly lower the cost of achieving sustainable life on another planet, including Mars
    • SpaceX is trying to do just that… “I don’t care about altruism or pessimism, fuck that, we’re gonna get it done” – Elon Musk
  • Being multi-planetary is like buying life insurance on life itself
    • Given a long enough period of time, the Earth is likely to experience some sort of calamity. It’s important to think in probabilities, not certainties.
    • If a calamity doesn’t occur, the sun is slowly expanding and the earth will no longer be able to sustain life in roughly 500 million years
    • This sounds like a long time but it’s only 10% longer than Earth has existed (4.5 Billion years)
  • “Cryptocurrency is an interesting approach to reducing the error in the database that is called money” – Elon Musk
    • The government effectively has editing privileges on the ‘money database’
    • Printing more money creates errors in the database
      • “Diluting the money supply is a pernicious form of taxation” – Elon Musk
  • “Tesla Autopilot features will be far better than James Bond in his best movies… impossible maneuvers that a human can not do” – Elon Musk
  • “Many years in the future, I think work will become optional” – Elon Musk
    • Tesla Bot may be a future substitute for jobs that are boring or dangerous. People typically only do this type of work out of necessity, not out of passion.
  • “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor” – Lex Fridman quoting Elon Musk
    • Be useful – contribute more than you consume, have a net positive contribution to society
  • Lex asked Elon if he would briefly join a long-form interview with Vladimir Putin in the future
    • Elon said he would be happy to

Intro

  • Elon Musk (@elonmusk) joins Lex Fridman for his third appearance on the podcast to explore the endless possibilities of our future including the necessities for sustainable life on another planet, the challenges of autopilot, how money is a database, and more.
  • Check out more Podcast Notes with Elon Musk
  • Host: Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

SpaceX

  • “First, Elon, thank you for giving the world hope and a reason to be excited about the future” – Lex Fridman
  • Crew Dragon Demo 2 – first SpaceX flight with humans on board
    • The launch was extremely stressful but prepared – there was nothing more anyone could think of to improve the probability of success
    • “I’m not a religious person, but I got on my knees and prayed for that mission” – Elon Musk
  • Inspiration4 – the world’s first civilian mission to reach orbit
  • It’s worrying to Elon that we have not returned to the Moon, have we peaked as a civilization?
    • He suggests we need to build a proper science base on the Moon
  • Elon is the Chief Engineer on all SpaceX projects; if anything were to go wrong, it’s on him
    • “Prototypes are easy, production is hard” – Elon Musk
    • Starship – the engine is incredibly complex to produce – requires rare materials and unique components
  • The holy grail of orbital rocketry is making a fully reusable rocket
    • This is the critical innovation for the future of space flight and human civilization in space
    • Many have tried, all have failed so far… “I don’t care about altruism or pessimism, fuck that, we’re gonna get it done” – Elon Musk
      • The Falcon 9 is the first to be semi-successful, half of the rocket is reusable
  • If you’re interested in space and rocket technology for the normal person, both Elon and Lex recommend Tim Dodd’s Everyday Astronaut

Mars

  • Elon predicts SpaceX will bring a human to Mars in best case 5 years, worst case 10 years
  • The biggest challenges are in engineering and cost optimization to self-sustain life:
    • Cost per ton to orbit
    • Cost per ton to the surface of Mars (Elon estimates the going rate at $1 billion per ton, needs to be reduced by a factor of 1000 to create self-sustaining travel and life)
      • Rocket reusability is key to achieving this, this alone would reduce cost by a factor of 100
  • We need to be a multi-planet species. Given a long enough period of time, the Earth is likely to experience some sort of calamity
    • This could be caused by humans or an external event
      • It’s important to think in probabilities, not certainties.
      • Elon thinks the future of civilization will ‘most likely’ be good but becoming a multi-planet species is like taking out life insurance for life itself
    • If a calamity doesn’t occur, the sun is slowly expanding and the earth will no longer be able to sustain life in roughly 500 million years
      • This sounds like a long time but it’s only 10% longer than Earth has existed (4.5 Billion years)
  • What form of government would work best for an early civilization of humans on Mars?
    • Direct Democracy – have laws voted upon by citizens that are short enough to understand

Cookies, War & Regulation

  • “There’s always a bit of trepidation when accepting cookies, it feels as though there’s a tiny chance it will open a portal to hell” – Elon Musk
    • Just take Elon’s cookie, stop asking him!
    • Cookies are a good idea, done horribly
  • Wars sometimes act as a great cleansing function for society, there has never been a war-like event to reset the rules and regulations on technology
    • Without a reset, rules and regulations pile up – there is no ‘garbage collection’
      • Code accumulation without code removal makes progress very messy
      • It should be easier to remove a law than to enact one, overcoming the inertia of regulation
        • Elon suggests voting 60% to approve and 40% to remove regulation

Money & Crypto

  • “Cryptocurrency is an interesting approach to reducing the error in the database that is called money” – Elon Musk
    • The government effectively has editing privileges on the ‘money database’
    • Printing more money creates errors in the database
      • “Diluting the money supply is a pernicious form of taxation” – Elon Musk
  • Money is information, not power
    • If you’re stranded on a deserted island, all the money in the world will not stop you from starving…
    • “Money is a database for resource allocation” – Elon Musk
  • Dogecoin has a higher transaction volume capability than Bitcoin, also with lower transaction costs
  • Elon is NOT Satoshi Nakamoto – he would tell us if he was

Tesla Autopilot

  • “I thought the self-driving problem would be hard but it was harder than I thought” – Elon Musk
    • To solve the self-driving problem, you need to re-create the operational capacity of a human: optical senses and biological neural nets
  • Creating an accurate vector space is the hardest problem – identifying the relevant factors in your ever-changing environment
    • Example: Kids are getting off a bus, the human brain recognizes that they could be crossing in front of the bus even though you can’t see them.
    • This example describes object permanence, which is a difficult problem to solve
  • By next year, Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) should operate at level 4 of vehicle autonomy
    • The probability of an accident in FSD is significantly less than the average human
  • “Tesla Autopilot features will be far better than James Bond in his best movies… impossible maneuvers that a human can not do” – Elon Musk

Tesla Bot, The Humanoid Robot

  • Tesla Bot was introduced at Tesla’s AI day presentation, expect a prototype by next year (2022)
  • “Many years in the future, I think work will become optional” – Elon Musk
    • The majority of jobs people wouldn’t do if they didn’t get paid
    • Jobs that are dangerous or boring are where humanoid robots would add the most value
  • Elon has only thought about Tesla Bot in terms of operational performance but believes it could be a companion as well
    • Usefulness is the current priority

Reflections on History

  • A lot of history is just people getting on with their lives – war and disaster are rare & intermittent
    • Humans wouldn’t survive if these atrocities were common
    • We tend to write more about negative events in history
    • “Most of human history, a good year would be one where not too many people in your village died of the plague, starvation, freezing to death, or being killed by a neighboring village” – Elon Musk
  • Looking at history, we almost always highly criticize the morality of generations before us
  • Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    • Elon tried to read this book but it was too dark for him

Nuclear Power

  • Elon believes nuclear power is a great way to generate electricity in places that are not susceptible to natural disasters
    • We should not be shutting down nuclear power stations
    • People without an understanding of physics are making these decisions
      • Radiation is very misunderstood, everything is radiating all the time
  • Coal power plants are much worse for health and the environment than nuclear power plants

Closing Thoughts: Advice

  • Elon Musk advice to young people in their careers and life in general:
    • Be useful – do things that are useful to your fellow human beings
    • Are you contributing more than you consume? Have a positive net contribution to society
    • Don’t be a leader for the sake of being a leader
    • Use the mental tools of physics and apply them broadly in life
    • Read a lot of books, ingest lots of information broadly
    • “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor” – Lex Fridman quoting Elon Musk

Additional Notes

  • Lex asked Elon if he would briefly join a long-form interview with Vladimir Putin in the future
    • Elon said he would be happy to
  • Lex and Elon briefly discussed his appearance on Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: Addendum
    • We took extensive Podcast Notes on the conversation – Check them out!
  • Check out 2:00:37 – 2:15:00 for an epic meme review
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Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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