A Future Worth Getting Excited About: Elon Musk’s Long TED Interview (Part 2)

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In Part 1, I gave a summary of the main things that were discussed in the interview. There were a few other things they touched on that are worth discussing, and I think there’s one thing they really missed out on.

Other Topics They Discussed

One thing Anderson tried to get at was the way different Elon Musk companies could work together. For example, Boring works with Tesla to make things like what we see in Las Vegas, or Boring could make tunnels on Mars for people to safely live in (Mars has a lot of radiation). In some ways, it would make sense to roll all of these companies together and make them one company with one mission (addressing humanity’s existential risks).

As Musk pointed out, this would be difficult. The attempt to take Tesla private and make it even possible to make it part of a bigger company didn’t go so well, and the other companies are all much smaller than Tesla. Elon Musk obviously doesn’t want to run any more publicly-traded companies, possibly for this reason.

More importantly, they weren’t designed to work together. Sure, there are synergies that have developed between his companies and more are likely in the future, but they were more happy accidents than something that was planned when each company started.

Anderson discussed Musk’s wealth, and people’s opinion of that to see what Musk thought about things like “billionaires shouldn’t exist.” Musk said he thinks people having such opinions are making logical errors and can’t see what he’s doing for what it is. He doesn’t have big houses, yachts, and other things the wealthy often have. Plus, Musk sees everything he does with every company as philanthropy already, as he’s working on the species’ biggest problems and making lives better. He was also quick to point out that people who run countries control a lot more wealth than he does.

Another thing that came up is Musk’s ideas on population collapse. He doesn’t think people are having enough kids. They didn’t get into specifics much, but it does show that this topic is still on his mind.

One Thing They Should Have Discussed More

One common thread through the interview was a focus on existential threats to humanity. Climate change, artificial intelligence, and the need to get at least some of the population off Earth were all big topics aimed at keeping extinction at bay for as long as possible. But, there was one topic that they only briefly touched on: dystopia.

One of Musk’s biggest fears of dystopia comes from the possibility that out of control artificial intelligence could come to dominate and perhaps even extinguish humanity. He also seems at least a little concerned about making sure that a future Mars colony doesn’t become a dystopia or a mistreated colony under the jurisdiction of corrupt Earth governments. So, the idea of bad government (either by humans or by artificial intelligence) has definitely crossed Musk’s mind.

With all of the recent debate on Twitter over Elon Musk’s attempts to buy the social media giant outright, the politics of freedom is a timely topic that there was definitely room for further discussion on. Demand for freedom of speech on social media is the big thing Musk is trying to satisfy by buying Twitter up and then cutting back on content moderation.

Context is important. We’d be fools to not look at where the calls for free speech on social media are coming from. It’s important to note that Republicans and right-leaning libertarians are the ones with the most beef with Twitter and other social media companies’ moderation policies. Why? Because when they’ve posted their views about social issues, they’ve been subject to having tweets deleted, and having their accounts suspended or deleted. Plus, Donald Trump got kicked off both Twitter and Facebook after the events of January 6, 2021.

If you still doubt that Musk is siding with social conservatives, consider that the recent action toward buying Twitter started after The Babylon Bee, a conservative “satire” outlet, had their Twitter account suspended for calling Admiral Rachel L. Levine, MD, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health, their “man of the year” because Levine is transgender. That’s the free speech that Elon Musk aims to protect.

And yes, calling a transgender woman a man is free speech. Nobody can really honestly debate that. But, the boundaries of protection for free speech are a point of reasonable debate. Traditionally, U.S. law and the laws of most democratic countries only protect speech from interference by government, and don’t require websites or other media to host all speech.

The owners of Twitter also have freedom to choose who they will associate with and what speech they’re going to allow on their property, but conservatives feel that their right to espouse anti-LGBT sentiment is more important than those other rights. Musk claims that Twitter is the “de facto public town square” and thus should be constrained by the First Amendment instead of enjoying its own rights to freedom of speech and association.

Musk’s increasingly cozy relationship with US conservatives leaves a lot of open questions. When Texas Governor Greg Abbott was confronted over anti-abortion and anti-LGBT policies he was pushing, he defended himself, saying that Elon Musk approves of such laws, so doing what he was doing wouldn’t chase businesses out of the state as it had before. In response, Musk gave a vague statement that didn’t deny approval of Texas laws.

Given that his desire to purchase Twitter came after an anti-LGBT tweet was deleted, it’s not unreasonable to think that maybe Musk really does approve of Texas’ attacks on women and the LGBT community. It’s a question that should have at least been asked.

A Missed Opportunity

Not asking Musk about any of this was a big missed opportunity. The rise of authoritarianism is an existential risk that rivals climate change and artificial intelligence. Don’t believe me? Just look at what the #1 non-natural cause of death was during the 20th century. Big government that gets out of control is in some ways a form of code that can get out of control and kill millions of people, just like a hypothetical future AI superintelligence. So, it’s definitely an existential risk we need to consider.

Democracy helps minimize these risks, but only when that democracy is restrained against stomping on human rights and the rights of the individual. But, Musk says he doesn’t want government to impose its rights on “the people,” a collective term. And, he thinks we should maximize “cumulative happiness,” not necessarily the happiness of individuals.

If someone is aware of all this, interviews Musk, and topics like good government or dystopia come up, these questions really should be asked:

  • If the LGBT community or women seeking abortions are negatively affecting the majority’s happiness, does he think that using the levers of government to imprison these people is a good way to maximize cumulative happiness?
  • Should government favor free speech over other rights like freedom of association or private property? What are the contours of the interaction between those rights?
  • Would a future Mars colony be an unrestricted free speech zone that’s hostile to women and the LGBT community?
  • What freedoms, if any, should be protected from voters?
  • How can we address climate change with people like Greg Abbott or Donald Trump in charge?

Elon Musk obviously has freedom to hold certain positions, but as a leader in the cleantech community who seems to increasingly involve himself in politics, we really should have clear answers to at least some of these questions. But Elon Musk tends to only interact with media personalities that give him the easy questions and generally admire him, so we may never actually know.

Featured image by SpaceX.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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