Elon-Ted

Elon Musk: A Future Worth Getting Excited About | TED

Watch the full interview on YouTube and read the Podcast Notes from Elon’s TED 2022 chat

Key Takeaways

  • Three elements to a sustainable energy future: Sustainable generation, energy storage, and electric transport
    • The limiting factor is battery capacity which needs to grow to roughly 300TWh
    • A renewable energy grid will lower energy costs, which will also enable carbon sequestration, seawater desalination, and give us quieter cities with cleaner air.
  • Elon is confident Tesla will crack full self-driving this year
  • Robotics and AI will usher in a world of abundance, “it will be so cheap to have goods and services it will be ridiculous”
    • Intelligent robots will become a common household in 10 years. They will be able to execute commands such as tidy up, mow the lawn, etc.
  • Neuralink has put in its FDA application to do the first human implant this year, its first uses will be to solve a wide range of brain and spinal injuries
  • Starship is a generalized method of transport anywhere in the solar system, it will be capable of immediate re-flight upon propellant refill.
    • Pending regulatory approval, SpaceX will attempt an orbital launch in a few months
  • “Population collapse is among the biggest threats to the human civilization, and that’s what’s going on right now” – Elon Musk
  • “If you want the future to be good, you must make it so. Take action to make it good and it will be” – Elon Musk

Is Humanity Facing a Climate Catastrophe?

  • “I am not one of the doomsday people, I actually think we are on the good path, but at the same time I want to caution against complacency” – Elon Musk
    • The future is fine as long as we keep moving towards a sustainable energy economy with a sense of urgency
  • There are three elements to a sustainable energy future:
    • Sustainable energy generation: Primarily wind and solar, but also hydro, geothermal, and nuclear.
    • Energy storage: Stationary battery packs to store energy from intermittent sources
    • Electric Transport: Electric cars, planes, boats, etc…
      • While you can’t make electric rockets, you can make rocket propellant using sustainable energy
  • A grid that relies on renewable energy will offer the world low-cost energy, this will carry further advantages such as:
    • The ability to do carbon sequestration, an energy-intensive process to pull carbon from the atmosphere
    • Turning seawater into fresh water at a low cost
    • Quieter cities with cleaner air

Battery Capacity

  • Battery capacity is the limiting factor on the path toward sustainable energy future
    • More specifically, the slowest element in the lithium-ion battery cell supply chain, from mining, and refining, to creating a cell into a pack.
  • Tesla estimates the world needs roughly 300TWh of battery storage capacity to transition to sustainable energy. This includes the current electric grid, in addition to heating and transport.
    • To put that into perspective, Tesla’s Texas Giga Factory is one of the largest buildings on Earth and it can only produce about 0.1TWh of battery capacity per year
    • Elon estimates Tesla will end up manufacturing 10% of the 300TWh. That said, Elon stresses this is an educated guess and not a hard prediction

Elon’s Aggressive Deadlines

  • Elon is known for setting aggressive timelines, this is partially to drive people to be ambitious
    • Additionally, a task won’t take less than the time you set for it. Thus, Elon developed a company culture to set the most aggressive timelines possible
  • Elon has had a long career across multiple industries, the media likes to report only his wrong predictions and ignore the right ones
  • The important point with radical technology predictions isn’t being a few years late, but that they happened at all
    • Elon may have seemingly wild predictions, “but they do come true, it’s very rare that they don’t come true” – Elon Musk

The Challenge of Full Self Driving

  • Road networks are designed to work with biological neural nets and human vision. Thus, to achieve full self-driving, we have to solve silicon neural nets and computer vision
    • To properly solve full self-driving, you have to solve real-world AI
  • There are many false stones with self-driving, but “I am actually confident that we will solve it this year” – Elon’s famous last words
    • Tesla started by doing image recognition on individual images. However, still images give much less context compared to watching a few seconds of video
      • Thus, Tesla synchronized all 8 cameras together, and one person simultaneously labels all the frames (e.g. cars, lane lines, drive space, etc.)
        • Worth noting, Tesla had to write its own labeling tools and auto-labeling software to speed up the process
      • The result is software that efficiently labels surrounding video and learns from humans correcting it
  • The remaining challenge is to predict quirky behavior and choose what events to keep in the computer’s limited memory
    • For instance, the computer needs to remember that a person walked behind a truck and predict that he will come out on the other side.

Optimus: The Humanoid Robot

  • Humanoid robots are still missing the intelligence to perform useful activities without being explicitly instructed, and manufacturing at scale, Tesla excels at both.
    • Robots will initially cost less than a cheap car and be used in manufacturing. That said, it’s unlikely to threaten jobs and we will continue to have a labor shortage
  • “This really will be a world of abundance, any goods and services will be available to anyone who wants them, it will be so cheap to have goods and services it will be ridiculous”
    • “The only scarcity that will exist in the future is that which we decide to create ourselves as humans” – Elon Musk
  • Intelligent robots will decrease in cost and become common household items in 10 years. They will be able to execute commands such as tidy up, mow the lawn, make dinner, etc.
    • Consider this, a few decades ago, people scoffed at the notion of having a computer in every home, now we have one in our pocket
    • Robot Safety feature: A localized chip with a kill command that can’t be updated over the air.
  • “People have no idea, this [Optimus] is going to be bigger than the car” – Elon Musk

Neuralink: Connecting Biological and Digital Intelligence

  • Think of the Neuralink device as a Fit bit or an Apple watch that sits inside the brain with tiny wires so it doesn’t damage the brain
    • Neuralink has put in its FDA application to do the first human implant this year, its first uses will be to solve a wide range of brain and spinal injuries
      • E.g. accidents injuries, severe depression, morbid obesity, sleep, schizophrenia, memory, etc.)
  • Humans are already cyborgs with smart devices, their communication with the digital world is limited by the slow data rate and Neuralink wants to turn it into a big highway.
    • For instance, the data rate limit for texting is your typing speed, while computers communicate beyond gigabyte levels
  • Neuralink ultimately aims to try and tightly couple the collective human world to digital superintelligence, to prevent the latter from going in an unfavorable direction
    • Additionally, as much as Elon hates regulation, he thinks there should be a regulatory agency for AI
  • In short, Worst case scenario is we solve important brain injuries; the best case is we discover new human abilities (telepathy, full memory, faster thought processing)

Starship is Fundamental to Space Exploration

  • The holy grail of space rockets is full and rapid reusability. Starship will be capable of immediate re-flight upon propellant refill.
  • Starship is a generalized method of transport anywhere in the solar system, a propellant depot on Mars will unlock travel to the asteroid belt and to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn
    • It uses methane and oxygen as propellants, which are easy to create on Mars. It’s capable of propulsive landing, and its heat shield suits both Mars and Earth
  • Pending regulatory approval, SpaceX will attempt an orbital launch in a few months. The next stage will be to refine full and rapid reusability
    • “Success is not guaranteed but excitement certainly is” – Elon Musk

Sending Starship Fleet to Mars

  • SpaceX has built a production system for Starship, capable of producing a booster and ship every couple of months, and soon one per month
    • To create a self-sustaining city on Mars, we will need 1000 ships, which can only take off every 2 years. A real-world “Battlestar Galactica, the fleet departs”
  • At first, we will need to find a million people who both want and can afford to go or to get sponsorships. Eventually, it will be affordable for the average individual
    • Keep in mind, Mars will initially be a dangerous and cramped experience with hard work
  • The people of Mars will be the ones to decide how they want to rethink society, Elon’s suggestions:
    • Direct, not representative, democracy
    • Laws that are short enough for people to understand
    • It’s harder to create laws than get rid of them

One Company for Humanity

  • Despite the synergy between Elon’s companies, they remain different in many aspects and Elon doesn’t support merging them under one roof
    • For instance, Tesla employs 110K people, SpaceX around 12K, and Boring and Neuralink under 200
      • SpaceX is private because “Making life multi-planetary is outside the normal time horizon of Wall Street analysts, to say the least”

Elon’s Wealth and Drive

  • The notion of billionaires offends some people. However, Elon doesn’t consume billions in personal consumption, doesn’t own a home or a yacht, and doesn’t take vacations.
    • Every high-quality minute of thinking can have a $1MM impact on Tesla, which drives Elon to work to the edge of sanity
  • “if you care about the reality of goodness instead of the perception of it, philanthropy is extremely difficult”
    • “SpaceX, Tesla, Neuralink, and The Boring Company are philanthropy” – Elon Musk
  • “Population collapse is one of the biggest threats to the future of human civilization, and that’s what’s going on right now” – Elon Musk
    • Elon leads by example and is a father of 7 kids

The Future is Bright

  • Human civilizational consciousness is like a small candle in vast darkness that came about after $4.5Bn years and could just go out
    • Humanity will have passed a great filter by becoming multi-planetary. The critical threshold is when Mars city becomes self-sustainable
  • We must expand the scope and the scale of consciousness to understand the nature of the universe and how we got here
    • “I would say I am motivated by curiosity more than anything and a desire to think about the future and not be sad”
  • “If you want the future to be good, you must make it so. Take action to make it good and it will be” – Elon Musk
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Notes By Mostafa Khaled

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