Some Lessons From Elon Musk

September 10th 2018

On AI

AI is the greatest risk we face today

Elon Musk has sounded off on AI various times, and how it can pose a massive threat to the world. At a meeting of the nation’s governors, Elon Musk warned that artificial intelligence was “the greatest risk we face as a civilization”. As a result of his deep involvement in the tech industry, Elon Musk said he “[has] access to the very most cutting edge AI,” and that “people should be really concerned about it.”

Musk also apparently believes that Google is “building a fleet of artificial-intelligence-enhanced robots capable of destroying mankind.” In a tweet, Elon Musk stated that AI was “potentially more dangerous than nukes”.

AI should be regulated

At the same meeting, Musk stated that he believes AI is one of the few fields where regulation is necessary:

“AI’s a rare case where we need to be proactive in regulation, instead of reactive. Because by the time we are reactive with AI regulation, it’s too late.”

AI could be used in war

Elon Musk is also concerned that AI can be used in a warfare scenario, by being able to create massive amounts of fake news (i.e. in a propaganda scheme to push a certain ideology), fake press releases, and manipulating information in general. Musk believes “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

In some ways, we are already seeing this take place. For example, we’re seeing this with the infamous “deepfakes”. Deepfakes are manipulated videos that make it so that a person appears to do/say something that they did not actually do/say in reality. An example of this sort of thing in action can be found HERE, in which a video is manipulated to make former U.S. President Barack Obama appear to say things that he did not actually say.

On Simulation Theory

There’s a very small chance we don’t live in a simulation

Elon Musk has said “There’s a billion to one chance we’re living in base reality.”

“If you assume any rate of improvement at all then games will become indistinguishable from reality… Even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now, let’s just imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale”

Don’t talk about simulation theory in the hot tub

Elon Musk says that he’s thought about the idea that we’re in a simulation “even in hot tubs. So much so that [the conversation] had to be banned from a hot tub. It’s not the sexiest conversation.”

On Colonizing Mars

Mars isn’t a bad place to die

Elon Musk once said that he wants to die on mars, just not on impact. When asked to clarify his views, he said “If you’re going to choose a place to die, then Mars is probably, you know, not a bad choice. It’s not a Martian death wish. But to be born on Earth, die on Mars. [That’s] pretty good.”

On Having Kids

You should have some

Elon Musk said, “Kids are great. You guys should all have kids! I don’t see mine enough actually. What I find is I’m able to be with them and still be on e-mail. I can be with them and still be working at the same time.”

With that being said, being the executive of three different companies and the father of five kids isn’t exactly easy. He’s said that he’d like to “take it down a scootch” and that his new year’s resolution was to have more fun.

On Social Media

Excessive social media use can lead to sadness

In one portion of Joe Rogan’s interview with Elon Musk (which you should check out if you haven’t already), Musk says:

“People look like they have a much better life than they really do…People are posting pictures of when they’re really happy, they’re modifying those pictures to be better looking. Even if they’re not modifying the pictures they’re at least selecting the pictures for the best lighting, the best angle.
So people basically seem way better looking than they really are, and they’re way happier seeming than they really are. So if you look at everyone on Instagram you might think ‘man, there are all these happy, beautiful people and I’m not that good looking and I’m not happy so I must suck’. That’s going to make people sad”

People look happier on social media than they actually are

In the interview, Elon Musk continued by saying, “Those people you think are super happy are actually not that happy. Some of them are really depressed, they’re very sad. Some of the happiest seeming people [are] actually some of the saddest people in reality.”

Spend more time with friends instead of using social media

“This may sound corny,” Elon says, “but love is the answer… Wouldn’t hurt to have more love in the world… We should do that. Like, really… Spend more time with your friends and less time on social media”

On Having A Positive Impact

Make things that people love

Elon Musk continues by saying, “With Tesla we try to make things that people love… How many things can you buy that you really love that really give you joy? So rare, so rare. I wish there more things. That’s what we’re trying to do [at Tesla]. Make things that somebody loves. That’s so difficult”

Elon’s long-term goal

In the same interview with Joe Rogan, Elon Musk what his ultimate goal (i.e. purpose) is in his life:

“My goal is to try to do useful things, try to maximize the probability the future is good, [and] make the future exciting. Something you look forward to.”

On Having A Purpose

Elon Musk says later on in the interview, “There need to be things that make you look forward to waking up in the morning. You wake up in the morning you look forward to the day, forward to the future.”

On How To Think

Reason by first principles, not analogy

Elon Musk has said that instead of using analogies to think about things (e.g. We’re making a product X that is similar to Y). Using analogies to think about problems causes only slight iterations in solutions. So why are analogies often used? According to Musk, thinking from analogy is significantly easier than thinking from first principles. What is first principle thinking?

“What it really means is you boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, ok, what are we sure is true? Or we’re sure is possible is true? Then reason up from there.”

On Taking Risks

Take risks when you’re young

At a USC commencement speech, Elon Musk spoke about why taking risks when you’re young is so incredibly important:

“Now is the time to take risks. You don’t have kids, but as you get older, your obligations increase. And once you have a family, you start taking risks not only for yourself, but for your family as well. It gets much harder to do things that might not work out. So now is the time to do that, before you have those obligations. So I would encourage you to take risks now. Do something bold. You won’t regret it.”

Do meaningful things even if it’s risky

Elon Musk has said that he always aims to do “whatever action I can to ensure that the future is good… At the beginning I thought Tesla and SpaceX maybe had a 10 percent chance at success”

Although both SpaceX and Tesla seemingly had small chances of actually succeeding, they’re now in a position where they’ve created products that users love (especially with Tesla). If something is important, you shouldn’t be spending time doing the calculus on the chances of succeeding.

On Running A Company

Don’t focus on the money

In an interview with INC Magazine, Elon Musk said:

“When I started the first internet company, Zip2, with my brother and another person, Greg Curry, it wasn’t really with the thought of being wealthy. I have nothing against being wealthy, it was just from the standpoint of wanting to be part of the internet. I figured if we could make enough money to just get by, that would be okay. When we started off, we literally only had one computer, so it would be our web server during the day, and I’d be coding at night. And we just got a small office, in Palo Alto back when rent was not insane, um, and it cost us like $350 a month. It was cheaper than an apartment, so we just slept in the office, and then showered at the YMCA on Page Mill & El Camino. So we’d walk over there and shower.”

Starting a company is REALLY difficult

Musk has said that running “Starting a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss. You have to do lots of things you don’t like.”

He also thinks that our brains aren’t equipped to handle the death of a company, and that it’s similar to the death of a person to our brains:

You have to put in incredible amounts of efforts and huge amounts of stress — and it’s much more painful than most people realize. And most companies die. On a certain level in your brain, your brain — we didn’t evolve, like, with companies; we evolved to respond to real death. And even though a company’s death is not real, it’s not like someone is physically dying, your brain doesn’t quite understand that on the limbic system level. So it’s really sort of painfully stressful. You probably don’t want to go through that more than once.

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