Elon Musk: The future we’re building — and boring

May 7, 2017

Elon Musk discusses his new project digging tunnels under LA, the latest from Tesla and SpaceX and his motivation for building a future on Mars in conversation with TED’s Head Curator, Chris Anderson.

Advertisements

Elon Musk: ‘Chances are we’re all living in a simulation’

June 04, 2016

4827

lon Musk wears many hats. He’s the co-founder of online payments behemoth PayPal, the founder of private space flight pioneers SpaceX, the chief executive of electronic car manufacturers Tesla, and the original doodler of utopian transport concept Hyperloop. He’s also outspoken about the dangers of AI research, the need for blue-sky thinking in technology, and his desire to colonise another planet.

So it’s no surprise that over the course of an interview at California’s Code conference, Musk revealed a number of things we didn’t know before. Here’s some of them.

He’s afraid we’re all in a simulation

Musk is no stranger to the work of philosopher Nick Bostrom, who has warned before that superintelligent AI might wipe out humanity. Musk cited that fear as a reason for investing in AI company DeepMind, before it was bought by Google. But now he’s introduced the world to another concept popularised by Bostrum: the simulation problem.

The problem is that if realistic simulations of the universe are possible, then there would very quickly be far more simulations of reality than actual reality. Without any reason to assume we’re in reality rather than a simulation, the chances of us randomly happening to be in the one option among billions that isn’t fake is billions to one.

“Forty years ago we had Pong – two rectangles and a dot. That’s where we were,” Musk explained. “Now 40 years later we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality, we’ll have augmented reality.

“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality.”

And, Musk pointed out, if we aren’t in a simulation, the most likely reason for that isn’t that we are the first civilisation ever; instead, it’s that no civilisation has ever advanced far enough to simulate reality.

When Bostrum described the argument in 2003, he presented it as an unappealing trilemma: basically no civilisations last long enough to develop simulations, the civilisations that do develop simulations are so different from our own that they wouldn’t simulate us, or we are almost certainly in a simulation already.

Musk says he has had “so many simulation discussions it’s crazy”. Less philosophically minded people might wonder if it’s just the number of discussions that’s the crazy thing.

He wants to be King of Mars

SpaceX is on track to launch people to the Red Planet in 2024, Musk says. Mars is a long way away, though, so the people wouldn’t actually arrive until 2025.

Before then, the plan is “establishing cargo flights to Mars”, getting the first delivery there by 2018 in the company’s planned “Red Dragon” ships. A rocket every two years or so after that could provide a base for the people arriving in 2024 to survive.

No stranger to mild megalomania, Musk pondered what it would mean to be the head of the company shipping the first people to Mars, and decided he’d be in a position to decide the government of the planet. Although he felt that direct democracy would work best, he also declared himself “King of Mars”. You can vote for any leader you want, as long as it’s Elon.

Not every late car is Tesla’s fault

The Model X was famously delayed by a number years, and for many analysts, Tesla’s biggest roadblock ahead is scaling up from a niche manufacturer to a mainstream company. But Musk pointed out that not every delay to the Model X was something in Tesla’s control.

One shipment of carpets for the car boots, for instance, was caught up in a shoot-out on the Mexican border. “Border patrol wouldn’t give us the truck because it had bullet holes in it”, he said, adding that other delays came because of tsunamis, hailstorms, factories burning down, sinking ships and earthquakes. “One thing that makes a car very difficult is it’s an integrative product with thousands of components,” he added, and so delays tend to cascade. “Things move as fast as the least lucky and least competent supplier.”

Only one AI firm actually scares him

He won’t say which one (but we’re going to guess that it starts with G and rhymes with “we’re all going to die at the hands of super-intelligent robotsoogle”).

And only one tech company is a Tesla competitor

But this time it’s not Google. “They’re not a car company, so they’d potentially license to other companies. I wouldn’t say they’re a competitor.”

Apple, however? “That’ll be more direct,” he admitted. The Apple car is the worst-kept secret in Silicon Valley, and the company has even poached several Tesla engineers – something Musk has been rather dismissive of. And even now, he’s not particularly concerned, estimating that Apple won’t be able to make a lot of cars till around 2020. “Is that too late?”, he asked. We think we know his answer.

Musk is going to go to orbit

For someone so into spaceflight that he’s built his own rocket ships, it’s odd that Musk hasn’t been in to space himself. But he says it’s on his to-do list.

“I’ll probably go to orbit in four to five years,” he said. “Orbit is really different than space.”

So there you have it. Musk in space. But is space just a simulation?

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/02/elon-musk-tesla-space-x-paypal-hyperloop-simulation?CMP=twt_gu

Elon Musk: We need to leave Earth as soon as possible

October 18, 2015

spacex-dragon-mars-2

In all the billions and billions of planets in our home galaxy, humanity happens to find itself on one perfectly suited for life.

Earth isn’t without its hazards though. The planet has seen five mass extinctions throughout its history, due to cataclysmic disasters like giant asteroids and massive volcanic eruptions.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk is worried about the next apocalypse.

He’s so concerned that he thinks we need to get off Earth and become a multi-planet species as quickly as possible, according to a post written by blogger Tim Urban called “How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars.”

Musk’s reasoning is straightforward. Maybe by the time the next giant asteroid heads our way, we’ll have the technology to shield the planet or redirect the space rock. But if it’s something more catastrophic, like a nearby star exploding, we may all get vaporized. Musk says we can’t afford to wait around and find out.

In his blog post, Urban gives us another way to think about it: Imagine Earth as a hard drive, and every species is a word document saved on that hard drive. The hard drive has already crashed five times (those five mass extinctions), and each time it loses a huge chunk of those documents (species going extinct). So you can think of the human species as an incredibly valuable document created on that hard drive:

Now—if you owned a hard drive with an extraordinarily important Excel doc on it, and you knew that the hard drive pretty reliably tended to crash every month or two, with the last crash happening five weeks ago—what’s the very obvious thing you’d do? You’d copy the document onto a second hard drive.

That’s exactly why Musk is so hell-bent on Mars — it could become humanity’s backup drive.

Musk doesn’t want to send a handful of colonists, either; he’d like to launch 1 million people to the red planet. If we want anything resembling the industry and infrastructure here on Earth, and ample genetic diversity, then we’ll need at least that many people to get things going. That’s the only way we’ll survive as a species on Mars, Musk reportedly told Urban.

Later this year, via his rocket company SpaceX, Musk plans to reveal a spacecraft designed to carry as many as 100 people at a time to the red planet.

http://www.techinsider.io/elon-musk-mars-colonies-human-survival-2015-10

Elon Musk Wants To Launch 4,000 Satellites That Will Provide Internet From Space

June 27, 2015

bigstock-Best-Internet-Concept-of-globa-68957113

Elon Musk is currently seeking government approval to begin testing on a project to broadcast the Internet from 4,000 satellites orbiting the Earth. He claims he wants to beam high-speed Internet to all corners of the world.

The plan would transform SpaceX from a company based solely on rockets and spaceflight into an Internet provider to rival the likes of Comcast, Verizon, and other telecom companies in a worldwide market thought to be worth over $2.1 trillion annually. Musk’s plan is to send his Falcon 9 rocket up into space, and then deploy a fleet of satellites around the planet.

He announced his plan earlier in the year, but it has just been released that SpaceX has made a formal request for permission from the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to begin testing next year. Musk wants to find out if the current antenna on his satellites would be strong enough to send the signals back down to Earth.

This isn’t the first time that a dot-com billionaire has dabbled in Internet satellites, and probably won’t be the last either. During the 1990s, a company founded by Bill Gates aspired to do something similar, but as costs spiraled out of control, the plan eventually collapsed. Even the Internet giant of Facebook has scrapped plans for a $500 million satellite to spread the Internet to the far reaches of the world.

But Musk is apparently fairly confident that he’ll be able to get 4,000 up and working. He claims that using lots of small machines that are both cheap and efficient will help his plans overcome previous problems of relying on larger satellites that are more difficult to replace if something were to go awry. And by manufacturing them all at SpaceX, he hopes to keep costs down and solve supply issues.

Grand as his scheme may be, and even if the FCC grant him permission to start his testing, the logistics of beaming high-speed Internet across the globe still make his chances of pulling this off fairly slim. Musk himself has already conceded that getting permission to operate in countries across the world would be “difficult, if not impossible.”

Main image credit: NVIDIA Corporation/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

http://www.iflscience.com/space/elon-musk-plans-launching-4000-internet-satellites

By 2050, the Earth-Moon region could be a settled, commercial haven: NASA researchers

May 16, 2015

url

The year 2050 isn’t a long way off. By the time it comes around commercial firms will control Lower Earth Orbit, space tourism will be ‘very viable’, space-led power generation will be in production and there will be both small and large settlements on the Moon.

These are the thoughts of a NASA-formed initiative that was created to “speculate” how “earth, space, and public/private entities might be operating and relating to each other” in the future.

In a similar way to how the not-so-top secret Google X works on projects that are considered ‘Moonshots’ – projects that are long shots – this space research looked at how the space between Earth and the Moon would be changed beyond recognition due to commercialisation.

The future thinkers behind how space exploration and relations will look in 35 years time came together twice in the last two years as part of a project called ‘Space 2100’. Their research was published online by NASA earlier in March, although the agency is keen to stress that the predictions and suggestions are not “official… policy or intentions”.

The Cis-lunar economy

Primarily, the direction of the six-strong research group was led by the thoughts of Ken Murphy, who coined the idea of the ‘cislunar econosphere’ in 2012. This idea is based around the principle that as space travel becomes more common, the Moon and anything closer will increasingly be controlled by commercial companies rather than by governments.

“Governments will play a major role in developing methods and negotiating standards and policies so that vehicles and settlements owned/operated by a variety of entities can operate, co-operate and support each other via a flexible, collaborative infrastructure, even though they may both compete and team with each other economically,” said the researchers in their report.

The growth of commercial space ventures such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX is living proof that in (most) of our lifetimes, space won’t be a mysterious place that is beyond our imaginations, let alone our reach.

The commercial takeover of the space industry has already started with SpaceX’s approval to launch military and spy satellites for US government. On the less intimidating front, the same is happening in the commercial sphere with the much-delayed work of Virgin Galactic and the highly improbable Mars One. 

As Murphy said back in 2012, we need to “embrace the chaos of free markets” to propel us into space.

“The first thing to understand is that we are not going to go straight to the Moon and then begin backfilling cislunar space with commercial activity, although some folks advocate for such,” he said.

“What’s going to happen is that activity is going to expand outward.”

This expansion outwards could eventually see the creation of two habitats on Mars; one large and one small.

The smaller habitat will initially be created to construct the larger community, but its purpose will shift towards housing personnel who will be responsible for mining operations to get valuable resources from the Moon.

“The 300-person habitat in the moon’s vicinity will house personnel to run mining operations, way stations, and construction of a large habitat,” the researchers wrote.

“This habitat will provide radiation shielding and artificial gravity.

“It will demonstrate food production and other technologies, using in-situ space materials to achieve near self-sufficiency.”

“The large habitat (thousands or tens of thousands of residents) might be used for a lunar civilization or become the initial instance of portable communities for colonizing other parts of the solar system.”

They also envisioned that 3D printing will have a large part to play in the development of off-Earth communities. Last year the first 3D printer was sent to space and in recent weeks a NASA scientists has said that by the time the printing technique is deployed on Mars, we will be looking to print entire buildings and settlements.

However, the report says that while they were focussing on what would have changed between the Earth and the Moon, they believe there would have been at least one manned mission to Mars by 2050. Just recently, the space agency has been testing its ‘flying saucer’, which is set to be involved in delivering astronauts to the planet’s surface.

This manned mission to the Red Planet would allow for “deep space lessons learned” to be applied to what is happening closer to home.

The challenges

This black-sky speculating from the NASA staff will be music to the ears of those who are looking forward into the future. But as the authors of the paper observe, there are going to be plenty of challenges to overcome before we get there.

From first impressions, the problem with many of the scientists’ speculations would be the technological advancements that would be needed to achieve their thoughts. However, these are rapidly progressing and will continue to do so.

“Our current approaches combined with normal acceleration in computing and manufacturing,” will allow this, they said.

Although much of this future development is likely to happen because the human race needs it happen to survive, a big problem will be space politics and law.

For example, the researchers point out that the Moon Treaty may lead to complications with the mining of resources from the rock.

They said that the treaty “introduced the concept that while a celestial body may not be appropriated, a natural resource, once extracted, might be subject to appropriation, with possible governance and limitation by an international body.”

As well as a debate around the substance of any material taken from the Moon with a view to further use, there are also international economic and political issues around the mining process. Given world leaders can’t agree on issues around how to tackle extremism or other internationally significant concerns, there are bound to be complexities when it comes to colonising the Moon and other planets.

To add to this, there have already been territory problems on the International Space Station.

The Outer Space Treaty 1976 sets out that the Moon and other bodies “shall be free for exploration” and that the Moon is “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupations”.

Despite this long-standing agreement between more than 100 countries, it’s possible that it may not be respected or there may be calls for change when travel to the moon is an everyday occurrence.

As well as this, the researchers say that space tourism doesn’t fit into the legal definition of Commercial Human Spaceflight, and there will be liability issues – what happens if 50 people die on a spaceflight?

It is issues such as these that have caused some commentators to call for more space lawyers to start practicing.

Looking towards 2100

If the paper is correct, commercialising the moon will become a reality in the lifetimes of many people who are currently alive.

But the researchers’ initial project was to look at what could happen around the space industry by 2100. Unsurprisingly, their ideas focussed on the larger concepts, such as energy production, clean living, the control of ageing and more. Broader themes are undoubtedly easier to predict than specific enhancements.
Included in this, they drew up a timeline of what could be in place by 2100.

At the furthest reaches of their minds they foresee that robotic missions for interstellar space colony construction may be in place.

They also say that there may be space research conducted through citizen outreach and partnerships.

On the way to making space this accessible, the researchers said that during 2050-2075 there could be the development of rendezvous and rescue vehicles for those in need of help in space. As well as this, interstellar robotic probes could be launched and space may be accessible to academic researches and small businesses, at a low cost.

Whether any of what the paper’s authors have forecast comes true or not will remain to be seen, but what is almost certain is that we will have to discuss the wider issues about our future in space and how commercialisation alongside it will work.

As Murphy said back in 2012: “What should be clear is that economic development is not easy. It depends on complex webs of inter-relationships nurturing one another to grow the whole.

“It also requires an openness to pursuing things in a new way, even if they are perceived as disruptive to existing markets.”

When it comes to space, this is going to be the key.

http://factor-tech.com/feature/by-2050-the-earth-moon-region-could-be-a-settled-commercial-haven-nasa-researchers/