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What Drives Elon Musk?

Every 3 hours.

That is about how often Elon Musk checks which, in his own words, corresponds nicely with his rate of going to the bathroom. This was one of many fascinating factoids revealed to myself and other members of the audience at the New York Times’ 2023 DealBook Summit, where Elon’s scheduled 45-minute interview ended up lasting twice that long.

A truly unfiltered conversation during which no one dozed off.

You can watch the full interview here.

No matter your opinion of Elon (and trust me, he does not care what you think of him), there can be little doubt he is a candidate for the person of the century, if not a longer time-period. Not so much because of his significant contributions towards the advancement of electric cars, batteries, solar panels, e-car charging networks, global internet deployment, tunnels, social networking, remote payment systems, A.I. and non-flame throwers, but because of his fundamental driving belief that to avoid becoming just another forgotten space-time blip, humanity must become an interplanetary species, and after that, an interstellar one.

And here you thought that SpaceX was just the leading rocket company, delivering over 80% of the world’s payload mass in 2023. Nope. Funded largely by Starlink, with its reliable, reusable launches dramatically reducing the cost of pushing mass into orbit, SpaceX is just the first of many required steps towards humanity eventually understanding what “42” means, which as any reader of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” knows, is the answer to the “ultimate question”.

At the age of 12 and struggling with depression, Elon’s life changed for the better after reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide. He found purpose, logically reasoning that humans cannot deduce this “ultimate question” if we are no longer around. In other words, we must survive as a species if we are to make sense of the amazing universe that we are part of. Implying that humanity must become interplanetary, as it is wishful thinking to assume that planet Earth as we know it will last forever, let alone even another 100 years, given the collective possibilities of a meteor strike, an unfriendly alien invasion, nuclear war, runaway climate, A.I. gone bad, a truly deadly epidemic, etc.

I share his conviction that despite our imperfections, humanity is special and worth saving. That the pursuit of knowledge is a noble undertaking. Some do not share this belief, and in fact, subscribe to the opposite theory, that humanity is the problem. That Mother Earth is better off without us.

Meaning what exactly? That without humans, all other life forms on Earth would peacefully co-exist? Only true if one conveniently ignores that these other species spend most of their time competing with and eating each other.

And then some future, inevitable catastrophic event wipes them all out.

Beautiful and dystopian.

The truth is that there is no shortage of planets, and probably no shortage of Earth-like planets. What there probably is a shortage of are, given the lack of any received signals for the last 100 years or so, planets that have created intelligent life.

Let’s not let this one go to waste.

I have been working on this blog entry on and off for three days now, during which a Falcon 9 lifted off on the day of the DealBook Summit, with two more Falcon launches scheduled for today and tomorrow. I need to write faster if I am to keep up with these launches.

Like Elon or not, he is pushing humans into Space at a pace no one imagined a decade ago, driven by his belief that humanity is worth saving.

With some help from free-market capitalism, and the entrepreneurs it empowers.


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