Worldwide interest in the achievements being made by Elon Musk’s companies is at an all-time peak. It therefore comes as no surprise that the vast majority of his followers pay close attention to his every move. The entrepreneur recently treated them to a Q & A session at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Tech Conference, held on March 11, 2018, in Austin, Texas. The announcement had been made the night before, via email, and the audience’s questions were thrown at him by Jonathan Nolan, the co-writer of Interstellar. Musk’s answers shed light on the progress already made by his companies, and showed the direction each one would be moving in.
SpaceX, one of his companies with a shaky past, has surpassed expectations with its recent achievements. In February it achieved a successful launch of Falcon Heavy, and Musk said that their new aim was to complete the BFR in the shortest amount of time possible. The goal is for this rocket to be the first to transport humanity to Mars, which Musk believes is essential to the survival of our species. He declared that test flights are expected in 2019, even though he did acknowledge that his enthusiasm does sometimes result in unrealistic deadlines. In addition to the test next year, SpaceX is expected to conduct their first cargo journey to Mars in 2022, with crewed missions following by 2024.
Musk believes that the distance between the Earth and Mars makes it the perfect place to begin setting up a self-sustaining base, as it is more likely to survive a catastrophic event than a base on the moon. The entrepreneur insisted that we needed ‘enough of a seed of human civilization somewhere else to bring it back and shorten the length of the dark ages,’ in the event of a disaster wiping out our species. Musk believes that there are several scenarios that might cause this, including a third World War, and the irresponsible development of artificial intelligence. This led him to stress the importance of developing AI safely, a field in which he is ‘very close to the cutting edge.’ It was apparent in his manner, however, that this concept both fascinated and terrified him simultaneously. In Musk’s own words, ‘AI is much more dangerous than nukes,’ and requires a ‘regulatory oversight.’
On the other hand, Musk spoke about the same technology being applied to the advancement of autonomous cars. Within 18 months, Musk believes that self-driving technology will be applicable to all vehicles, increasing road safety between 100 and 200%. He spoke about Tesla’s autonomous driving system, Autopilot 2.0, being 2 – 3 times safer than the average human driver. Tesla is currently working towards achieving Level 5 (full) autonomy, in their vehicles. In addition to these projects, Musk has others that are changing the way technology is developing and followers look forward to his next (spontaneous) Q & A session.