Elon Musk is a messianic huckster

Elon Musk is a goofball techbro whose real business is quack philosophizing, not inventions or engineering.

I realize that the founder of Tesla and SpaceX really does make things, like electric cars and spaceships. But Musk’s numerous attempts to realize his gleaming visions of a Jetsons-like future have never come close to living up to the (largely self-manufactured) hype. Lately he has started claiming that he is going to send cargo-laden rocket ships to Mars by the middle of President Trump’s second term, in advance of the establishment of a permanent human colony. I’m not holding my breath.

Why have we allowed this lunatic a prominent place in our public and commercial life? Even his name makes him sound like the villain who convinces the Earth Federation in the year 4836 to trade in its fleet of perfectly serviceable if somewhat old-fashioned solar-powered starships for his sleek but shoddily made models that, allegedly, run on nothing but crystals from the planet Flion.

The line between science and science fiction has always been a blurry one. No sooner would Jules Verne write a story about, say, an electric submarine than some genius inventor would will it into reality. The problem with Musk is that he seems willing to calmly accept the reality of every nebulous Star Trek plot device in existence without bothering with the boring part where the thing actually has to work. Even a supercomputer operating on the principle of the so-called infinite monkey theorem could not devise a credible individual repository for all the wild things Musk believes. From the imminence of total human extinction to the perennial undergraduate assertion that, like, maybe we are all living inside in the Matrix, there is no implausible, discredited, absurd-on-its-face theory or cause that Musk has not endorsed with brio.

It would be difficult to think of anyone else who routinely says things as blinkeringly stupid to large audiences as routinely as Musk. Take his most recent pronouncement on artificial intelligence, a favorite subject of his, proffered to the similarly screen-ravaged consciences that attend the annual South By Southwest technology conference in Austin, Texas. “The danger of AI is much greater than the danger of nuclear warheads by a lot,” he said. “Mark my words.” Call me a Luddite, but I’m just not seeing it. The day when we are all putting on camo and fighting endless guerilla war against our cyborg overlords still seems to me pretty remote, alas.

There is one sense, however, in which I think Musk is absolutely correct about the threat posed by artificial intelligence to the flourishing of human kind. I am talking, of course, about self-driving cars. Just two years ago a bleary-eyed enthusiast in Florida, convinced of the mechanical infallibility of his robotic automobile, decided to ignore the road and watch a Harry Potter movie instead. Tragically but not, one thinks, very surprisingly, he soon collided with a semi truck and died.

Did I mention that the vehicle in question was, in fact, manufactured …read more

Source:: The Week – Business


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