kottke.org posts about Elon Musk

Elon Musk's Quest for a Fantastic FutureMay 12 2015

Ashley Vance has written a book about Elon Musk and it comes out next week.

In Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance provides the first inside look into the extraordinary life and times of Silicon Valley's most audacious entrepreneur. Written with exclusive access to Musk, his family and friends, the book traces the entrepreneur's journey from a rough upbringing in South Africa to the pinnacle of the global business world. Vance spent more than 30 hours in conversation with Musk and interviewed close to 300 people to tell the tumultuous stories of Musk's world-changing companies: PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, and to characterize a man who has renewed American industry and sparked new levels of innovation while making plenty of enemies along the way.

The Washington Post has a list of memorable quotes from the book.

"He's kind of homeless, which I think is sort of funny. He'll e-mail and say, 'I don't know where to stay tonight. Can I come over?' I haven't given him a key or anything yet." - Google chief executive Larry Page on Elon Musk, who owns a home in Los Angeles but doesn't have a place in Silicon Valley, which he visits weekly for his work at Tesla.

Musk took to his Twitter account to dispute two of the quotes on that list, including the one that makes him sound most like a cartoonish supervillain.

It is total BS & hurtful to claim that I told a guy to miss his child's birth just to attend a company meeting. I would never do that.

Musk also says about the book:

Ashlee's book was not independently fact-checked. Should be taken w a grain of salt.

Musk recently got in touch with Tim Urban of the excellent Wait But Why to see if he would be interested in an interview about Musk's work. The first post in that series was posted last week: Elon Musk: The World's Raddest Man.

Update: Bloomberg Business has an excerpt from Vance's book with the intriguing title Elon Musk's Space Dream Almost Killed Tesla.

Musk, of course, wasn't just building rockets. In 2003, about a year after he started SpaceX, Musk helped found Tesla Motors, which planned to sell an electric sports car. Musk had spent years pining after a good electric car, and though he had committed \$100 million to SpaceX, he would now put an additional \$70 million into Tesla and end up as the company's CEO. It was a decision that would almost break both companies.

SuperintelligenceAug 12 2014

Nick Bostrom has been thinking deeply about the philosophical implications of machine intelligence. You might recognize his name from previous kottke.org posts about the underestimation of human extinction and the possibility that we're living in a computer simulation, that sort of cheery stuff. He's collected some of his thoughts in a book called Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Here's how Wikipedia summarizes it:

The book argues that if machine brains surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could replace humans as the dominant lifeform on Earth. Sufficiently intelligent machines could improve their own capabilities faster than human computer scientists. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on humans than on the actions of the gorillas themselves, so would the fate of humanity depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence. Absent careful pre-planning, the most likely outcome would be catastrophe.

Technological smartypants Elon Musk gave Bostrom's book an alarming shout-out on Twitter the other day. A succinct summary of Bostrom's argument from Musk:

Hope we're not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable

Eep. I'm still hoping for a Her-style outcome for superintelligence...the machines just get bored with people and leave.

Tesla abandons their patentsJun 12 2014

Dang, Tesla just announced they're letting anyone use their patented technology. CEO Elon Musk:

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

Damn good move for a damn good reason. It's impressive to watch this company in action.

Update: I read that last line quoted above again and perhaps "abandoned" is too strong a word. Glenn Fleishman notes on Twitter:

They did not abandon their patents. They aren't apparently even licensing them. They are stating they won't sue except defensively. The devil is in the details. Twitter released a complete framework of their policy when they announced the same thing.

Hopefully Musk and co. will clarify what they mean by "in good faith".

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