Interview done by Kara Swisher at Tesla headquarter
Elon Musk dipping by himself the flow of consciousness of society:
“Eyes are basically just cameras. All creatures on Earth navigate with cameras. A fish eagle can see a fish from far away and take into account the refractive index of the water, dive down and get the fish from far away. There’s no question that image-recognition neural nets and cameras, you can be superhuman at driving with just cameras. (…)
Yeah. Yeah. You can definitely make things work like in one particular city or something like that by special-casing it, but in order to work, you know, all around the world in all these different countries where there’s, like, different road signs, different traffic behavior, there’s like every weird corner case you can imagine. You really have to have a generalized solution. And best to my knowledge, no one has a good generalized solution except … and I think no one is likely to achieve a generalized solution to self-driving before Tesla. I could be surprised, but… (…)
What I want to get at is why you’re doing that. It’s not a trivial … Why do you think you want to push yourself that hard?
Well, the other option would have been, Tesla dies.
Yeah. Tesla cannot die. Tesla is incredibly important for the future of sustainable transport and energy generation. The fundamental purpose, the fundamental good that Tesla provides is accelerating the advent of sustainable transport and energy production.
Which I think most people credit you for doing. Pushing everyone else into it at the same time, correct?
Yes. The success of Tesla is, by far, the biggest forcing function for the other carmakers to get into into electric cars. They’ve said so.
No, there’s no question. I was just having a discussion with someone the other day, and I said, “He has pushed everybody into this, really dramatically. There wouldn’t have been this much investment. There wouldn’t have been this.”
Yes. It’s very important for the future of the world. It’s very important for all life on Earth. This supersedes political parties, race, creed, religion, it doesn’t matter. If we do not solve the environment, we’re all damned.
And this way via sustainable transportation.
Yes. It sort of blows my mind, all these social justice warriors driving around in diesel cars. It’s outrageous.
You’re doing this to yourself because you think that the world depends … Not the fate of the world. You’re not a cartoon character.
No, I think the electrification of transport, and there’s also an important part of Tesla which is solar and stationary batteries, because you need to generate electricity in a standard, sustainable way with solar and then store it at night when the sun goes down with batteries, and then use that energy from the sun to power cars. Without Tesla, this would still happen. There would still be a transition to sustainable energy, but it would take much longer. History will judge this, obviously, but I would say on the order of 10 years, maybe 20 years. (…)
SpaceX and dying on Mars
Well let’s get to rockets, then. SpaceX. Last time we talked, you said you wanted to die on Mars, just not on landing. Which was a very funny joke, although it’s probably not a joke, it’s probably —
Well, it’d be ironic if that had happened. I have to be careful about tempting fate, because I think often the most ironic outcome is the most probable.
It just very often seems like reality tries to … Actually, technically, there’s a friend of mine, Jonah Nolan, who had this like modification of Occam’s razor where he said he thinks “the most ironic outcome is the most likely.” And then I think that there’s some truth to that. And then also I think sometimes the most entertaining outcome is the most likely.
And people today may not realize back then it was wildly panned as a ridiculous thing to create the Air Force, but now everyone’s like, “Obviously, you should have an Air Force.” And I think it’s gonna become obvious that we should have a Space Force, too. (…)
You know, it’s basically defense in space. And then I think also it could be pretty helpful for maybe expanding our civilization … You know, expanding things beyond Earth.
I think we could just have a base on the moon, for example. A base on Mars. Be great to expand on the idea of a Space Force. Anyone who has an exploratory spirit, and I think that especially applies to a country like the United States, where you know it’s kind of the distillation of the spirit of human exploration. I think the idea of being out there among the stars and among the planets is very exciting. (…) (…)
You’re not buying a newspaper, are you?
No, I don’t generally acquire things.
Yeah, just curious.
I create companies, but I don’t really acquire them. So I wouldn’t … I have no plans. It does seem to be popular these days. (…)
What is the toll on you? What has been the toll on you and your employees? How do you think about that?
It’s been terrible. This year felt like five years of aging, frankly. The worst year of my entire career. Insanely painful.
Was there any other way to do it? You didn’t think there was any other way to have it happen? Why this year?
For this past year, it’s been because of the Model 3 production ramp. Myself and others at Tesla, we had to go in and fix the mistakes in the Model 3 production system, and there were a lot of them. I personally solved a bunch. Jerome [Guillen] solved a bunch. Everyone helped, the entire team. Javier [Verdura], Franz [von Holzhausen], Deepak [Ahuja], everyone. It was … like, we had the legal team delivering cars in Q3. Todd [Maron] is great. There was a lot of people … Everyone had to basically go hardcore to solve the ramp.
Self-inflicted wounds and sleep deprivation
I want to get into Tesla specifically, and about the recent results, which I think people were surprised by. You surprised Wall Street and some of your competitors. But when you’re thinking about doing this incredibly complex thing, do you regret some of the things you’ve done to slow it down itself? You know, some of your tweets, some of it is self-inflicted. Do you not see it that way?
Yeah, there’s no question there’s, like, self-inflicted wounds. In fact, my brother said, “Look, if you do a self-inflicted wound, can you at least not twist the knife afterwards?” You stabbed yourself in the leg. You don’t really need to twist it in your leg. Why do that?
So why do you do that?
It’s not intentional. Sometimes you’re just under a lot of pressure, and you’re not getting much sleep, you’re under massive pressure, and you make mistakes.
Is that over? Do you feel like that’s over? Do you feel calmer now?
It’s totally over. I will never make another mistake again.
No, I’m teasing you. But how do you … You look well. You don’t look under a lot of pressure. You seem rested.
Yeah. Things are back to a hard work schedule, but not an insane work schedule. I was, there were times when, some weeks … I don’t know. I haven’t counted exactly, but I would just sort of sleep for a few hours, work, sleep for a few hours, work, seven days a week. Some of those days must have been 120 hours or something nutty. You’re gonna go a little bonkers if you work 120 hours. (…)
…happy to hear – the dead man is back… on a happier trail for the moment…