Tesla CEO Elon Musk gave a wide-ranging appearance on Clubhouse
Hannibal Hanschke/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Whether you think of Elon Musk as a potential saviour of humankind or an overhyped entrepreneur with a tendency towards erraticism, there’s no denying he has a unique way of looking at the world.
Certainly, those who overwhelmed the 5,000-user limit on new app Clubhouse in order to hear the world’s richest man speak on Sunday night appear to think so.
The Tesla and SpaceX founder espoused his views on a range of topics – including aliens, making monkeys play psychic ping-pong, and turning humans into butterflies using mRNA.
Here are some of the most stand-out moments from his appearance (and that of a certain under-fire investment app CEO).
‘People are already cyborgs’
While discussing his company Neuralink, which is creating brain implants to connect humans and computers, Musk declared that “people are already cyborgs”.
Technology like laptops and smartphones act as a digital layer of our being, he said, but added that the connection between the two is so slow that this is currently like “talking to a tree”.
However, a direct interface between the two, such as Neuralink, could improve this bandwidth by many orders of magnitude – perhaps 10,000, he said.
On making monkeys play ping pong with their minds
Musk revealed that as part of the project, his team has implanted a wireless chip into a monkey’s brain which allows it to play video games with its mind.
“You can’t see where the implant is and he’s a happy monkey,” he said. “We have the nicest monkey facilities in the world. We want them to play mind-Pong with each other.”
Neuralink is an attempt to protect us against the threat of AI
Noting that artificial intelligence (AI) is improving “dramatically”, Musk said that “Neuralink stems from a long-term concern I had where I was trying to figure out: even in a benign AI scenario … how do we stay relevant and still have meaning? How do we at least go along for the ride?
“And then in terms of avoiding the bad scenario … if we can couple the collective human world to the outcome of artificial intelligence and towards developing that way, I think that will probably be a better scenario than if we are unable to effectively couple the collective human world to that outcome.”
On going to Mars
Famously known for his suggestion of using nuclear fusion explosions at either pole of Mars to make its climate more inhabitable, Musk stated his ambition to put humans on the Red Planet in five-and-a-half years’ time.
Firstly, reusable rockets capable of being refuelled in space are needed to achieve this, he said, adding that, on Mars, you would need local propellant production.
“So you take CO2 out of the atmosphere, combine it with water or ice to create methane and oxygen,” he said. “If you have those elements, life can become mullti-planetary, we can have a self-sustaining city on Mars, which I think is one of the most important things we can possibly do for ensuring the long-term existence of consciousness.”
The SpaceX founder said he believed he cut cut the journey time to Mars from six months to a month.
On alien sightings being ‘Loch Ness monster bulls***’
While not rejecting the idea that aliens may exist, he poked fun at some of the current “evidence” of UFO visits.
“When people say that there are sightings of aliens, I say, ‘listen man, the resolution of the picture needs to be at least 7/11 ATM good, okay?” he said. “We can’t have that Loch Ness monster b*llsh*t.
“It’s like, c’mon, is that like a 500-megapixel camera or what? What are you talking about? Where’d you find that thing? It’s got to be at least like an iPhone 6-level camera.”
@elonmusk as far as we can tell. Live conciousness is only on earth. Maybe it exists elsewhere. But we only have ev… https://t.co/3HwDJNQiBL
Discussing messenger RNA, the molecules triggered by Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines, Musk said we should appreciate that the current medical advances using them amount to “the digitisation of medicine”.
“You can literally create an RNA or DNA sequence like a computer programme and then encapsulate that – you have to multiply it billions of times – in a liquid shell, so it looks like a tasty treat for yourselves, and you can literally do anything,” he said.
“This is actually the future of medicine,” he said. "You could probably figure out how to turn someone into a literal butterfly. Your cells are biological computers. Just like an old-school computer where you feed it a tape or a punchcard. You feed your cells which are tiny biological computers this punchcard and they will do whatever that punch-card says.
“So that was probably the big eye-opener of 2020 – just understanding the potential of RNA.”
Crypto ‘on the verge’ of being accepted by traditional finance
It will come as little surprise that Musk was happy to espouse the benefits of cryptocurrencies, having recently helped send the value of Bitcoin and Dogecoin soaring with a series of apparent endorsements on social media.
But he pre-empted this by saying: “I have to be careful what I say, it can affect the market.”
“I think bitcoin is on the verge of getting broad acceptance by conventional finance people,” he said, adding that he should have invested in it himself eight years ago, when first introduced to it by a friend who used it to buy him a slice of cake.
“I was a little slow on the uptake ... I do think at this point that bitcoin is a good thing.”
Noting that “fate loves irony”, he suggested that Dogecoin – a cryptocurrency created partly as a joke – could become the currency of the future.
‘Vlad the stock impaler’
Perhaps the largest surprise to listeners came when Musk introduced Vlad Tenev, the under-fire CEO of investment app Robinhood – which found itself at the centre of a global storm over its reaction to the historic Reddit vs Wall Street battle over GameStop stocks after it appeared to divert from its mission of “democratising finance” by stopping its users from trading their shares in the ailing video game company.
After welcoming him as “Vlad the stock impaler”, Musk – who had derided short-selling as a “scam” after Reddit-organised investors sought to punish Wall Street firms looking to do so using GameStop shares – told Tenev: “The people demand an answer and they want to know the truth.”
Tenev denied there was any “shadiness” behind their decision to halt trading, in an exchange you can watch below: