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Elon Musk, the SpaceX, Tesla and PayPal billionaire, wants to change the world. Here we list five things this modern-day genius and industrialist has done, plus three things he’s got in the pipeline...
Back in 1999, Musk founded X.com, an online payment firm, using cash he generated by selling Zip2, an online Yellow Pages service. Musk was interested in helping people make payments via email, so he merged with a firm called Confinity. Confinity started the online payment service PayPal, which is now a household name and was bought by eBay for more than $1 billion.
Jon Favreau, who directed the Iron Man movies, said Musk inspired his depiction of the billionaire Tony Stark. "Elon Musk makes no sense — and that’s the reason I know him,” Favreau said.
“When I was trying to bring the character of genius billionaire Tony Stark to the big screen in Iron Man, I had no idea how to make him seem real. Robert Downey Jr. said, ‘We need to sit down with Elon Musk.'" After the meeting, they decided to use Elon Musk as "inspiration" in their portrayal of Tony Stark on screen.
By the way, Musk has a cameo in Iron Man 2.
Douglas Adams’ brilliant comedy science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was a major influence on Musk’s thinking.
He told Fresh Dialogues he had an “existential crisis” when he was in his early teens so turned to books by philosophers Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, but didn’t find them very inspiring.
“So then I read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which is quite positive I think and it highlighted an important point which is that a lot of times the question is harder than the answer,” Musk said.
“And if you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part. So, to the degree that we can better understand the universe, then we can better know what questions to ask. Then whatever the question is that most approximates: what’s the meaning of life? “That’s the question we can ultimately get closer to understanding. And so I thought to the degree that we can expand the scope and scale of consciousness and knowledge, then that would be a good thing.”
Musk is not a fan of artificial intelligence, calling it the biggest existential threat facing humanity. Musk has made a significant influence in the AI debate, warning that it risks having complete rule over humans if allowed to develop unchecked.
“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence,” Musk has said. “If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful. “I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.”
Addressing a common impression that he’s a ‘disruptor’, Musk told the Telegraph: “I’m often introduced on stage as someone who likes to disrupt and I’m, like…’ He pulls a surprised face. ‘And then the first thing I have to say is, “Wait, I don’t actually like to disrupt, that sounds… disruptive!”’ He laughs. ‘I’m much more inclined to say, “How can we make things better?”
“And a lot of my motivation comes from me personally looking at things that don’t work well and feeling a bit sad about how it would manifest in the future. And if that would result in an unhappy future, then it makes me unhappy. And so I want to fix it. That really is the motivation for me. I certainly don’t believe in disrupting things for the sake of it.”
Musk would like to develop a transportation system called the Hyperloop, which would take people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in half an hour, using pressurised tubes. The rail system would whizz passengers along at an impressive 500mph.
Remember the Lotus Esprit submarine car that features in Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me? Well, when that car was sold at auction a few years ago (to the tune of around $1 million), its anonymous buyer was in fact Musk.
Musk wants to take the prop and turn it into a transformable car - yes, you’d actually be able to press a button and, hey presto - see you motor convert into an underwater vehicle. When he bought the prop, Musk said: "I was disappointed to learn that it can't actually transform. What I'm going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real."
Musk has ambitious plans when it comes to space exploration. Through SpaceX, Musk would one day like to see humans live, work and play on Mars. And he thinks we could be on the red planet pretty soon, arriving by 2025.
He envisages a “direct democracy” on the planet, saying: “It would be people voting directly on issues. And I think that's probably better because the potential for corruption is substantially diminished in a direct versus a representative democracy."
Musk famously said he’d like to die on Mars - “just not on impact”.
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