Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Technology: Can Elon Musk “change the world”?

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Who is Elon Musk, are his projects realistic, can he upset our lifestyles? These questions are beginning to stir people’s minds, as in the days of the first train or the first cars, but this time with much higher stakes.

The American billionaire – through his delusional projects – is indeed at the center of many societal debates, on artificial intelligence, energy transition, innovations in transport or even… space travel. 

A hybrid and dazzling journey

What is very surprising with Elon Musk is this ability of the engineer-businessman, very good communicator, to launch projects often considered improbable – even delusional – and to carry them out, against all odds. This is how the creation of Space X in 2002 – a private aerospace company – caused more smiles than anything else. How, indeed, to believe that this startup could compete with European space programs or those of NASA, the fruit of decades of research, starting from scratch? Nothing could predict the future success of the various Space X programs, until the company’s rockets have become essential for a few years, to the point of now supplying the International Space Station (ISS), send satellites into space and achieve a technological feat never before equaled: land a rocket and reuse its first stage for other flights. The goal? Lower the cost of spaceflight to send aircraft to colonize Mars.… 

Musk became a billionaire by co-creating the eponymous company’s Paypal online payment system in 2000, a company sold to Ebay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Born in 1971, originally from South Africa, then having taken Canadian and finally American nationality, this entrepreneur, inventor, jack-of-all-trades, studied engineering in energy physics to become a kind of character extraordinary that would have inspired that of Tony Stark – the billionaire of Marvel Comics incarnating the superhero Iron Man – capable of making concrete technologies and processes considered until then as science fiction.

Today, Elon Musk leads Space X. He is also president and “product architecture director” of Tesla Motors (Tesla manufactures high-end electric cars, storage batteries, charging networks and was acquired in 2008 by Elon Musk). He chairs the board of directors of the company SolarCity which he created and has just launched in 2016 a startup, Neuralink, which works “to connect the brain to printed circuits with the aim of merging human and artificial intelligences”. 

If Elon Musk did not have already famous technological and commercial successes to his credit, he could simply pass for an eccentric billionaire. But this is obviously not the case. 

Elon Musk: applied futurism?

The “legend” of Elon Musk has it that he would have read very early – according to his brother – at least two books a day, of all types, ranging from philosophy to science fiction, through programming, technology , engineering, business, religion, energy and product design. It is this very vast and heterogeneous culture that pushes the inventor and businessman to embark on projects that are both futuristic, revolutionary and yet always adapted to the needs of the time, to the changes in progress. Thus, Tesla electric cars, PowerWall domestic solar batteries are the concrete realization of energy transition policies based on the exit from transport to fossil fuels. 

Musk, for example, has started to dig a tunnel in Los Angeles to launch, thanks to his new company (another one) “The boring company”, a network of ultra-fast underground rails allowing cars to pass 200 km underground. Cars should access the new transportation system by…elevator!

Despite everything, this type of project sometimes seems a little out of step with certain constraints that the inventor does not seem to take into account. Thus, the “subsonic TGV” project (travelling at 1200 km/h) by (almost) vacuum capsules, Hyperloop, has not yet been implemented, but the businessman nevertheless continues to do so. promotion, through competitions organized by Space X to encourage start-ups to develop the concept. Recently, Elon Musk, for example, announced on Twitter that he had received an oral agreement to build a hyperloop linking New York to Washington in 29 minutes. But the political decision-makers concerned did not seem entirely convinced, and for good reason: the tunnel to be excavated is almost 400 kilometers long and with the speed of current machines,

All of Elon Musk’s communication therefore resides in this ability to propose innovative and often revolutionary technological solutions, part of which is realized and the other part remains in the state of a brilliant idea… but improbable. To the point of managing all the same to develop technologies worthy of science fiction films and considered unrealistic by the scientific community?

Realistic projects or paranoid delusions?

“I think there are really two fundamental paths. History is bifurcating in two directions. One path is that we stay on Earth forever, with the possibility of an extinction event occurring (. ..) The alternative is to become a space civilization and a multi-planetary species which I hope suits you as a way to go”. This statement is taken from an article published by Elon Musk in the journal New Space on June 15. The entrepreneur explains in this 16-page document, supported by diagrams, statistics and financial calculations, how he intends to start colonizing the planet Mars by 2027. This project is based on a new launcher architecture, much more mighty, and baptized”(ITS) which will place shuttles in Earth orbit every 40 minutes, in order to compose a fleet of spacecraft ready to leave for the red planet once all the favorable conditions have been met. The shuttles should carry up to 100 people and make the round trip between Mars and Earth at more than 100,000 km per hour, with the eventual objective of building a Martian colony of one million people. humans.

Elon Musk is convinced that the human species is doomed to disappear from the Earth, and that the only way to save it is to send it to other planets. It is with this very pessimistic vision, even paranoid for some, that Musk launched NeuraLink, a company supposed to give the possibility to individuals to “counter” the Artificial Intelligence (AI) which risks threatening humanity very quickly, according to him. The process being developed by Neuralink is still very obscure and seems rather delusional, since it is a question of interfacing the human brain with computers, to increase its capacities and thus give direct control over artificial intelligences to the user. This creation of a neural link between the brain and the machine (by implants?) would be, 

The mystery that Elon Musk maintains about the reality of his various projects has not yet been lifted, and his futuristic visions not always shared, but one thing remains undeniable: the man has talent, knows how to convince and manages to achieve feats. technologies that the government agencies of the largest nations are unable to compete with. Will the world change with Elon Musk’s inventions? Maybe this is already partly the case? But what remains certain is that the man makes you dream… or nightmare, depending on your point of view.

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