Elon Musk has become a sort of Willy Wonka figure for technology, being CEO of multiple major tech companies like Tesla and SpaceX. People seem to be mystified by every announcement he makes about space travel, artificial intelligence and electric cars. The media portrays him as a savior of mankind that will perform scientific miracles to launch us into a utopian future. His word seems to be the gospel when it comes to the future. The problem with this is that Elon Musk is more of a businessman than a scientist.
It’s ironic that he would run an electric car company called “Tesla” because Musk acts more like Thomas Edison than Nikola Tesla. Edison was a patent clerk who hired inventors to work on projects for him. He was brutally effective in snagging patents and making a fortune off of the genius of others. One of Edison and Nikola Tesla’s biggest quarrels was that Nikola Tesla wanted to invent a way to give free energy to everyone and Edison did not.
Since Musk invented the Tesla electric car, people hail him as being a champion of the environment. Even though he invented cars that are significantly cleaner than regular ones, he markets them as being luxury vehicles and sells them at lucrative prices. Musk’s goal is not to make a better world, it’s to make a profit. This doesn’t make him a despicable human being though. Everyone is out to make money. The problem is that he gets treated as a Jesus figure despite this.
There also seems to be major praise going his way for the SpaceX program. SpaceX is only one of many space programs run by a private business. Privatized space exploration is a double edged sword because it incentivizes scientists to innovate space travel in a way we haven’t seen since the ‘60s, but it does so in all the wrong ways due to the fact that it gives businesses the freedom to do what they wish with something as significant as mankind’s journey into space.
We can be sure that private business will find a way to make it to space and when they do people will be happy about it. However, the private sector is not known for thinking of things in the long term. Their goal is to make profits and they generally do so with a degree of short sightedness. For example, oil companies continue to have catastrophic spills in the ocean while gunning for the Keystone Pipeline to be built.
One of the major perks is that it gets people interested in science, which humanity desperately needs. The scientific discoveries achieved through this would be very beneficial to mankind. At the end of the day though, they will choose to fund research that help themselves and not mankind. Again, Musk is an Edison; his goal isn’t to help the world, it’s to make money, and I don’t think he is deserving of praise for that reason.
Elon Musk is a bit of a sensationalist. The things he says tend to be extreme and about shocking people with predictions of the future. His Twitter is riddled with posts about how AI is a bigger threat to mankind than global warming or nuclear war. Though it may be true, the way he presents this idea is more like a doomsday crier on the street corner than a scientist. Musk is also a big proponent of the claim that mankind is living in a simulation. The general idea is that if it’s possible to build a computer strong enough to simulate the universe, it’s most likely that it already exists and we are living inside it. No rational scientist agrees with this claim, but I keep getting sent articles about how we live in the Matrix because people want to trust what Elon Musk has to say.
Elon Musk is a smart guy. He’s a good businessman and he’s made dozens of contributions to scientific advancement. However, I think we as a society put too much faith in scientists turned celebrities and tend to take their word as gospel. We should be more skeptical of tech companies’ goals and not take what anyone famous enough has to say as fact.