February 22, 2024

Elon Musk is rushing to change our world


            There’s a fine line between certified genius and certified crazy. After reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk, I believe the world’s richest man, certifiably, has one foot on either side of that “fine line.”

            Isaacson is among today’s best biographers, and that’s why I was willing to take a 671-page plunge into the life of a man whose pants are on fire to change our world. In the mid-’90s Musk decided to snatch us into the future, focusing on the internet, sustainable energy and space travel.

            In the 1800s, pioneers painted “California or Bust” on their rolling-west wagons. Musk has the same obsession about getting people to Mars. A hint of his “awkward and all-absorbing” behavior is his Asperger’s syndrome, a condition of the “autism spectrum.”    

            Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Stephen Hawking, and others were geniuses, but I believe Elon Musk takes brainpower into an uncharted stratosphere. Addicted to risk, he is fearless if crashing and burning boosts the chances of proving his theories.

            SpaceX is a prime example.

            His first three rockets exploded.

“So what?” Musk shrugged. Defying rules and the odds, the maverick showed NASA—cheaper and faster—what the government agency couldn’t do. How about a reusable rocket? Experts argued, “Can’t be done.” But SpaceX did. Then came Starlink, the satellite system that spreads internet connectivity around the globe.

            Musk reminds me of a high-stakes riverboat gambler. He isn’t afraid to shove all his chips to the center of the table. He thrives on drama. In his early days, he showered at the YMCA, and he is still content to sleep on the floor—under his desk or on the production floor—if necessary.

            Isaacson told of several times that Musk thought that he was on the brink of bankruptcy. If the pressure gets too great, his escape valve is a childhood love affair—video games. His therapy might be an all-nighter playing Dungeons & Dragons or a video game that he invented. His brain burns rubber on the straightaways and the curves of wherever his high-speed mind travels.

            He’s been an investor, founder and partner in a plethora of revolutionary projects. The sale of PayPal to eBay was one of his early paydays, yielding a reported $175 million. He’s invested heavily in Tesla, and that bet has paid off in billions of dollars. You may have read about the lawsuit trying to block his $56 billion in compensation for achieving previously assumed impossible performance goals.

            Frustrated with the snarl of big-city traffic, Musk launched The Boring Company. His idea was to drill under roadways, creating tunnels to ease vehicle and pedestrian congression. And then there’s SolarCity, where he famously climbed on residential rooftops to insist on the most cost-effective and efficient way to install the panels. Details don’t escape him.

            How about X (formerly known as Twitter)? Musk was enraptured by the social-media platform that allowed him to use his thumbs as “flamethrowers” for his personal opinions. Captivated by Twitter, he bought it by shoving $44 billion into that poker match. It’s too early to tell the results, but I wouldn’t bet against Musk.

            Much of what Musk does, I don’t understand. But here are two initiatives that I embrace:

§  Neuralink, by placing high-tech chips in the brain, could restore mobility to those paralyzed. If proven successful, brilliant.

§  Musk is wary that artificial intelligence (AI) could run amok if computers have power over humans rather than vice versa. Amen.

            Musk makes no apologies for his personality. Empathy is nonexistent. If a member of his team can’t rapid-fire answers, he’s likely to erupt, “You’re an $%@!#&?! idiot! Get out of here. Don’t come back.” Apologies are as rare as his genius.

            The world’s richest man—at the moment—frets over the world’s declining birthrate. Therefore, the problem solver has, so far, fathered 11 children with three women. One child is named X, and another is named Y. Musk is different, very different.

            So, if you want a peek at where technology is taking us, read Walter Isaacson’s book. Elon Musk—certifiably crazy smart—is leading the way.