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#252 – Elon Musk: SpaceX, Mars, Tesla Autopilot, Self-Driving, Robotics, and AI

2h 40min • Dec 28, 2021

13min summary of #252 – Elon Musk: SpaceX, Mars, Tesla Autopilot, Self-Driving, Robotics, and AI from Lex Fridman Podcast

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1. Introduction

Elon Musk is a technology entrepreneur and investor who has founded or co-founded several companies, most notably Tesla Motors and SpaceX. He is also the chairman of SolarCity, and has been a driving force behind the development of the Tesla Powerwall. In this conversation with Lex Fridman, Musk discusses a range of topics including his early interest in computers, his experience starting companies, and his thoughts on the future of technology. He also talks about his work on electric vehicles and space exploration, and shares his vision for a sustainable future for humanity.
This episode is sponsored by: Thleda Greens: an all-in-one nutrition drink, Butcherbox: high quality meat, Inside Tracker: a service to track biological data, Roka: sunglasses and prescription glasses, A-Sleep: a self-cooling mattress cover

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2. Elon singing

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman have a conversation about a variety of topics, including selling, headphones, and Russia. At one point, Musk tells Fridman that he is sexy and Fridman responds in kind. The conversation ends with the two joking about getting serious.

3. SpaceX human spaceflight

Elon Musk was the CEO of SpaceX when they launched humans to orbit on May 30th, 2020. This was seen by many as the first step in a new era of human space exploration. These human spaceflight missions were beacon of hope to millions over the past two years as our world has been going through one of the most difficult periods in recent human history. We saw, we see the rise of division, fear, cynicism, and the loss of common humanity, right when it is needed most. So first, Elon, let me say thank you for giving the world hope and reason to be excited about the future.

Elon Musk felt extremely stressed leading up to the launch, as they could not let the astronauts down in any way. He was confident that at the time that they launched that no one could think of anything at all to do that would improve the probability of success and they racked their brains to think of any possible way to improve the probability of success but could not think of anything more. He prayed for the mission.

When the launch was a success and the astronauts returned back home or back to earth, it was a great relief. For high-stress situations, Musk finds it's not so much elation as relief. And he thought the inspiration mission was actually very inspiring.

4. Starship

Elon Musk is the founder, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, co-founder of Tesla Motors, and chairman of SolarCity. He is also the founder of The Boring Company, a tunnel construction company. In this conversation with Lex Fridman, Musk talks about the Starship, a spacecraft under development by SpaceX with the goal of enabling humans to colonize Mars. He discusses the difficulties of developing and producing the spacecraft's engines, which must be able to operate at very high chamber pressure in order to achieve the necessary thrust to weight ratio and specific impulse.

5. Quitting is not in my nature

Elon Musk does not give up easily. When faced with difficult engineering problems, he does not listen to the doubts of others. He believes that if something is important, it is worth fighting for. This mentality has led him to success in many of his endeavors.

6. Thinking process

Elon Musk spoke about how he uses first principles thinking to solve problems in engineering. He described how this involves breaking a problem down to its most fundamental principles and then reasoning up from there. He also spoke about how manufacturing is a very underrated problem and how it is much harder to take an advanced technology part and bring it into volume manufacturing than it is to design it in the first place.

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7. Humans on Mars

Elon Musk believes that the best case for humans landing on Mars is within the next five to ten years. The biggest determining factor for this is engineering the vehicle, which he says is the most complex and advanced rocket that has ever been made. The optimization of the Starship is minimizing cost per ton to orbit and ultimately cost per ton to the surface of Mars. This is important because it is the only way to make it affordable for humans to establish a self-sustaining city on Mars. However, Musk doesn't want humans to just land on Mars and then leave, he wants us to be a multi-planet species in order to pass a very important great filter. He believes that eventually something will happen to Earth that will make it uninhabitable for humans, and so we need to be prepared by having a backup plan.

8. Colonizing Mars

Elon Musk is focused on the spaceships part of building a civilization on Mars because that is the most critical part. The current cost of one ton to the surface of Mars is on the order of a billion dollars, which is way too expensive to create a self-sustaining civilization. Ideally, the cost would be less than a million dollars a ton. The self-sustaining part is important because if the city on Mars can survive even if the spaceships from Earth stop coming for any reason, then it has a chance of being a self-sustaining city.

9. Wormholes

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss the possibility of humans ever leveraging warm holes to travel fast in the speed of light. Musk says that the idea is debatable and that we currently do not have the means to go faster than the speed of light. He explains that the amount of energy required to move space is so gigantic, it is unfathomable. Fridman asks how much innovation is possible with rocket propulsion and if there is anything in physics that could lead to a significant improvement in efficiency. Musk says that the Holy Grail is a fully and rapidly reusable orbital system, which would reduce the cost per ton to orbit by a factor of 100.

10. Forms of government on Mars

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss the idea of direct democracy on Mars and how it could be used to create a more efficient and effective government. They also discuss the importance of transparency and keeping the populace well-informed in order to make sure that the democracy is effective.

11. Smart contracts

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discussed the idea of smart contracts and whether or not they could be used to implement the laws by which governments function. Musk said that he doesn't quite understand the concept of smart contracts and that he prefers to keep any kind of deal very short and simple. Fridman said that he thinks there is room for improvement when it comes to smart contracts.

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12. Dogecoin

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss the possibility of Dogecoin being the official currency of Mars. Musk says that Mars will need its own currency because of the speed of light issue. He says that the future of Mars should be up to the Martians.

13. Cryptocurrency and Money

Elon Musk believes that cryptocurrency is a way to reduce the error in the database that is called money. He argues that money should be viewed through the lens of information theory, and that crypto is an attempt to reduce the error in money that is contributed by governments diluting the money supply. He believes that both policy in terms of with inflation and actual technological cobalt, cryptocurrency takes us into the 21st century in terms of the actual systems that allow you to do the transaction to store wealth, all those kinds of things.

14. Bitcoin vs Dogecoin

Elon Musk has spoken about why he believes Dogecoin has some merits, even though it was originally created as a joke. He believes that the coin has a much higher transaction volume capability than Bitcoin, and that the fees associated with Dogecoin are much lower. He also believes that the inflation rate for Dogecoin is more linear than for other coins, which makes it more attractive as a currency.

15. Satoshi Nakamoto

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss the anonymous creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. Musk suggests that the evolution of ideas is more important than any one figure, and Fridman agrees. They also discuss the importance of anonymity in history, and how it is a quirk of human history that there is an anonymous creator of Bitcoin.

16. Tesla Autopilot

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss Tesla's autopilot feature in great detail. Musk speaks about the journey the team has been on in developing the feature, and how they have had to overcome various challenges. He also discusses the role that Andre Capati has played in the development of the feature, and how he has been instrumental in making it the success it is today.

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17. Tesla Self-Driving

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss the problem of autonomous driving and the insights that Tesla has gained over the past five to six years. Musk explains that the problem is much harder than he initially thought and that the only way to solve it is to recreate what humans do to drive. This includes creating a digital version of human eyes and neural nets. Fridman asks Musk about the control and planning aspects of driving and how much game theory is involved. Musk explains that the hard part is creating the software to accurately compress a massive bitstream of data into a vector space.

18. Neural networks

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss the process of designing and optimizing the neural nets for Tesla cars. They talk about how the process has become more iterative and how they have to constantly rename the layers to something more ridiculous or memorable. They also discuss the importance of efficiency in terms of power and compute.

19. When will Tesla solve self-driving?

Elon Musk believes that Tesla will be able to solve the full self-driving problem next year. He thinks that the solution will be the current pool of FSD beta candidates who will gradually become more and more autonomous. He also believes that the probability of an accident on FSD will be less than that of the average human.

20. Tesla FSD v11

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss the recent update to Tesla's self-driving software, FSD 10.6. They discuss the upcoming 11 update, which will have fundamental changes to the neural net architecture that will allow for much more capability. However, at first there may be some issues as the neural net replaces C++ code. Musk and Fridman also discuss the potential for the neural net to output vectors to the C++ control code, which would be a big improvement.

21. Tesla Bot

Elon Musk has spoken about the potential for Tesla bots to eventually outnumber Tesla cars. He believes that work will become optional in the future and that human robots will add the most value initially by doing jobs that people don't want to do. He thinks that there could be hundreds of millions of Tesla bots performing different tasks throughout the world.

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22. History

Elon Musk was a guest on Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast, where they discussed the role of technology in warfare throughout history. Musk noted that the pace of innovation is crucial in determining victory, and that access to high quality raw materials and fuel is also essential. He pointed to the example of Germany during World War II, which had difficulty accessing quality oil, and as a result could not design high-performance aircraft engines. This ultimately led to their defeat.

23. Putin

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss the possibility of the latter interviewing Vladimir Putin. Musk says that he would be interested in joining the conversation, citing the Russian language and culture as something he finds interesting. Fridman and Musk then discuss the history of Russian science and engineering, with Musk expressing admiration for the accomplishments of the Soviet Union. The conversation ends with a discussion of the potential for cooperation between the United States and Russia in the future.

24. Meme Review

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss a variety of topics in their conversation, one of which is nuclear power. Musk is in favor of nuclear power and believes that it is a great way to generate electricity, especially in places that are not subject to extreme natural disasters. He also believes that the dangers of radiation are greatly exaggerated and that people should not be afraid of it.

25. Stand-up comedy

Elon Musk has never considered stand-up comedy, but after being asked by Lex Fridman, he begins to wonder if he could do it. He has impromptu stand-up sets with friends, and they always laugh, but he wonders if he could do the same with strangers. He decides he might have enough material for a 15-minute set and Fridman encourages him to do a Netflix special.

26. Rick and Morty

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss Rick and Morty, a show known for its scientific and engineering concepts. Musk mentions that he enjoys the character of Drigamort, and the two discuss the idea of sentience in robots. Fridman wonders if it is easy to engineer a depressed robot, and Musk says that it is possible to change the optimization function to make the robot cheery.

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27. Advice for young people

Elon Musk advises young people who want to have a positive impact on the world to try to be useful and to contribute more than they consume. He suggests that they read broadly and try to find an area where their talents and interests overlap.

28. Love

Elon Musk and Lex Fridman discuss the role of love in the human condition and how it has made Musk a better person. Musk believes that love is essential to preserving the light of human consciousness and that becoming a multi-planetary species is key to humanity's prosperity. Fridman agrees that connection between humans is a source of joy and meaning, and that love is the highest form of this connection.

29. Meaning of life

Elon Musk is a business magnate, industrial designer, and engineer. He is the founder, CEO, CTO, and chief designer of SpaceX; early investor, CEO, and product architect of Tesla, Inc.; founder of The Boring Company; co-founder of Neuralink; and co-founder and initial co-chairman of OpenAI. A centibillionaire, Musk is one of the richest people in the world.

In a conversation with Lex Fridman, Musk discusses his philosophy on the meaning of life and how he believes that expanding the scope and scale of consciousness is the key to understanding the universe. He also talks about the importance of asking the right questions, and how this can help elevate the role of the interviewer.

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