Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present.
You can click the timestamp to jump to that time.Lex Fridman (00:00):
The following is a conversation with Elon Musk, his third time on this, the Lex Fridman Podcast. And now, a quick few second mention of each sponsor. Check them out in the description. It’s the best way to support this podcast.
First is Athletic Greens, the all-in-one nutrition drink I drink twice a day. Second is ButcherBox, high-quality meat that makes up most of my diet. Third is Insight Tracker, a service I use to track my biological data. Fourth is Roca, my favorite sunglasses and prescription glasses. And fifth is AteSleep, a self-cooling mattress cover I sleep on. So the choice is nutrition, food, health, style, or sleep. Choose wisely, my friends.
And now, onto the full ad reads. As always, no ads in the middle. I tried to make these interesting, but if you skip them, please still check out the sponsors. I enjoy their stuff. Maybe you will, too. This show is brought to you by Athletic Greens, and it’s newly named AG1 Drink, which is an all-in-one daily drink to support better health and peak performance. It replaced a multivitamin for me, and went far beyond that with 75 vitamins and minerals. It’s the first thing I drink every day. I drink it twice a day, in fact. I drink it after a long run. I recently did a 16-mile run, and I can’t tell you how good it felt to get back and pour myself a refreshing Athletic Greens and start the day. I ran fasted, and that’s probably one of my favorite things to do. Run for a long period of time on an empty stomach, thinking through the problems of the day, or the problems of life in general. And then get back to sort of ground, to normal life, by drinking Athletic Greens, getting in the shower, and just hitting the ground running with a little bit of coffee and focus. Anyway, they’ll give you one month’s supply of fish oil when you sign up at athleticgreens.com slash Lex. That’s athleticgreens.com slash Lex.
This show is brought to you by ButcherBox, high-quality meat that is pretty much the only thing I eat. They ship a box of meat to your home, eight to 14 pounds of it. You can pick a pre-made box or customize one, which is what I do. And that’s it. It’s pretty simple. I’ve spoken about this before. I think meat of different kinds makes up a large part of my diet.
I just feel good when I consume a large amount of meat. It’s not an allergy thing. It’s not some kind of reducing inflammation thing. I don’t know what it is, because I also am pretty happy eating carbs as well. I just feel better. I’m happier. I can perform better, both physically and mentally, when I consume a large amount of meat. Whether that’s a carnivore or keto diet, I just feel great. And ButcherBox is just high-quality meat that I can rely on. There’s all kinds of cuts there, but ground beef is the basics and the thing I love the most.
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This show is also brought to you by Inside Tracker, a service I use to track biological data. They have a bunch of plans, most of which include a blood test that gives you a lot of information that you can then make decisions based on. They have algorithms, I love the world of algorithms, that analyze your blood data, DNA data, and fitness tracker data to provide you with a clear picture of what’s going on inside you, and to offer you science-backed recommendations for positive diet and lifestyle changes. Andrew Huberman, the great, the powerful Andrew Huberman talks a lot about it. David Sinclair, he, by the way, was just on his podcast that you should check out, also talks a lot about it in my conversation with him and in his conversation with others. I love this idea, it feels like the future. You should definitely be making lifestyle and health decisions based on actual data connected to you, not just the general population. You are a special, unique biological fingerprint that requires unique treatment, unique lifestyle decisions.
For a limited time, you can get 25% off the entire Inside Tracker store if you go to insidetracker.com slash Lex. That’s insidetracker.com slash Lex. This show is brought to you by Roca, the maker of glasses and sunglasses that I love wearing for their design, feel, and innovation on materials, optics, and grip. Roca was started by two All-American swimmers from Stanford and was born out of an obsession with performance. Like I said, I love the word obsession and performance, and I got a chance to meet and hang out a bunch with one of those founders, Rob, an incredible human being here in Austin. They have a facility here in Austin. It’s just cool to see people at the top of their game in terms of both design and manufacturing and all that kind of stuff.
These glasses, first of all, look badass, look amazing, but they’re also designed to be active in, extremely lightweight, the grip is comfortable but strong. And the style, I said badass, but it’s badass in a classy way. It holds up in all conditions when I’m wearing a suit or wearing running gear, including on long runs in 100 degree Austin weather, or in freezing Boston weather, both work. Check them out for both prescription glasses and sunglasses at Roca.com and enter code Lex to save 20% off your first order. That’s Roca.com and enter code Lex.
This episode is also brought to you by Eight Sleep and its PodPro mattress. It controls temperature with an app, it’s packed with sensors, it can cool down to as low as 55 degrees on each side of the bed separately. Given that I just got out of said bed, I can tell you because it’s short term memory that the thing feels incredible.
There’s very few things to enjoy in life. As much as a power nap or full night’s sleep on a cooled bed with a warm blanket, my mind empty of thoughts, having fought the battles of the day and just resting, escaping it all in a little bit of a dream world. Alice in Wonderland, but more like Lex in Wonderland.
They have a PodPro cover so you can just add that to your mattress without having to buy theirs. But their mattress is nice too. They can track a bunch of metrics like heart rate variability, but cooling alone is worth the money. Go to eightsleep.com slash Lex to get special savings. That’s eightsleep.com slash Lex and I will meet you there, my friend, in the dream world. This is the Lex Friedman Podcast and here is my conversation with Elon Musk. Yeah, make yourself comfortable. Hello. Wow. Okay.
Elon Musk (07:41):
You don’t do the headphones thing?
Lex Fridman (07:44):
No. No. Okay. I mean, how close do I get? The closer you are, the sexier you sound.
Elon Musk (07:49):
Hey, babe. Can’t get enough of all that, baby.
Lex Fridman (07:54):
I’m going to clip that out and anytime somebody messages me about it.
Elon Musk (07:58):
If you want my body and you think I’m sexy, come right out and tell me so.
Lex Fridman (08:10):
So good. Okay. Serious mode activate.
Elon Musk (08:14):
All right. Serious mode. Come on, you’re Russian. You can be serious. Everyone’s serious all the time in Russia.
Lex Fridman (08:19):
Yeah. We’ll get there. We’ll get there. It’s gotten soft. All right. Allow me to say that the SpaceX launch of human beings to orbit on May 30th, 2020 was seen by many as the first step in a new era of human space exploration.
These human space flight missions were a beacon of hope to me and 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 (09:04):
Oh, that’s kind of you to say. I do want to do that. Humanity has obviously a lot of issues and people at times do bad things, but despite all that, I love humanity and I think we should make sure we do everything we can to have a good future and an exciting future and one where that maximizes the happiness of the people.
Lex Fridman (09:30):
Let me ask about Crew Dragon Demo 2. So that first flight with humans on board, how did you feel leading up to that launch? Were you scared? Were you excited? Was it going through your mind? So much was at stake.
Elon Musk (09:45):
Yeah, no, that was extremely stressful. No question. We obviously could not let them down in any way. So extremely stressful, I’d say, to say the least. I was confident that at the time that we launched that no one could think of anything at all to do that would improve the probability of success. And we racked our brains to think of any possible way to improve the probability of success and we could not think of anything more, nor could NASA. And so that’s just the best that we could do. So then we went ahead and launched. Now, I’m not a religious person, but I nonetheless got on my knees and prayed for that mission.
Lex Fridman (10:33):
Were you able to sleep? No. How did it feel when it was a success? First, when the launch was a success and when they returned back home or back to Earth?
Elon Musk (10:48):
It was a great relief. For high-stress situations, I find it’s not so much elation as relief. And I think once, as we got more comfortable and proved out the systems, because we really, you gotta make sure everything works, it was definitely a lot more enjoyable with the subsequent astronaut missions. And I thought the inspiration mission was actually a very inspiring inspiration for a mission. I’d encourage people to watch the inspiration documentary on Netflix, it’s actually really good. And I was actually inspired by that. So that one, I felt I was able to enjoy the actual mission, not just be super stressed all the time.
Lex Fridman (11:43):
For people that somehow don’t know, it’s the all civilian first time, all civilian out to space, out to orbit.
Elon Musk (11:50):
Yeah, it was, I think, the highest orbit that in like, I don’t know, 30 or 40 years or something. The only one that was higher was the one shuttle, sorry, Hubble servicing mission. And then before that it would have been Apollo in 72, it’s pretty wild. So it’s cool, you know, I think, as a species, we want to be continuing to do better and reach higher ground, and I think it would be tragic, extremely tragic if Apollo was the high watermark for humanity, and that’s as far as we ever got.
And it’s concerning that here we are 49 years after the last mission to the moon, and so almost half a century, and we’ve not been back. And that’s worrying, it’s like, is that, does that mean we’ve peaked as a civilization or what? So I think we’ve got to get back to the moon and build a base there, a science base. I think we could learn a lot about the nature of the universe if we have a proper science base on the moon, like we have a science base in Antarctica and many other parts of the world. And so that’s, I think, the next big thing. We’ve got to have a serious moon base and then get people to Mars and get out there and be a space-faring civilization.
Lex Fridman (13:24):
I’ll ask you about some of those details, but since you’re so busy with the hard engineering challenges of everything that’s involved, are you still able to marvel at the magic of it all, of space travel, of every time the rocket goes up, especially when it’s a crewed mission, or are you just so overwhelmed with all the challenges that you have to solve?
And actually, to add to that, the reason I wanted to ask this question of May 30th, it’s been some time, so you can look back and think about the impact already. It’s already, at the time, it was an engineering problem, maybe. Now it’s becoming a historic moment. Like it’s a moment that, how many moments would be remembered about the 21st century? To me, that or something like that, maybe inspiration for one of those would be remembered as the early steps of a new age of space exploration.
Elon Musk (14:16):
Yeah, I mean, during the launches itself, so I mean, I think maybe some people know, but a lot of people don’t know, is I’m actually the chief engineer of SpaceX, so I’ve signed off on pretty much all the design decisions, and so if there’s something that goes wrong with that vehicle, it’s fundamentally my fault. So I’m really just thinking about all the things that like, so when I see the rocket, I see all the things that could go wrong and the things that could be better, and the same with the Dragon spacecraft. It’s like, other people say, oh, this is a spacecraft or a rocket, and this looks really cool. I’m like, I have like a readout of like, this is the, these are the risks, these are the problems, that’s what I see. Like, ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch. So it’s not what other people see when they see the product, you know.
Lex Fridman (15:12):
So let me ask you then to analyze Starship in that same way. I know you have, you’ll talk in more detail about Starship in the near future, perhaps. Yeah, we can talk about it now if you want. But just in that same way, like you said, you see, when you see a rocket, you see sort of a list of risks. In that same way, you said that Starship is a really hard problem.
So there’s many ways I can ask this, but if you magically could solve one problem perfectly, one engineering problem perfectly, which one would it be? On Starship? Sorry, on Starship. So is it maybe related to the efficiency, the engine, the weight of the different components, the complexity of various things, maybe the controls of the crazy thing has to do to land?
Elon Musk (15:58):
No, it’s actually, by far the biggest thing absorbing my time is engine production. Not the design of the engine. I’ve often said prototypes are easy, production is hard. So we have the most advanced rocket engine that’s ever been designed. Because I’d say currently the best rocket engine ever is probably the RD-180 or RD-170, that’s the Russian engine, basically. And still, I think an engine should only count if it’s gotten something to orbit. So our engine has not gotten anything to orbit yet, but it is, it’s the first engine that’s actually better than the Russian RD engines, which were amazing design.
Lex Fridman (16:53):
So you’re talking about Raptor engine, what makes it amazing? What are the different aspects of it that make it, like what are you the most excited about if the whole thing works in terms of efficiency, all those kinds of things?
Elon Musk (17:09):
Well, Raptor is a full flow staged combustion engine and it’s operating at a very high chamber pressure. So one of the key figures of merit, perhaps the key figure of merit is what is the chamber pressure at which the rocket engine can operate? That’s the combustion chamber pressure. So Raptor is designed to operate at 300 bar, possibly maybe higher, that’s 300 atmospheres.
The record right now for operational engine is the RD engine that I mentioned, the Russian RD, which is, I believe, around 267 bar. And the difficulty of the chamber pressure is increases on a nonlinear basis. So 10% more chamber pressure is more like 50% more difficult. But that chamber pressure is, that is what allows you to get a very high power density for the engine. So enabling a very high thrust to weight ratio and a very high specific impulse. So specific impulse is like a measure of the efficiency of a rocket engine. It’s really the effect of exhaust velocity of the gas coming out of the engine.
So with a very high chamber pressure, you can have a compact engine that nonetheless has a high expansion ratio, which is the ratio between the exit nozzle and the throat. So you see a rocket engine’s got like a hourglass shape, it’s like a chamber, and then it necks down and there’s a nozzle. And the ratio of the exit diameter to the throat expansion ratio.
Lex Fridman (19:17):
So why is it such a hard engine to manufacture at scale? It’s very complex. So what does complexity mean here? There’s a lot of components involved.
Elon Musk (19:28):
There’s a lot of components and a lot of unique materials that, so we had to invent several alloys that don’t exist in order to make this engine work.
Lex Fridman (19:42):
It’s a materials problem too.
Elon Musk (19:46):
It’s a materials problem. And in a staged combustion, a full flow staged combustion, there are many feedback loops in the system. So basically you’ve got propellants and hot gas flowing simultaneously to so many different places on the engine. And they all have a recursive effect on each other. So you change one thing here, it has a recursive effect here, it changes something over there, and it’s quite hard to control. There’s a reason no one’s made this before.
But the reason we’re doing a staged combustion full flow is because it has the highest theoretical possible efficiency. So in order to make a fully reusable rocket, which that’s really the holy grail of orbital rocketry, you have to have, everything’s gotta be the best. It’s gotta be the best engine, the best airframe, the best heat shield, extremely light avionics, very clever control mechanisms. You’ve gotta shed mass in any possible way that you can. For example, instead of putting landing legs on the booster and ship, we are going to catch them with a tower to save the weight of the landing legs. So that’s like, I mean, we’re talking about catching the largest flying object ever made on a giant tower with chopstick arms. It’s like karate kid with the fly, but much bigger. I mean, pulling something like that won’t work the first time. Anyway, so this is bananas, this is banana stuff.
Lex Fridman (21:51):
So you mentioned that you doubt, well, not you doubt, but there’s days or moments when you doubt that this is even possible. It’s so difficult.
Elon Musk (22:01):
The possible part is, well, at this point, I think we will get Starship to work. There’s a question of timing. How long will it take us to do this? How long will it take us to actually achieve full and rapid reusability? Because it will take probably many launches before we are able to have full and rapid reusability. But I can say that the physics pencils out. Like we’re not, like at this point I’d say we’re confident that, like let’s say, I’m very confident success is in the set of all possible outcomes.
Lex Fridman (22:45):
Right, it’s not an all set.
Elon Musk (22:48):
For a while there, I was not convinced that success was in the set of possible outcomes, which is very important, actually. But, so we were, um, um.
Lex Fridman (22:59):
You’re saying there’s a chance.
Elon Musk (23:01):
I’m saying there’s a chance, exactly. Just not sure how long it will take. We have a very talented team. They’re working night and day to make it happen. And like I said, the critical thing to achieve for the revolution in space flight and for humanity to be a space-faring civilization is to have a fully and rapidly reusable rocket, orbital rocket.
There’s not even been any orbital rocket that’s been fully reusable ever. And this has always been the holy grail of rocketry. And many smart people, very smart people, have tried to do this before and have not succeeded. So, because it’s such a hard problem.
Lex Fridman (23:48):
What’s your source of belief in situations like this when the engineering problem is so difficult? There’s a lot of experts, many of whom you admire, who have failed in the past. Yes. And a lot of people, you know, a lot of experts, maybe journalists, all the kind of, you know, the public in general have a lot of doubt about whether it’s possible.
And you yourself know that even if it’s a non-null set, non-empty set of success, it’s still unlikely or very difficult. Like where do you go to, both personally, intellectually, as an engineer, as a team, like for source of strength needed to sort of persevere through this and to keep going with the project, take it to completion?
Elon Musk (24:50):
A source of strength, hmm. That’s really not how I think about things. I mean, for me, it’s simply this is something that is important to get done. And we should just keep doing it or die trying. And I don’t need a source of strength.
Lex Fridman (25:07):
So quitting is not even like…
Elon Musk (25:11):
That’s not my nature. And I don’t care about optimism or pessimism. Fuck that, we’re gonna get it done.
Lex Fridman (25:19):
Gonna get it done. Can you then zoom back in to specific problems with Starship or any engineering problems you work on? Can you try to introspect your particular biological neural network, your thinking process, and describe how you think through problems, the different engineering and design problems? Is there a systematic process? You’ve spoken about first principles thinking, but is there a kind of process to it?
Elon Musk (25:46):
Well, I like saying physics is law and everything else is a recommendation. I’ve met a lot of people that can break the law, but I haven’t met anyone who could break physics. So for any kind of technology problem, you have to sort of just make sure you’re not violating physics.
First principles analysis, I think, is something that could be applied to really any walk of life, anything really. It’s really just saying, let’s boil something down to the most fundamental principles, the things that we are most confident are true at a foundational level, and that sets your axiomatic base, and then you reason up from there, and then you cross-check your conclusion against the axiomatic truths.
Some basics in physics would be like, oh, you’re violating conservation of energy or momentum or something like that, then it’s not gonna work. So that’s just to establish, is it possible? And another good physics tool is thinking about things in the limit, if you take a particular thing and you scale it to a very large number or to a very small number, how do things change?
Lex Fridman (27:17):
Well, it’s like in number of things you manufacture or something like that, and then in time.
Elon Musk (27:23):
Yeah, let’s say take an example of manufacturing, which I think is just a very underrated problem, and like I said, it’s much harder to take an advanced technology product and bring it into volume manufacturing than it is to design it in the first place, my orders of magnitude, so let’s say you’re trying to figure out why is this part or product expensive, is it because of something fundamentally foolish that we’re doing, or is it because our volume is too low? And so then you say, okay, well what if our volume was a million units a year, is it still expensive? That’s what I mean by thinking about things in the limit. If it’s still expensive at a million units a year, then volume is not the reason why your thing is expensive. There’s something fundamental about the design.
Lex Fridman (28:15):
And then you then can focus on reducing complexity or something like that in the design?
Elon Musk (28:20):
You could change the design, change the part to be something that is not fundamentally expensive. But that’s a common thing in rocketry because the unit volume is relatively low, and so a common excuse would be, well it’s expensive because our unit volume is low, and if we were in automotive or something like that, or consumer electronics, then our costs would be lower. I’m like, okay, so let’s say, now you’re making a million units a year, is it still expensive? If the answer is yes, then economies of scale are not the issue.
Lex Fridman (28:53):
Do you throw into manufacturing, do you throw supply chain, talk about resources and materials and stuff like that, do you throw that into the calculation of trying to reason from first principles, like how we’re gonna make the supply chain work here? Yeah, yeah. And then the cost of materials, things like that.
Elon Musk (29:09):
Or is that too much? Exactly, so a good example of thinking about things in the limit is if you take any product, any machine or whatever, like take a rocket or whatever, and say, if you look at the raw materials in the rocket, so you’re gonna have aluminum, steel, titanium, Inconel, specialty alloys, copper, and you say, what’s the weight of the constituent elements, of each of these elements, and what is their raw material value? And that sets the asymptotic limit for how low the cost of the vehicle can be, unless you change the materials. So, and then when you do that, call it like maybe the magic wand number or something like that. So that would be like, if you had the, like just a pile of these raw materials here, and you could wave the magic wand and rearrange the atoms into the final shape.
That would be the lowest possible cost that you could make this thing for unless you changed the materials. So then, and that is always a, almost always a very low number. So then, what’s actually causing these to be expensive is how you put the atoms into the desired shape.
Lex Fridman (30:37):
Yeah, actually, if you don’t mind me taking a tiny tangent, I often talk to Jim Keller, who’s somebody that worked with you, he’s a professor at the firm.
Elon Musk (30:45):
Jim was, yeah, did great work at Tesla.
Lex Fridman (30:49):
So, I suppose he carries the flame of the same kind of thinking that you’re talking about now. And I guess I see that same thing at Tesla and SpaceX folks who work there, they kind of learn this way of thinking, and it kind of becomes obvious almost. But anyway, I had argument, not argument, he educated me about how cheap it might be to manufacture a Tesla bot. We just, we had an argument, how can you reduce the cost of scale of producing a robot? Because I’ve gotten the chance to interact quite a bit, obviously, in the academic circles with humanoid robots, and then Boston Dynamics and stuff like that, and they’re very expensive to build. And then, Jim kind of schooled me on saying like, okay, this kind of first principle’s thinking of how can we get the cost to manufacture now?
I suppose you do that, you have done that kind of thinking for Tesla bot and for all kinds of complex, systems that are traditionally seen as complex, and you say, okay, how can we simplify everything now?
Elon Musk (31:59):
Yeah, I mean, I think if you are really good at manufacturing, you can basically make, at high volume, you can basically make anything for a cost that asymptotically approaches the raw material value of the constituents plus any intellectual property that you need to do license, anything. But it’s hard, it’s not like that’s a very hard thing to do, but it is possible for anything. Anything in volume can be made of, like I said, for a cost that asymptotically approaches its raw material constituents plus intellectual property license rights.
So what’ll often happen in trying to design a product is people will start with the tools and parts and methods that they are familiar with, and then try to create a product using their existing tools and methods. The other way to think about it is actually imagine the, try to imagine the platonic ideal of the perfect product or technology, whatever it might be. And say, what is the perfect arrangement of atoms that would be the best possible product? And now let us try to figure out how to get the atoms in that shape.
Lex Fridman (33:15):
I mean, it sounds, it’s almost like Rick and Morty absurd until you start to really think about it, and you really should think about it in this way, because everything else is kind of, if you think, you might fall victim to the momentum of the way things were done in the past, unless you think in this way.
Elon Musk (33:37):
Well, just as a function of inertia, people will want to use the same tools and methods that they are familiar with.
They just, that’s what they’ll do by default. And then that will lead to an outcome of things that can be made with those tools and methods, but is unlikely to be the platonic ideal of the perfect product. So then, so that’s why, it’s good to think of things in both directions. So like, what can we build with the tools that we have? But then, but also, what is the perfect, the theoretical perfect product look like? And that theoretical perfect product is gonna be a moving target, because as you learn more, the definition of that perfect product will change, because you don’t actually know what the perfect product is, but you can successfully approximate a more perfect product.
So think about it like that, and then saying, okay, now, what tools, methods, materials, whatever, do we need to create in order to get the atoms in that shape? But for people, rarely think about it that way. But it’s a powerful tool.
Lex Fridman (34:44):
I should mention that the brilliant Shivon Zilis is hanging, hanging out with us, in case you hear a voice of wisdom from outside, from up above. Okay, so let me ask you about Mars. You mentioned it would be great for science to put a base on the moon to do some research, but the truly big leap, again, in this category of seemingly impossible, is to put a human being on Mars. When do you think SpaceX will land a human being on Mars?
Elon Musk (35:40):
Best case is about five years. Worst case, 10 years.
Lex Fridman (35:48):
What are the determining factors, would you say, from an engineering perspective, or is that not the bottlenecks?
Elon Musk (35:55):
You know, it’s fundamentally about engineering the vehicle. I mean, Starship is the most complex and advanced rocket that’s ever been made by, I don’t know, order of magnitude or something like that. It’s a lot. It’s really next level. And the fundamental optimization of Starship is minimizing cost per ton to orbit, and ultimately cost per ton to the surface of Mars. This may seem like a mercantile objective, but it is actually the thing that needs to be optimized. Like, there is a certain cost per ton to the surface of Mars where we can afford to establish a self-sustaining city, and then above that, we cannot afford to do it. So right now, you couldn’t fly to Mars for a trillion dollars. No amount of money could get you a ticket to Mars.
So we need to get that above, you know, to get that, like, something that is actually possible at all. But then, we don’t just want to have, you know, with Mars, flags and footprints, and then not come back for a half century, like we did with the Moon. In order to pass a very important, great filter, I think we need to be a multi-planet species. This may sound somewhat esoteric to a lot of people, but like, eventually, given enough time, there’s something, the Earth is likely to experience some calamity that could be something that humans do to themselves, or an external event like happens to dinosaurs, and, but eventually, and if none of that happens, and somehow, magically, we keep going, then the Sun is gradually expanding, and will engulf the Earth, and probably Earth gets too hot for life in about 500 million years. It’s a long time, but that’s only 10% longer than Earth has been around. And so, if you think about, like, the, because the current situation is really remarkable, and kind of hard to believe, but Earth’s been around four and a half billion years, and this is the first time in four and a half billion years that it’s been possible to extend life beyond Earth.
And that window of opportunity may be open for a long time, and I hope it is, but it also may be open for a short time, and we should, I think it was wise for us to act quickly while the window is open, just in case it closes.
Lex Fridman (38:44):
Yeah, the existence of nuclear weapons, pandemics, all kinds of threats should kind of give us some motivation.
Elon Musk (38:56):
I mean, civilization could get, could die with a bang or a whimper, you know? If it’s a, if it dies of demographic collapse, then it’s more of a whimper, obviously. But, and if it’s World War III, it’s more of a bang. But these are all risks. I mean, it’s important to think of these things and just, you know, think of things as like probabilities, not certainties. There’s a certain probability that something bad will happen on Earth. I think most likely the future will be good. But there’s like, let’s say for argument’s sake, a 1% chance per century of a civilization ending event. Like that was Stephen Hawking’s estimate. I think he might be right about that. So then, you know, we should basically think of this like being a multi-planet species, just like taking out insurance for life itself. Like life insurance for life.
Lex Fridman (39:57):
So. It’s turned into an infomercial, real quick.
Elon Musk (40:01):
Life insurance for life, yes. And, you know, we can bring the creatures from, you know, plants and animals from Earth to Mars and breathe life into the planet. But, you know, I think it’s important to think of this and breathe life into the planet and have a second planet with life, that would be great. They can’t bring themselves there, you know, so if we don’t bring them to Mars, then they will just for sure all die when the sun expands anyway, and then that’ll be it.
Lex Fridman (40:27):
What do you think is the most difficult aspect of building civilization on Mars? Terraforming Mars, like from an engineering perspective, from a financial perspective, human perspective, to get a large number of folks there who will never return back to Earth?
Elon Musk (40:47):
No, they could certainly return. Some will return back to Earth. They will choose to stay there for the rest of their lives. Yeah, many will. But, you know, we need the spaceships back, like the ones that go to Mars, bring them back. So you can hop on if you want, you know. But we can’t just not have the spaceships come back. Those things are expensive. We need them back. I’d like to come back and do another trip.
Lex Fridman (41:10):
I mean, do you think about the terraforming aspect, like actually building, how you’re so focused right now on the spaceships part that’s so critical?
Elon Musk (41:17):
Yeah, yeah, we absolutely, if you can’t get there, nothing else matters. So, and like I said, we can’t get there at some extraordinarily high cost. I mean, the current cost of, let’s say, one ton to the surface of Mars is on the order of a billion dollars. So, because you don’t just need the rocket and the launch and everything, you need like heat shield, you need, you know, guidance system, you need deep space communications, you need some kind of landing system. So, like rough approximation would be a billion dollars per ton to the surface of Mars right now. This is obviously way too expensive to create a self-sustaining civilization. So, we need to improve that by at least a factor of a thousand. A million per ton?
Yes, ideally less than, much less than a million ton. But if it’s not, like it’s gotta be, you have to say like, how much can society afford to spend or want to spend on a self-sustaining city on Mars? The self-sustaining part is important. Like it’s just, the key threshold, the great filter will have been passed when the city on Mars can survive even if the spaceships from Earth stop coming for any reason. Doesn’t matter what the reason is, but if they stop coming for any reason, will it die out or will it not? And if there’s even one critical ingredient missing, then it still doesn’t count. It’s like, you know, if you’re on a long sea voyage and you’ve got everything except vitamin C, and it’s only a matter of time, you know, you’re gonna die. So, we’re gonna get Mars, Mars City to the point where it’s self-sustaining.
I’m not sure this will really happen in my lifetime, but I hope to see it at least have a lot of momentum. And then you could say, okay, what is the minimum tonnage necessary to have a self-sustaining city? And there’s a lot of uncertainty about this. You could say like, I don’t know, it’s probably at least a million tons because you have to set up a lot of infrastructure on Mars. Like I said, you can’t be missing anything that in order to be self-sustaining, you can’t be, like you need semiconductor fabs, you need iron ore refineries, like you need lots of things, you know. So, and Mars is not super hospitable. It’s the least inhospitable planet, but it’s definitely a fixer-upper of a planet.
Lex Fridman (43:50):
Outside of Earth. Yes. Earth is pretty good. Earth is like easy, yeah. And also, we should clarify, in the solar system. Yes, in the solar system. There might be nice vacation spots.
Elon Musk (44:01):
There might be some great planets out there, but it’s hopeless. Too hard to get there? Yeah, way, way, way, way, way too hard. To say the least.
Lex Fridman (44:08):
Let me push back on that. Not really a push back, but a quick curve ball of a question. So you did mention physics as the first starting point. So, general relativity allows for warm holes. Warm holes. They technically can exist. Do you think those can ever be leveraged by humus to travel faster than the speed of light?
Elon Musk (44:31):
Well. Are you saying my status quo? The wormhole thing is debatable. We currently do not know of any means of going faster than the speed of light. There is like, like, there are some ideas about having space. Like, so, you can only move at the speed of light through space, but if you can make space itself move, that’s like, that’s warming space. Space is capable of moving faster than the speed of light. Right. Like the universe in the Big Bang, the universe expanded at much more than the speed of light, by a lot. Yeah. So, but the, if this is possible, the amount of energy required to warp space is so gigantic, it boggles the mind.
Lex Fridman (45:34):
So all the work you’ve done with propulsion, how much innovation is possible with rocket propulsion? Is this, I mean, you’ve seen it all, and you’re constantly innovating in every aspect. How much is possible? Like, how much, can you get 10x somehow? Is there something in there in physics that you can get significant improvement in terms of efficiency of engines and all those kinds of things?
Elon Musk (45:56):
Well, as I was saying, really the holy grail is a fully and rapidly reusable orbital system. So, right now, the Falcon 9 is the only reusable rocket out there. But the booster comes back and lands, I’m sure you’ve seen the videos, and we get the nose-cone fairing back, but we do not get the upper stage back. So, that means that we have a minimum cost of building an upper stage.
You can think of like a two-stage rocket of sort of like two airplanes, like a big airplane and a small airplane. And we get the big airplane back, but not the small airplane. And so it still costs a lot. So, that upper stage is at least $10 million. And then the degree of, the booster is not as rapidly and completely reusable as we’d like, and nor are the fairings.
So, our kind of minimum marginal cost, not counting overhead for per flight is on the order of $15 to $20 million, maybe. So, that’s extremely good for, it’s by far better than any rocket ever in history. But with full and rapid reusability, we can reduce the cost per ton to orbit by a factor of 100.
Just think of it like, like imagine if you had an aircraft or something, or a car, and if you had to buy a new car every time you went for a drive, that’d be very expensive. It’d be silly, frankly. But in fact, you just refuel the car or recharge the car, and that makes your trip, like, I don’t know, a thousand times cheaper. So, it’s the same for rockets. If you, it’s very difficult to make this complex machine that can go to orbit. And so, if you cannot reuse it, and have to throw even any part of, any significant part of it away, that massively increases the cost. So, you know, Starship in theory could do a cost per launch of, like, a million, maybe two million dollars, or something like that, and put over 100 tons in orbit, which is crazy.
Lex Fridman (48:25):
Yeah, that’s incredible. So, you’re saying, like, it’s by far the biggest bang for the buck is to make it fully reusable, versus, like, some kind of brilliant breakthrough in theoretical physics.
Elon Musk (48:37):
No, no, there’s no, there’s no brilliant break, no, there’s no, just make, you’re gonna make the rocket reusable. This is an extremely difficult engineering problem. Got it. But no new physics is required.
Lex Fridman (48:47):
Just brilliant engineering. Let me ask a slightly philosophical, fun question. Gotta ask, I know you’re focused on getting to Mars, but once we’re there on Mars, what do you, what form of government, economic system, political system do you think would work best for an early civilization of humans? I mean, the interesting reason to talk about this stuff, it also helps people dream about the future. I know you’re really focused about the short-term engineering dream, but it’s like, I don’t know, there’s something about imagining an actual civilization on Mars that gives people, really gives people hope.
Elon Musk (49:27):
Well, it would be a new frontier and an opportunity to rethink the whole nature of government, just as was done in the creation of the United States. So, I mean, I would suggest having direct democracy, like people vote directly on things, as opposed to representative democracy. So representative democracy, I think, is too subject to a special interest and a coercion of the politicians and that kind of thing. So I’d recommend that there’s just direct democracy, people vote on laws, the population votes on laws themselves and then the laws must be short enough that people can understand them.
Lex Fridman (50:18):
Yeah, and then like keeping a well-informed populace, like really being transparent about all the information, about what they’re voting for.
Elon Musk (50:25):
Yeah, absolute transparency.
Lex Fridman (50:26):
Yeah, and not make it as annoying as those cookies where you have to accept the cookies.
Elon Musk (50:30):
Accept the cookies, like always like a slight amount of trepidation when you click accept cookies, like I feel as though there’s like perhaps like a very tiny chance that’ll open a portal to hell or something like that.
Lex Fridman (50:43):
That’s exactly how I feel.
Elon Musk (50:45):
Why do they want me to accept it? What do they want with this cookie? Like somebody got upset with accepting cookies or something somewhere, who cares? Like so annoying to keep accepting all these cookies.
Lex Fridman (50:58):
To me, this is just a great.
Elon Musk (50:59):
Yes, you can have my damn cookie. I don’t care, whatever.
Lex Fridman (51:03):
He heard it from me on first. He accepts all your damn cookies.
Elon Musk (51:07):
Yeah, stop asking me.
Lex Fridman (51:10):
It’s annoying. Yeah, it’s one example of implementation of a good idea done really horribly.
Elon Musk (51:20):
Yeah, somebody was like, there’s some good intentions of like privacy or whatever, but now everyone’s just has to accept cookies and it’s not, you know, you have billions of people who have to keep clicking accept cookie, it’s super annoying. Then just accept the damn cookie, it’s fine. There is like, I think a fundamental problem that we’re, because we’ve not really had a major, like a world war or something like that in a while, and obviously we’d like to not have world wars, there’s not been a cleansing function for rules and regulations.
So wars did have, you know, some sort of lining in that there would be a reset on rules and regulations after a war. So World Wars I and II, there were huge resets on rules and regulations. So, now if society does not have a war, and there’s no cleansing function or garbage collection for rules and regulations, then rules and regulations will accumulate every year, because they’re immortal. There’s no actual, humans die, but the laws don’t.
So we need a garbage collection function for rules and regulations. They should not just be immortal, because some of the rules and regulations that are put in place will be counterproductive. Done with good intentions, but counterproductive. Sometimes not done with good intentions. So, if you just, if rules and regulations just accumulate every year, and you get more and more of them, then eventually you won’t be able to do anything. You’re just like Gulliver with, you know, tied down by thousands of little strings. And we see that in, you know, U.S. and, like basically all economies that have been around for a while, and regulators and legislators create new rules and regulations every year, but they don’t put effort into removing them. And I think that’s very important that we put effort into removing rules and regulations. But it gets tough, because you get special interests that then are dependent on, like they have a, you know, a vested interest in that, whatever rule and regulation, and that they, then they fight to not get it removed.
Lex Fridman (53:28):
Yeah, so, I mean, I guess the problem with the Constitution is it’s kind of like C versus Java, because it doesn’t have any garbage collection built in. I think there should be, when you first said the metaphor of garbage collection, I loved it. Yeah, it’s from a coding standpoint. From a coding standpoint, yeah, yeah. It would be interesting if the laws themselves kind of had a built-in thing where they kind of die after a while unless somebody explicitly publicly defends them, so that’s sort of, it’s not like somebody has to kill them, they kind of die themselves. They disappear. Yeah.
Not to defend Java or anything, but, you know, C++, you know, you could also have great garbage collection in Python and so on.
Elon Musk (54:11):
Yeah, so, yeah, something needs to happen, or just the civilization’s arteries just harden over time, and you can just get less and less done, because there’s just a rule against everything. So I think, I don’t know, for Mars or whatever, I’d say, or even for, you know, obviously for Earth as well, like, I think there should be an active process for removing rules and regulations and questioning their existence, just, like, if we’ve got a function for creating rules and regulations, because rules and regulations can also think of as like, they’re like software or lines of code for operating civilization. That’s the rules and regulations. So it’s not like we shouldn’t have rules and regulations, but you have code accumulation, but no code removal.
And so it just gets to become basically archaic bloatware after a while, and it’s just, it makes it hard for things to progress. So, I don’t know, maybe Mars, you’d have, like, any given law must have a sunset, you know, and require active voting to keep it up there, you know, and I actually also say, like, and these are just, I don’t know, recommendations or thoughts and ultimately it will be up to the people on Mars to decide, but I think it should be easier to remove a law than to add one, because of the, just to overcome the inertia of laws. So maybe it’s, like, for argument’s sake, you need, like, say, 60% vote to have a law take effect, but only a 40% vote to remove it.
Lex Fridman (55:55):
So let me be the guy, you posted a meme on Twitter recently where there’s, like, a row of urinals, a guy just walks all the way across, and he tells you about crypto.
Elon Musk (56:06):
I mean, that’s happened to me so many times, I think maybe even literally.
Lex Fridman (56:12):
Yeah. Do you think, technologically speaking, there’s any room for ideas of smart contracts or so on, because you mentioned laws. That’s an interesting implement, use of things like smart contracts to implement the laws by which governments function. Like, something built on Ethereum or maybe a dog coin that enables smart contracts somehow?
Elon Musk (56:36):
I don’t quite understand this whole smart contract thing. You know, I mean, I’m too dumb to understand smart contracts.
Lex Fridman (56:46):
That’s a good line.
Elon Musk (56:48):
I mean, my general approach to any kind of, like, deal or whatever is just make sure there’s clarity of understanding. That’s the most important thing. And just keep any kind of deal very short and simple, plain language, and just make sure everyone understands this is the deal, is it clear? And what are the consequences if various things don’t happen? But usually, deals are, you know, business deals or whatever are way too long and complex and overly-lawyered and pointlessly.
Lex Fridman (57:24):
You mentioned that Doge is the people’s coin. Yeah. And you said that you were literally going, SpaceX may consider literally putting a Dogecoin on the moon. Is this something you’re still considering? Mars, perhaps? Do you think there’s some chance, we’ve talked about political systems on Mars, that Dogecoin is the official currency of Mars at some point in the future?
Elon Musk (57:54):
Well, I think Mars itself will need to have a different currency because you can’t synchronize due to the speed of light.
Lex Fridman (58:03):
So it must be completely standalone from Earth.
Elon Musk (58:08):
Well, yeah, because Mars’ closest approach is four light minutes away, roughly, and then at furthest approach, it’s roughly 20 light minutes away. Maybe a little more. So you can’t really have something synchronizing if you’ve got a 20-minute speed of light issue, if it’s got a one-minute blockchain. It’s not gonna synchronize properly. So Mars would, I don’t know if Mars would have a cryptocurrency as a thing, but probably, seems likely, but it would be some kind of localized thing on Mars.
Lex Fridman (58:43):
And you let the people decide.
Elon Musk (58:46):
Yeah, absolutely. The future of Mars should be up to the Martians. Yeah, so, I mean, I think the cryptocurrency thing is an interesting approach to reducing the error in the database that is called money. You know, I think I have a pretty deep understanding of what money actually is on a practical day-to-day basis because of PayPal.
You know, we really got in deep there. And right now, the money system, actually, for practical purposes, is really a bunch of heterogeneous mainframes running old COBOL.
Lex Fridman (59:38):
Okay, you mean literally, that’s literally what’s happening.
Elon Musk (59:44):
Okay. In patch mode. Yeah. Pity the poor bastards who have to maintain that code. Okay, that’s a pain, that’s pain. Not even Fortran, it’s COBOL, yep. It’s COBOL. And the banks are still buying mainframes in 2021 and running ancient COBOL code. And, you know, the Federal Reserve is probably even older than what the banks have, and they have an old COBOL mainframe. And so, the government effectively has editing privileges on the money database.
And they use those editing privileges to make more money whenever they want. And this increases the error in the database that is money. So, I think money should really be viewed through the lens of information theory. And so, it’s kind of like an internet connection. Like, what’s the bandwidth, you know, total bitrate, what is the latency, jitter, packet drop, you know, errors, errors in the network, communication. Just think of money like that, basically. I think that’s probably the right way to think of it. And then say, what system, from an information theory standpoint, allows an economy to function the best.
And, you know, crypto is an attempt to reduce the error in money that is contributed by governments diluting the money supply as basically a pernicious form of taxation.
Lex Fridman (01:01:30):
So, both policy in terms of, with inflation, and actual, like, technological COBOL, like, 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.
Elon Musk (01:01:48):
Like I said, just think of money as information. People often will think of money as having power in and of itself. It does not. Money is information, and it does not have power in and of itself. Like, you know, applying the physics tools of thinking about things in the limit is helpful. If you are stranded on a tropical island, and you have a trillion dollars, it’s useless.
Because there’s no resource allocation. Money is a database for resource allocation. But there’s no resource to allocate except yourself. So money’s useless. If you’re stranded on a desert island with no food, all the Bitcoin in the world will not stop you from starving. So like, just think of money as a database for resource allocation across time and space. And then what system, in what form should that database or data system, what would be most effective? Now, there is a fundamental issue with, say, Bitcoin in its current form, in that the transaction volume is very limited.
And the latency for a properly confirmed transaction is too long, much longer than you’d like. So it’s actually not great from a transaction volume standpoint or a latency standpoint. So it is perhaps useful to solve an aspect of the money database problem, which is the sort of store of wealth or an accounting of relative obligations, I suppose, but it is not useful as a currency, as a day-to-day currency.
Lex Fridman (01:04:02):
But people have proposed different technological solutions. Lightning. Yeah, lightning network and the layer two technologies on top of that. I mean, it seems to be all kind of a trade-off, but the point is, it’s kind of brilliant to say that just think about information, think about what kind of database, what kind of infrastructure enables that exchange of information.
Elon Musk (01:04:22):
And you need to have some thing that allows for the efficient, to have efficient value ratios between products and services. So you’ve got this massive number of products and services, and you need to, you can’t just barter. I think it’s like, that would be extremely unwieldy. So you need something that gives you a ratio of exchange between goods and services.
And then something that allows you to shift obligations across time, like debt, debt and equity, shift obligations across time. Then what does the best job of that? Part of the reason why I think there’s some merit to Dogecoin, even though it was obviously created as a joke, is that it actually does have a much higher transaction volume capability than Bitcoin. And the costs of doing a transaction, the Dogecoin fee is very low. Like right now, if you want to do a Bitcoin transaction, the price of doing that transaction is very high. So you could not use it effectively for most things. And nor could it even scale to a high volume.
And when Bitcoin started, I guess around 2008 or something like that, the internet connections were much worse than they are today. Like order of magnitude. I mean, they’re way, way worse in 2008. So like having a small block size or whatever and a long synchronization time made sense in 2008. But 2021, or fast forward 10 years, it’s like comically low.
And I think there’s some value to having a linear increase in the amount of currency that is generated. So because some amount of the currency, like if a currency is too deflationary, or should say if a currency is expected to increase in value over time, there’s reluctance to spend it. Because you’re like, oh, I’ll just hold it and not spend it because its scarcity is increasing with time. So if I spend it now, then I will regret spending it. So I will just, you know, total it.
But if there’s some dilution of the currency occurring over time, that’s more of an incentive to use it as a currency. So those coins, somewhat randomly has just a fixed number of sort of coins or hash strings that are generated every year. So there’s some inflation, but it’s not a percentage base, it’s a fixed number. So the percentage of inflation will necessarily decline over time. So I’m not saying that it’s like the ideal system for a currency, but I think it actually is just fundamentally better than anything else I’ve seen, just by accident. So, so.
Lex Fridman (01:07:47):
I like how you said around 2008, so you’re not, you know, some people suggested you might be Satoshi Nakamoto, you’ve previously said you’re not, let me ask, you’re not for sure. Would you tell us if you were? Yes. Okay. Do you think it’s a feature or a bug that he’s anonymous or she or they? It’s an interesting kind of quirk of human history that there is a particular technology that is a completely anonymous inventor or creator.
Elon Musk (01:08:35):
Well, I mean, you can look at the evolution of ideas before the launch of Bitcoin and see who wrote, you know, about those ideas, and then, like, I don’t know exactly, obviously I don’t know who created Bitcoin for practical purposes, but the evolution of ideas is pretty clear before that, and it seems as though like Nick Szabo is probably more than anyone else responsible for the evolution of those ideas, so he claims not to be Nakamoto, but I’m not sure that’s neither here nor there, but he seems to be the one more responsible for the ideas behind Bitcoin than anyone else.
Lex Fridman (01:09:21):
So it’s not perhaps like singular figures aren’t even as important as the figures involved in the evolution of ideas that led to a thing, so. Yeah. Yeah, it’s, you know, perhaps it’s sad to think about history, but maybe most names would be forgotten anyway.
Elon Musk (01:09:38):
What is a name anyway? It’s a name attached to an idea. What does it even mean, really?
Lex Fridman (01:09:46):
I think Shakespeare had a thing about roses and stuff, whatever he said.
Elon Musk (01:09:48):
Rose by any other name, would smell of sweet.
Lex Fridman (01:09:54):
I got you on to quote Shakespeare. I feel like I accomplished something today.
Elon Musk (01:09:58):
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? I’m gonna clip that out instead of doing it. Not more temperate, not more fair.
Lex Fridman (01:10:10):
Autopilot, Tesla Autopilot. Tesla Autopilot has been through an incredible journey over the past six years, or perhaps even longer in the minds of, in your mind and the minds of many involved.
Elon Musk (01:10:28):
Yeah, I think that’s where we first connected, really, was the Autopilot stuff, autonomy, and.
Lex Fridman (01:10:32):
The whole journey was incredible to me to watch. I was, because I knew, well, part of it was I was at MIT, and I knew the difficulty of computer vision, and I knew the whole, I had a lot of colleagues and friends about the DARPA challenge, I knew how difficult it is. And so there was a natural skepticism. When I first drove a Tesla with the initial system based on Mobileye, I thought there’s no way. So first, when I got in, I thought there’s no way this car could maintain, like stay in the lane and create a comfortable experience. So my intuition initially was that the lane-keeping problem is way too difficult to solve. Oh, lane-keeping, yeah, that’s relatively easy. Well, like, but not the, but solve in the way that we just, we talked about previous is prototype versus a thing that actually creates a pleasant experience over hundreds of thousands of miles or millions. Yeah, so. I was proven wrong pretty quickly.
Elon Musk (01:11:30):
We had to wrap a lot of code around the Mobileye thing. It didn’t just work by itself.
Lex Fridman (01:11:35):
Yes, I mean, that’s part of the story of how you approach things sometimes. Sometimes you do things from scratch. Sometimes at first you kind of see what’s out there and then you decide to do from scratch. That was one of the boldest decisions I’ve seen is both on the hardware and the software to decide to eventually go from scratch. I thought, again, I was skeptical of whether that’s going to be able to work out because it’s such a difficult problem. And so it was an incredible journey. What I see now with everything, the hardware, the compute, the sensors, the things I maybe care and love about most is the stuff that Andrej Karpathy is leading with the data set selection, the whole data engine process, the neural network architectures, the way that’s in the real world, that network is tested, validated, all the different test sets versus the ImageNet model of computer vision, like what’s in academia is like real world artificial intelligence, so.
Elon Musk (01:12:32):
And Andrej’s awesome and obviously plays an important role, but we have a lot of really talented people driving things. So, and Ashok is actually the head of Autopilot Engineering. Andrej’s the director of AI.
Lex Fridman (01:12:48):
AI stuff, yeah, yeah. So yeah, I’m aware that there’s an incredible team of just a lot going on.
Elon Musk (01:12:53):
Yeah, I just, you know, people will give me too much credit and they’ll give Andrej too much credit, so.
Lex Fridman (01:12:60):
And people should realize how much is going on under the.
Elon Musk (01:13:04):
Yeah, it’s just a lot of really talented people. The Tesla Autopilot AI team is extremely talented. It’s like some of the smartest people in the world. So yeah, we’re getting it done.
Lex Fridman (01:13:15):
What are some insights you’ve gained over those five, six years of Autopilot about the problem of autonomous driving? So you leaped in having some sort of first principles kinds of intuitions, but nobody knows how difficult the.
Elon Musk (01:13:35):
The problem, like the problem. I thought the self-driving problem would be hard, but it was harder than I thought. It’s not like I thought it would be easy. I thought it would be very hard, but it was actually way harder than even that. So what it comes down to at the end of the day is to solve self-driving, you have to solve, you basically need to recreate what humans do to drive, which is humans drive with optical sensors, eyes, and biological neural nets. And so in order to, that’s how the entire road system is designed to work with basically passive optical and neural nets, biologically. And now that we need to, so actually for full self-driving to work, we have to recreate that in digital form. So we have to, that means cameras with advanced neural nets in silicon form, and then it will obviously solve for full self-driving. That’s the only way. I don’t think there’s any other way.
Lex Fridman (01:14:41):
But the question is what aspects of human nature do you have to encode into the machine? Right, so you have to solve the perception problem, like detect, and then you first realize what is the perception problem for driving, like all the kinds of things you have to be able to see. Like what do we even look at when we drive? I just recently heard Andre talked about at MIT about car doors. I think it was the world’s greatest talk of all time about car doors, the fine details of car doors. Like what is even an open car door, man?
So like the ontology of that, that’s a perception problem. We humans solve that perception problem, and Tesla has to solve that problem. And then there’s the control and the planning coupled with the perception. You have to figure out like what’s involved in driving, like especially in all the different edge cases. And then, I mean, maybe you can comment on this, how much game theoretic kind of stuff needs to be involved at a four-way stop sign? As humans, when we drive, our actions affect the world. It changes how others behave. Most autonomous driving, you’re usually just responding to the scene as opposed to like really asserting yourself in the scene.
Elon Musk (01:16:04):
Do you think? I think these sort of control logic conundrums are not the hard part. The, you know, let’s see.
Lex Fridman (01:16:17):
What do you think is the hard part in this whole beautiful complex problem?
Elon Musk (01:16:21):
So it’s a lot of friggin’ software, man. A lot of smart lines of code. For sure, in order to have, create an accurate vector space. Accurate vector space. So like you’re coming from image space, which is like this flow of photons, you’re going to the cameras and then, so you have this massive bitstream in image space, and then you have to effectively compress a massive bitstream corresponding to photons that knocked off an electron in a camera sensor, and turn that bitstream into vector space. By vector space, I mean like, you know, you’ve got cars and humans and lane lines and curves and traffic lights and that kind of thing.
Once you have an accurate vector space, the control problem is similar to that of a video game, like a Grand Theft Auto of Cyberpunk, if you have accurate vector space. The control problem is, I wouldn’t say it’s trivial, it’s not trivial, but it’s not like some insurmountable thing but having accurate vector space is very difficult.
Lex Fridman (01:18:03):
Yeah, I think we humans don’t give enough respect to how incredible the human perception system is, to mapping the raw photons to the vector space is a representation in our heads.
Elon Musk (01:18:16):
Your brain is doing an incredible amount of processing and giving you an image that is a very cleaned up image. Like when we look around here, we see, like you see color in the corners of your eyes, but actually your eyes have very few cones, like cone receptors in the peripheral vision. Your eyes are painting color in the peripheral vision.
You don’t realize it, but their eyes are actually painting color and your eyes also have like this blood vessels and all sorts of gnarly things and there’s a blind spot, but do you see your blind spot? No, your brain is painting in the missing, the blind spot. You’re gonna do these things online where you look here and look at this point and then look at this point and if it’s in your blind spot, your brain will just fill in the missing bits.
Lex Fridman (01:19:04):
The peripheral vision is so cool. It makes you realize all the illusions for vision sciences, so it makes you realize just how incredible the brain is.
Elon Musk (01:19:12):
The brain is doing a crazy amount of post-processing on the vision signals from your eyes. It’s insane. Once you get all those vision signals, your brain is constantly trying to forget as much as possible so human memory is, perhaps the weakest thing about the brain is memory, so because memory is so expensive to a brain and so limited, your brain is trying to forget as much as possible and distill the things that you see into the smallest amounts of information possible so your brain is trying to not just get to a vector space, but get to a vector space that is the smallest possible vector space of only relevant objects.
I think you can sort of look inside your brain, or at least I can, when you drive down the road and try to think about what your brain is actually doing consciously and it’s like you’ll see a car, because you don’t have cameras, you don’t have eyes in the back of your head or the side, so you basically have two cameras on a slow gimbal, and what’s your, and eyesight’s not that great, okay, human eyes are, and people are constantly distracted and thinking about things and texting and doing all sorts of things they shouldn’t do in a car, changing the radio station, so having arguments is like, so when’s the last time you looked right and left or rearward or even diagonally forward to actually refresh your vector space? So you’re glancing around and what your mind is doing is trying to distill the relevant vectors, basically objects with a position and motion, and then, editing that down to the least amount that’s necessary for you to drive.
Lex Fridman (01:21:21):
It does seem to be able to edit it down or compress it even further into things like concepts, so it’s not, it’s like it goes beyond, the human mind seems to go sometimes beyond vector space, to sort of space of concepts, to where you’ll see a thing, it’s no longer represented spatially somehow, it’s almost like a concept that you should be aware of, like if this is a school zone, you’ll remember that as a concept, which is a weird thing to represent, but perhaps for driving you don’t need to fully represent those things, or maybe you get those kind of, indirectly.
Elon Musk (01:21:56):
You need to like establish vector space and then actually have predictions for those vector spaces, so like if you drive past, say a bus, and you see that there’s people, before you drove past the bus, you saw people crossing, or just imagine there’s like a large truck or something blocking site, but before you came up to the truck, you saw that there were some kids about to cross the road in front of the truck. Now you can no longer see the kids, but you need to be able, but you would now know, okay, those kids are probably gonna pass by the truck and cross the road, even though you cannot see them, so you have to have memory, you have to need to remember that there were kids there, and you need to have some forward prediction of what their position will be at the time of relevance.
Lex Fridman (01:22:55):
So with occlusions, and computer vision, when you can’t see an object anymore, even when it just walks behind a tree and reappears, that’s a really, really, I mean, at least in academic literature, it’s tracking through occlusions, it’s very difficult. Yeah, we’re doing it. I understand this.
Elon Musk (01:23:14):
Yeah. So some of it. It’s object permanence, like same thing happens with humans, with neural nets. When a toddler grows up, there’s a point in time where they have a sense of object permanence. So before a certain age, if you have a ball, or a toy or whatever, and you put it behind your back, and you pop it out, before they have object permanence, it’s like a new thing every time. It’s like, whoa, this toy went poof, just spared, and now it’s back again, and they can’t believe it, and that they can play peekaboo all day long, because this peekaboo is fresh every time. But then we figure out object permanence, then they realize, oh no, the object is not gone, it’s just behind your back.
Lex Fridman (01:23:53):
Sometimes I wish we never did figure out object permanence.
Elon Musk (01:23:56):
Yeah, so that’s a.
Lex Fridman (01:23:59):
So that’s an important problem to solve.
Elon Musk (01:24:02):
Yes, so like an important evolution of the neural nets in the car is memory across both time and space. So, now you can’t remember, like you have to say, how long do you want to remember things for? And there’s a cost to remembering things for a long time, so you run out of memory to try to remember too much for too long, and then you also have things that are stale if you remember them for too long. And then you also need things that are remembered over time, so even if you, like say, have like, for argument’s sake, five seconds of memory on a time basis, but like let’s say you’re parked at a light, and you saw, use a pedestrian example, that people were waiting to cross the road, and you can’t quite see them because of an occlusion, but they might wait for a minute before the light changes for them to cross the road. You still need to remember that that’s where they were, and that they’re probably going to cross the road type of thing. So even if that exceeds your time-based memory, it should not exceed your space memory.
Lex Fridman (01:25:20):
And I just think the data engine side of that, so getting the data to learn all of the concepts that you’re saying now is an incredible process. It’s this iterative process of just, it’s this hydronet of many. Hydronet.
Elon Musk (01:25:33):
We’re changing the name to something else. Okay, I’m sure it would be equally as Rick and Morty-like. There’s a lot of, yeah. We’ve re-architected the neural net, the neural nets in the cars so many times, it’s crazy.
Lex Fridman (01:25:49):
Oh, so every time there’s a new major version, you’ll rename it to something more ridiculous or memorable and beautiful, sorry. Not ridiculous, of course.
Elon Musk (01:25:59):
If you see the full array of neural nets that are operating in the cars, it kind of boggles the mind. There’s so many layers, it’s crazy. So, yeah. And we started off with simple neural nets that were basically image recognition on a single frame from a single camera and then trying to knit those together with C, I should say we’re really primarily running C here because C++ is too much overhead. And we have our own C compiler. So to get maximum performance, we actually wrote our own C compiler and are continuing to optimize our C compiler for maximum efficiency. In fact, we’ve just recently done a new rev on a C compiler that’ll compile directly to our autopilot hardware.
Lex Fridman (01:26:58):
So you want to compile the whole thing down with your own compiler? Yeah, absolutely. So efficiency here, because there’s all kinds of compute. There’s CPU, GPU, there’s ASIC types of things. And you have to somehow figure out the scheduling across all of those things. And so you’re compiling the code down that does all, okay. So that’s why there’s a lot of people involved.
Elon Musk (01:27:18):
There’s a lot of hardcore software engineering at a very sort of bare metal level. Because we’re trying to do a lot of compute that’s constrained to our full-size driving computer. And we want to try to have the highest frames per second possible in a very finite amount of compute and power. So we really put a lot of effort into the efficiency of our compute. And so there’s actually a lot of work done by some very talented software engineers at Tesla that at a very foundational level to improve the efficiency of compute and how we use the trip accelerators, which are basically doing matrix math dot products, like a bazillion dot products. And it’s like, what are neural nets? It’s like, compute-wise, it’s like 99% dot products. So, you know.
Lex Fridman (01:28:28):
And you want to achieve as many high frame rates like a video game. You want full resolution, high frame rate.
Elon Musk (01:28:36):
High frame rate, low latency, low jitter. So I think one of the things we’re moving towards now is no post-processing of the image through the image signal processor. So what happens for cameras is that, almost all cameras, is they, there’s a lot of post-processing done in order to make pictures look pretty. And so we don’t care about pictures looking pretty. We just want the data. So we’re moving to just raw photon counts.
So the system will, like the image that the computer sees is actually much more than what you’d see if you represented it on a camera. It’s got much more data. And even in very low light conditions, you can see that there’s a small photon count difference between this spot here and that spot there, which means that, so it can see in the dark incredibly well because it can detect these tiny differences in photon counts. Like much better than you’d possibly imagine. So, and then we also save 13 milliseconds on latency. So.
Lex Fridman (01:30:00):
From removing the post-processing on the image? Yes. Yeah.
Elon Musk (01:30:04):
It’s like, because we’ve got eight cameras and then there’s roughly, I don’t know, one and a half milliseconds or so, maybe 1.6 milliseconds of latency for each camera. And so like going to just, basically bypassing the image processor gets us back 13 milliseconds of latency, which is important. And we track latency all the way from, photon hits the camera to all the steps that it’s gotta go through to get, go through the various neural nets and the C code and there’s a little bit of C++ there as well. Well, maybe a lot, but the core stuff is, the heavy duty computer’s all in C.
And so we track that latency all the way to an output command to the drive unit to accelerate the breaks just to slow down the steering, turn left or right. So, cause you gotta output a command that’s gotta go to a controller and like some of these controllers have an update frequency that’s maybe 10 Hertz or something like that, which is slow. That’s like, now you lose 100 milliseconds potentially. So, then we wanna update the, the drivers on the steering and braking control to have more like 100 Hertz instead of 10 Hertz. And then you’ve got a 10 millisecond latency instead of 100 milliseconds, worst case latency. And actually jitter is more of a challenge than latency. Cause latency is like, you can anticipate and predict, but if you’ve got a stack up of things going from the camera to the computer through then a series of other computers and finally to an actuator on the car, if you have a stack up of tolerances, of timing tolerances, then you can have quite a variable latency, which is called jitter. And that makes it hard to anticipate exactly what, how you should turn the car or accelerate, because if you’ve got maybe 150, 200 milliseconds of jitter, then you could be off by up to 0.2 seconds. And this can make a big difference.
Lex Fridman (01:32:19):
So you have to interpolate somehow to deal with the effects of jitter so that you can make robust control decisions. So the jitter is in the sensor information, or the jitter can occur at any stage in the pipeline.
Elon Musk (01:32:36):
You can, if you have just, if you have fixed latency, you can anticipate and like say, okay, we know that our information is for argument’s sake, 150 milliseconds stale. Like so for 150 milliseconds from photon second camera to where you can measure a change in the acceleration of the vehicle.
So then you can say, okay, well, we’re gonna enter, we know it’s 140 milliseconds, so we’re gonna take that into account and compensate for that latency. However, if you’ve got then 150 milliseconds of latency plus 100 milliseconds of jitter, which could be anywhere from zero to 100 milliseconds on top, so then your latency could be from 150 to 250 milliseconds. Now you’ve got 100 milliseconds that you don’t know what to do with. And that’s basically random. So getting rid of jitter is extremely important.
Lex Fridman (01:33:35):
And that affects your control decisions and all those kinds of things.
Elon Musk (01:33:40):
Okay. Yeah, the car’s just gonna fundamentally maneuver better with lower jitter. Got it. And the cars will maneuver with super human ability and reaction time much faster than a human. I mean, I think over time, the autopilot, full stop driving will be capable of maneuvers that are far more than what like James Bond could do in like the best movie type of thing.
Lex Fridman (01:34:08):
Exactly what I was imagining in my mind, as you said.
Elon Musk (01:34:11):
It’s like impossible maneuvers that a human couldn’t do. So.
Lex Fridman (01:34:16):
Well, let me ask, sort of looking back the six years, looking out into the future, based on your current understanding, how hard do you think this full self-driving problem, when do you think Tesla will solve level four FSD?
Elon Musk (01:34:32):
I mean, it’s looking quite likely that it will be next year.
Lex Fridman (01:34:37):
And what does the solution look like? Is it the current pool of FSD beta candidates, they start getting greater and greater as they have been degrees of autonomy, and then there’s a certain level beyond which they can do their own, they can read a book.
Elon Musk (01:34:54):
Yeah, so. I mean, you can see that anybody who’s been following the full self-driving beta closely will see that the rate of disengagements has been dropping rapidly. So like a disengagement be where the driver intervenes to prevent the car from doing something dangerous potentially, so.
So the interventions per a million miles has been dropping dramatically. At some point, and that trend looks like it happens next year, is that the probability of an accident on FSD is less than that of the average human, and then significantly less than that of the average human. So it certainly appears like we will get there next year.
Then of course, then there’s gonna be a case of, okay, well we now have to prove this to regulators, and prove it to, and we want a standard that is not just equivalent to a human, but much better than the average human. I think it’s gotta be at least two or three times higher safety than a human. So two or three times lower probability of injury than a human. Before we would actually say like, okay, it’s okay to go. It’s not gonna be equivalent, it’s gotta be much better.
Lex Fridman (01:36:19):
So if you look at FSD, 10.6 just came out recently, 10.7 is on the way, maybe 11 is on the way somewhere in the future.
Elon Musk (01:36:31):
Yeah, we were hoping to get 11 out this year, but 11 actually has a whole bunch of fundamental rewrites on the neural net architecture, and some fundamental improvements in creating vector space.
Lex Fridman (01:36:50):
There is some fundamental leap that really deserves the 11. I mean, that’s a pretty cool number. Yeah.
Elon Musk (01:36:58):
So 11 would be a single stack for all, one stack to rule them all. But there are just some really fundamental neural net architecture changes that will allow for much more capability, but at first they’re gonna have issues. So we have this working on sort of alpha software, and it’s good, but it’s basically taking a whole bunch of C, C++ code and deleting a massive amount of C++ code and replacing it with a neural net. And Andre makes this point a lot, which is neural nets are kind of eating software. Over time, there’s less and less conventional software, more and more neural net, which is still software, but it still comes out of the lines of software. But more neural net stuff and less heuristics, basically.
More matrix-based stuff and less heuristics-based stuff. And one of the big changes will be right now the neural nets will deliver a giant bag of points to the C++ or C and C++ code. Yeah, we call it the giant bag of points. And it’s like, so you got a pixel and something associated with that pixel.
Like this pixel is probably car, pixel is probably lane line. Then you’ve got to assemble this giant bag of points in the C code and turn it into vectors. And it does a pretty good job of it, but we need another layer of neural nets on top of that to take the giant bag of points and distill that down to vector space in the neural net part of the software as opposed to the heuristics part of the software. This is a big improvement.
Lex Fridman (01:39:21):
Neural nets all the way down is what you want.
Elon Musk (01:39:25):
It’s not even a neural net, but this is a game changer to not have the bag of points, the giant bag of points that has to be assembled with many lines of C++ and have a neural net just assemble those into a vector. So the neural net is outputting much, much less data.
It’s outputting, this is a lane line, this is a curb, this is drivable space, this is a car, this is a pedestrian or cyclist or something like that. It’s outputting, it’s really outputting proper vectors to the C++ control code as opposed to the sort of constructing the vectors in C. We’ve done, I think, quite a good job of, but we’re kind of hitting a local maximum on how well the C can do this.
So this is really a big deal. And just all of the networks in the car need to move to surround video. There’s still some legacy networks that are not surround video. And all of the training needs to move to surround video and the efficiency of the training needs to get better, and it is, and then we need to move everything to raw photon counts as opposed to processed images.
Which is quite a big reset on the training because the system’s trained on post-processed images, so we need to redo all the training to train against the raw photon counts instead of the post-processed image.
Lex Fridman (01:41:15):
So ultimately, it’s kind of reducing the complexity of the whole thing, so reducing. Lines of code will actually go lower. Yeah, that’s fascinating. So you’re doing fusion of all the sensors, so reducing the complexity.
Elon Musk (01:41:28):
Instead of having to deal with these sensors. Usually the cameras, there’s a lot of cameras, really. Right.
Lex Fridman (01:41:32):
Yes. Same with humans. Well, I guess we got ears too, okay.
Elon Musk (01:41:39):
Yeah, we’ll actually need to incorporate sound as well because you need to listen for ambulance sirens or fire trucks, or somebody yelling at you or something. You know, yelling at you or something, I don’t know. There’s a little bit of audio that needs to be incorporated as well. Do you need to go back to break? Yeah, sure, let’s take a break. Okay. Honestly, frankly, the ideas are the easy thing and the implementation is the hard thing. The idea of going to the moon is the easy part, but going to the moon is the hard part. Is the hard part. And there’s a lot of hardcore engineering that’s gotta get done.
At the hardware and software level, like I said, optimizing the C compiler and just cutting out latency everywhere. Like this is, if we don’t do this, the system will not work properly. So the work of the engineers doing this, they are like the unsung heroes, you know, but they are critical to the success of the situation.
Lex Fridman (01:42:40):
I think you made it clear. I mean, at least to me, it’s super exciting everything that’s going on outside of what Andre is doing. Just the whole infrastructure, the software. I mean, everything is going on with Data Engine, whatever it’s called. The whole process is just a work of art to me.
Elon Musk (01:42:55):
The sheer scale of it boggles my mind. Like the training, the amount of work done with, like we’ve written all this custom software for training and labeling and to do auto labeling. Auto labeling is essential. Because especially when you’ve got like surround video, it’s very difficult to like label surround video from scratch is extremely difficult. Like take a human such a long time to even label one video clip, like several hours. Or the auto labeler, basically we just apply like heavy duty, like a lot of compute to the video clips to pre-assign and guess what all the things are that are going on in the surround video. And then there’s like correcting it. Yeah, and then all the human has to do is like tweet, like say adjust what is incorrect. This is like increases productivity by 100 or more.
Lex Fridman (01:43:52):
Yeah, so you’ve presented Tesla Bot as primarily useful in the factory. First of all, I think humanoid robots are incredible. From a fan of robotics, I think the elegance of movement that humanoid robots, that bipedal robots show are just so cool. So it’s really interesting that you’re working on this and also talking about applying the same kind of, all the ideas of some of which we’ve talked about with data engine, all the things that we’re talking about with Tesla Autopilot, just transferring that over to the just yet another robotics problem.
I have to ask, since I care about human-robot interaction, so the human side of that. So you’ve talked about mostly in the factory. Do you see part of this problem that Tesla Bot has to solve is interacting with humans and potentially having a place like in the home? So interacting, not just, not replacing labor, but also like, I don’t know, being a friend or an assistant or something like that.
Elon Musk (01:44:49):
I think the possibilities are endless. Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously like a, it’s not quite in Tesla’s primary mission direction of accelerating sustainable energy, but it is an extremely useful thing that we can do for the world, which is to make a useful humanoid robot that is capable of interacting with the world and helping in many different ways. So in factories, and really just, I mean, I think if you say like extrapolate to, you know, many years in the future, it’s like, I think work will become optional. So like there’s a lot of jobs that if people weren’t paid to do it, they wouldn’t do it. Like it’s not fun, you know, necessarily. Like if you’re washing dishes all day, it’s like, you know, even if you really like washing dishes, you really want to do it for eight hours a day, every day. Probably not.
So, and then there’s like dangerous work. And basically if it’s dangerous, boring, has like potential for repetitive stress injury, that kind of thing, then that’s really where humanoid robots would add the most value initially. So that’s what we’re aiming for is to, for the humanoid robots to do jobs that people don’t voluntarily want to do. And then we’ll have to pair that obviously with some kind of universal basic income in the future. So I think.
Lex Fridman (01:46:31):
So do you see a world when there’s like hundreds of millions of Tesla bots doing different, performing different tasks throughout the world?
Elon Musk (01:46:44):
Yeah, I haven’t really thought about it that far into the future, but I guess that there may be something like that. So.
Lex Fridman (01:46:52):
Can I ask a wild question? So the number of Tesla cars has been accelerating, has been close to 2 million produced. Many of them have autopilot. I think we’re over 2 million now, yeah. Do you think there’ll ever be a time when there’ll be more Tesla bots than Tesla cars?
Elon Musk (01:47:12):
Yeah. Actually, it’s funny you asked this question because normally I do try to think pretty far into the future, but I haven’t really thought that far into the future with the Tesla bot or it’s code named Optimus. I call it Optimus subprime. Because it’s not like a giant transformer robot. So, but it’s meant to be a general purpose, helpful bot. And basically like the things that we’re, basically like Tesla, I think has the most advanced real world AI for interacting with the real world, which it develops as a function of, to make self-driving work. And so, along with custom hardware and like a lot of, you know, hardcore low-level software to have it run efficiently and be power efficient, because, you know, it’s one thing to do neural nets if you’ve got a gigantic solar room with 10,000 computers, but now, let’s say you just, you have to now distill that down into one computer that’s running at low power in a humanoid robot or a car.
That’s actually very difficult, and a lot of hardcore software work is required for that. So, since we’re kind of like solving the, navigate the real world with neural nets problem for cars, which are kind of like robots with four wheels, then it’s like kind of a natural extension of that is to put it in a robot with arms and legs, and actuators. So, like the two, like hard things are like, you basically need to make the, have the robot be intelligent enough to interact in a sensible way with the environment.
So you just need real world AI, and you need to be very good at manufacturing, which is a very hard problem. Tesla’s very good at manufacturing, and also has the real world AI. So, making the humanoid robot work is, basically it means developing custom motors and sensors that are different from what a car would use. But we’ve also, we have, I think we have the best expertise in developing advanced electric motors and power electronics. So, it just has to be for a humanoid robot application on a car.
Lex Fridman (01:49:54):
Still, you do talk about love sometimes. So let me ask, this isn’t like for like sex robots or something like that. Love is the answer. Yes. There is something compelling to us, not compelling, but we connect with humanoid robots or even legged robots, like with a dog in the shape of dogs, it just, it seems like, there’s a huge amount of loneliness in this world. All of us seek companionship with other humans, friendship and all those kinds of things. We have a lot of, here in Austin, a lot of people have dogs.
There seems to be a huge opportunity to also have robots that decrease the amount of loneliness in the world, or help us humans connect with each other, so in a way that dogs can. Do you think about that with us about it all, or is it really focused on the problem of performing specific tasks, not connecting with humans?
Elon Musk (01:50:53):
I mean, to be honest, I have not actually thought about it from the companionship standpoint, but I think it actually would end up being, it could be actually a very good companion, and it could, you develop a personality over time that is unique. It’s not like they’re just all the robots are the same, and that personality could evolve to be, you know, match the owner or the, you know, I guess, the owner, whatever you want to call it.
Lex Fridman (01:51:31):
The other half, right, in the same way that friends do. See, I think that’s a huge opportunity.
Elon Musk (01:51:41):
I think. Yeah, no, that’s interesting. Like, because, you know, like there’s a Japanese phrase, like wabi-sabi, you know, the subtle imperfections are what make something special, and the subtle imperfections of the personality of the robot mapped to the subtle imperfections of the robot’s human friend, I don’t know. Owner sounds like maybe the wrong word, but could actually make an incredible buddy, basically.
Lex Fridman (01:52:14):
And in that way, the imperfections. Like R2D2 or like a C-3PO sort of thing, you know. So from a machine learning perspective, I think the flaws being a feature is really nice. You could be quite terrible at being a robot for quite a while in the general home environment or all in the general world, and that’s kind of adorable. And that’s like, those are your flaws, and you fall in love with those flaws. So it’s very different than autonomous driving where it’s a very high stakes environment you cannot mess up. And so, yeah, it’s more fun to be a robot in the home.
Elon Musk (01:52:49):
Yeah, in fact, if you think of like C-3PO and R2D2, like they actually had a lot of flaws and imperfections and silly things, and they would argue with each other.
Lex Fridman (01:52:60):
And- Were they actually good at doing anything? I’m not exactly sure.
Elon Musk (01:53:05):
I definitely added a lot to the story. But there’s sort of quirky elements, and you know, that they would like make mistakes and do things. It’s just like it made them relatable, I don’t know, enduring. So yeah, I think that that could be something that probably would happen. But our initial focus is just to make it useful. So I’m confident we’ll get it done. I’m not sure what the exact timeframe is, but like we’ll probably have, I don’t know, a decent prototype towards the end of next year or something like that.
Lex Fridman (01:53:45):
And it’s cool that it’s connected to Tesla, the car.
Elon Musk (01:53:51):
Yeah, it’s using a lot of, you know, it would use the autopilot inference computer and a lot of the training that we’ve done for cars in terms of recognizing real world things could be applied directly to the robot. So, but there’s a lot of custom actuators and sensors that need to be developed.
Lex Fridman (01:54:13):
And an extra module on top of the vector space for love. Yeah. That’s me saying. Okay. We can add that to the car too. That’s true. That could be useful in all environments. Like you said, a lot of people argue in the car, so maybe we can help them out. You’re a student of history, fan of Dan Carlin’s hardcore history podcast. Yeah, it’s great. Greatest podcast ever. Yeah, I think it is actually. It almost doesn’t really count as a podcast. Yeah, it’s audio book. Yeah, so you were on the podcast with Dan, I just had a chat with him about it. He said, you guys want military and all that kind of stuff.
Elon Musk (01:54:55):
Yeah, it’s literally, it was basically, it should be titled Engineer Wars. Essentially like when there’s a rapid change in the rate of technology, then engineering plays a pivotal role in victory in battle.
Lex Fridman (01:55:15):
How far back in history did you go? Did you go World War II?
Elon Musk (01:55:18):
Well, it was supposed to be a deep dive on fighters and bomber technology in World War II, but that ended up being more wide-ranging than that. I just went down the total rat hole of studying all of the fighters and bombers in World War II and the constant rock, paper, scissors game that one country would make this plane, and then it’d make a plane to beat that, and that country would make a plane to beat that, and then, and really what matters is the pace of innovation, and also access to high-quality fuel and raw materials.
So Germany had some amazing designs, but they couldn’t make them because they couldn’t get the raw materials, and they had a real problem with the oil and fuel, basically. The fuel quality was extremely variable. So the design, wasn’t the bottleneck, or? Yeah, the U.S. had kick-ass fuel that was very consistent. The problem is, if you make a very high-performance aircraft engine, in order to make it high-performance, you have to, the fuel, the aviation gas, has to be a consistent mixture, and it has to have a high octane.
High octane is the most important thing, but also can’t have impurities and stuff, because you’ll foul up the engine, and Germany just never had good access to oil. They tried to get it by invading the Caucasus, but that didn’t work too well. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Lex Fridman (01:56:53):
That never works well. You can work out for them. See you, Jay. See you, Jay.
Elon Musk (01:56:57):
Nice to meet you. So Germany was always struggling with basically shitty oil. They couldn’t count on high-quality fuel for their aircraft, so then they had to have all these additives and stuff. Whereas the U.S. had awesome fuel, and that provided that to Britain as well. So that allowed the British and the Americans to design aircraft engines that were super high-performance, better than anything else in the world.
Germany could design the engines, they just didn’t have the fuel. And then also the quality of the aluminum alloys that they were getting was also not that great.
Lex Fridman (01:57:40):
Is this like, you talked about all this with Dan? Yep. Awesome. Broadly looking at history, when you look at Genghis Khan, when you look at Stalin, Hitler, the darkest moments of human history, what do you take away from those moments? Does it help you gain insight about human nature, about human behavior today? Whether it’s the wars or the individuals or just the behavior of people, any aspects of history?
Elon Musk (01:58:13):
Yeah, I find history fascinating. There’s just a lot of incredible things that have been done, good and bad, that they help you understand the nature of civilization and individuals.
Lex Fridman (01:58:38):
Does it make you sad that humans do these kinds of things to each other? You look at the 20th century, World War II, the cruelty, the abuse of power. Talk about communism, Marxism, and Stalin.
Elon Musk (01:58:51):
I mean, some of these things do, I mean, there’s a lot of human history. Most of it is actually people just getting on with their lives, you know? And it’s not like human history is just nonstop war and disaster. Those are actually just, those are intermittent and rare. And if they weren’t, then humans would soon cease to exist. But it’s just that wars tend to be written about a lot. And whereas like something being like, well, a normal year where nothing major happened doesn’t get written about much. But that’s, you know, most people just like farming and kind of like living their life, you know? And being a villager somewhere. And every now and again, there’s a war and so.
And I would have to say like there aren’t very many books that I, where I just had to stop reading because it was just too dark. But the book about Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar, I had to stop reading. It was just too dark, rough.
Lex Fridman (02:00:10):
The 30s, there’s a lot of lessons there to me. In particular, that it feels like humans, like all of us have that as the old Solzhenitsyn line. That the line between good and evil runs to the heart of every man. That all of us are capable of evil, all of us are capable of good. It’s almost like this kind of responsibility that all of us have to tend towards the good. And so like to me, looking at history is almost like an example of, look, you have some charismatic leader that convinces you of things is too easy based on that story to do evil onto each other, onto your family, onto others. And so it’s like our responsibility to do good.
It’s not like now is somehow different from history. That can happen again, all of it can happen again. And yes, most of the time, you’re right. I mean, the optimistic view here is mostly people are just living life. And as you’ve often memed about, the quality of life was way worse back in the day and this keeps improving over time through innovation through technology. But still, it’s somehow notable that these blimps of atrocities happen.
Elon Musk (02:01:28):
Sure. Yeah, I mean, life was really tough for most of history. I mean, for most of human history, a good year would be one where not that many people in your village died of the plague, starvation, freezing to death, or being killed by a neighboring village. It’s like, well, it wasn’t that bad. You know, it was only like, you know, we lost 5% this year. That was…
It was good year, you know. That would be par for the course. Like, just not starving to death would have been like the primary goal of most people throughout history, is making sure we’ll have enough foods to last through the winter and not freeze or whatever. So… Now, food is plentiful. I have an obesity problem, you know, so.
Lex Fridman (02:02:17):
Well, yeah, the lesson there is to be grateful for the way things are now for some of us. We’ve spoken about this offline. I’d love to get your thought about it here. If I sat down for a long-form, in-person conversation with the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, would you potentially want to call in for a few minutes to join in on a conversation with him, moderated and translated by me?
Elon Musk (02:02:47):
Lex Fridman (02:02:47):
Yeah, sure, I’d be happy to do that. You’ve shown interest in the Russian language. Is this grounded in your interest in history of linguistics, culture, general curiosity? I think it sounds cool. Sounds cool, not looks cool.
Elon Musk (02:03:03):
Well, you know, it takes a moment to read Cyrillic. Once you know what the Cyrillic characters stand for, actually, then reading Russian becomes a lot easier because there are a lot of words that are actually the same, like bank is bank. Mm-hmm.
Lex Fridman (02:03:27):
So find the words that are exactly the same and now you start to understand Cyrillic, yeah.
Elon Musk (02:03:31):
If you can sound it out, then it’s much, there’s at least some commonality of words.
Lex Fridman (02:03:38):
What about the culture? You love great engineering, physics. There’s a tradition of the sciences there. So you look at the 20th century from rocketry, so some of the greatest rockets, some of the space exploration has been done in the Soviet, in the former Soviet Union. So do you draw inspiration from that history? Just how this culture that in many ways, one of the sad things is because of the language, a lot of it is lost to history because it’s not translated, all those kinds of, because it is in some ways an isolated culture. It flourishes within its borders.
Yeah. So do you draw inspiration from those folks, from the history of science and engineering there?
Elon Musk (02:04:21):
I mean, the Soviet Union, Russia, and Ukraine as well, and have a really strong history in space flight, like some of the most advanced and impressive things in history were done by the Soviet Union.
So one can, cannot help but admire the impressive rocket technology that was developed. After the sort of fall of the Soviet Union, there’s much less that happened. But still things are happening, but it’s not quite at the frenetic pace that it was happening before the Soviet Union kind of dissolved into separate republics.
Lex Fridman (02:05:18):
Yeah, I mean, there’s Roscosmos, the Russian agency. I look forward to a time when those countries of China are working together, the United States, they’re all working together. Maybe a little bit of friendly competition, but.
Elon Musk (02:05:33):
I think friendly competition is good. You know, governments are slow, and the only thing slower than one government is a collection of governments. So the Olympics would be boring if everyone just crossed the finishing line at the same time. Nobody would watch. And people wouldn’t try hard to run fast and stuff. So I think friendly competition is a good thing.
Lex Fridman (02:05:58):
This is also a good place to give a shout out to a video titled The Entire Soviet Rocket Engine Family Tree by Tim Dodd, AKA Everyday Astronaut. It’s like an hour and a half. It gives a full history of Soviet rockets. And people should definitely go check out and support Tim in general. That guy’s super excited about the future, super excited about space flight. Every time I see anything by him, I just have a stupid smile on my face because he’s so excited about stuff.
Elon Musk (02:06:23):
I love people like that. Tim Dodd is really great. If you’re interested in anything to do with space, he’s, in terms of explaining rocket technology to your average person, he’s awesome. The best, I’d say. And I should say the probably reason I switched us from, like Rafter at one point was gonna be a hydrogen engine, but hydrogen has a lot of challenges. It’s very low density. It’s a deep cryogen, so it’s only liquid at a very close to absolute zero. Requires a lot of insulation. It’s, so there’s a lot of challenges there.
And I was actually reading a bit about Russian rocket engine development. And at least the impression I had was that Soviet Union Russia and Ukraine primarily were actually in the process of switching to Methylox.
And there were some interesting test stand data for ISP. They were able to get up to a 380 second ISP with a Methylox engine. And I was like, whoa, okay, that’s actually really impressive. So I think you could actually get a much lower cost, like in optimizing cost per ton to orbit, cost per ton to Mars. It’s, I think methane oxygen is the way to go. And I was partly inspired by the Russian work on the test stands with Methylox engines.
Lex Fridman (02:08:04):
And now for something completely different. Do you mind doing a bit of a meme review in the spirit of the greats, the powerful PewDiePie? Let’s say one to 11, just go over a few documents, print it out. We can try. Let’s try this. I present to you document numero uno.
Elon Musk (02:08:28):
I don’t know. Okay.
Lex Fridman (02:08:29):
Vlad named paler discovers marshmallows.
Elon Musk (02:08:35):
That’s not bad.
Lex Fridman (02:08:39):
So you get it because he likes impaling things. Yes, I get it. I don’t know, three, whatever. That’s not very good. This is grounded in some engineering, some history.
Elon Musk (02:08:60):
Yeah, give us an eight out of 10.
Lex Fridman (02:09:03):
What do you think about nuclear power?
Elon Musk (02:09:04):
I’m in favor of nuclear power. I think it’s, in a place that is not subject to extreme natural disasters, I think nuclear power is a great way to generate electricity. I don’t think we should be shutting down nuclear power stations.
Lex Fridman (02:09:23):
Yeah, but what about Chernobyl? Exactly.
Elon Musk (02:09:29):
So I think people, there’s like a lot of fear of radiation and stuff, and it’s, I guess, probably it’s like a lot of people just don’t, they didn’t study engineering or physics. It’s just the word radiation just sounds scary. So they don’t, they can’t calibrate what radiation means. But radiation is much less dangerous than you’d think.
So, like for example, Fukushima, when the Fukushima problem happened, due to the tsunami, I got people in California asking me if they should worry about radiation from Fukushima. And I’m like, definitely not. Not even slightly, not at all. That is crazy. And just to show, like look, this is how, like the danger is so much overplayed compared to what it really is, that I actually flew to Fukushima. And actually, I donated a solar power system for a water treatment plant. And I made a point of eating locally grown vegetables on TV in Fukushima.
Like, I’m still alive.
Lex Fridman (02:11:02):
Okay. So it’s not even that the risk of these events is low, but the impact of them is.
Elon Musk (02:11:08):
The impact is greatly exaggerated. It’s just great. It’s human nature. It’s people, people don’t know what radiation is. Like, I’ve had people ask me, like, what about radiation from cell phones causing brain cancer? I’m like, when you say radiation, do you mean photons or particles? Then like, then I don’t know what you mean photons, particles. Do you mean, let’s say photons. What frequency or wavelength? And they’re like, no, I have no idea. Like, do you know that everything’s radiating all the time?
Like, what do you mean? Like, yeah, everything’s radiating all the time. Photons are being emitted by all objects all the time, basically. So, and if you wanna know what it means to stand in front of nuclear fire, go outside. The sun is a gigantic, you know, thermonuclear reactor that you’re staring right at it. Are you still alive? Yes, okay, amazing.
Lex Fridman (02:12:04):
Yeah, I guess radiation is one of the words that could be used as a tool to fear monger by certain people. That’s it. I think people just don’t understand, so. I mean, that’s the way to fight that fear, I suppose, is to understand, is to learn.
Elon Musk (02:12:18):
Yeah, just say like, okay, how many people have actually died from nuclear accidents? It’s like practically nothing. And say, how many people have died from, you know, coal plants, and it’s a very big number. So, like, obviously, we should not be starting up coal plants and shutting down nuclear plants. It just doesn’t make any sense at all. Coal plants, like, I don’t know, 100 to 1,000 times worse for health than nuclear power plants.
Lex Fridman (02:12:46):
You wanna go to the next one? This is really bad. So, that 90, 180, and 360 degrees, everybody loves the math. Nobody gives a shit about 270.
Elon Musk (02:12:59):
It’s not super funny. I don’t know, like, 203. Yeah. This is not, you know, LOL situation. Yeah. That was pretty good.
Lex Fridman (02:13:14):
The United States oscillating between establishing and destroying dictatorships. It’s like a metronome, yeah.
Elon Musk (02:13:21):
Yeah, it’s out of seven out of 10. It’s kind of true.
Lex Fridman (02:13:26):
Oh yeah, this is kind of personal for me. Next one.
Elon Musk (02:13:30):
Oh man, this is Laika?
Lex Fridman (02:13:31):
Yeah, well, no. Or it’s like referring to Laika or something? As Laika’s, like, husband. Husband, yeah, yeah. Hello, yes, this is Dog. Your wife was launched into space. And then the last one is him with his eyes closed and a bottle of vodka. Yeah, Laika didn’t come back. No, they don’t tell you the full story of, you know, what the impact they had on the loved ones. True. That one gets an 11 from me, just from the Soviet shadow. Oh yeah, it just keeps going on the Russian theme. First man in space, nobody cares. First man on the moon. Well, I think people do care. No, I know.
Elon Musk (02:14:10):
Yuri Gagarin’s names will be forever in history, I think.
Lex Fridman (02:14:17):
There is something special about placing, like, stepping foot onto another totally foreign land. It’s not the journey, like, people that explore the oceans. It’s not as important to explore the oceans as to land on a whole new continent. Yeah. Oh, this is about you. Oh yeah, I’d love to get your comment on this. Elon Musk, after sending $6.6 billion to the UN to end world hunger, you have three hours.
Elon Musk (02:14:49):
Yeah, well, I mean, obviously, $6 billion is not gonna end world hunger, so. So, I mean, the reality is, at this point, the world is producing far more food than it can really consume. Like, we don’t have a caloric constraint at this point, so where there is hunger, it is almost always due to, like, civil war or strife or some, like, it’s not a thing that is extremely rare for it to be just a matter of, like, lack of money. It’s like, you know, it’s like some, there’s a civil war in some country and, like, one part of the country is literally trying to starve the other part of the country.
Lex Fridman (02:15:34):
So it’s much more complex than something that money could solve. It’s geopolitics, it’s a lot of things. It’s human nature, it’s government, it’s monies, monetary systems, all that kind of stuff.
Elon Musk (02:15:46):
Yeah, food is extremely cheap these days. It’s like, I mean, the US at this point, you know, among low-income families, obesity is actually another problem. It’s not, like, obviously, it’s not hunger. It’s, like, too much, you know, too many calories. So it’s not that nobody’s hungry anywhere. It’s just, this is not a simple matter of adding money and solving it.
Lex Fridman (02:16:17):
What do you think that one gets? Just kidding. Just going after Empire’s World, where did you get those artifacts? The British Museum, shout out to Monty Python, we found them.
Elon Musk (02:16:35):
The British Museum is pretty great. I mean, admittedly, Britain did take these historical artifacts from all around the world and put them in London, but, you know, it’s not like people can’t go see them. So it is a convenient place to see these ancient artifacts is London for, you know, for a large segment of the world. So I think, you know, on balance, the British Museum is a net good. Although I’m sure that a lot of countries would argue about that. Yeah. It’s like you wanna make these historical artifacts accessible to as many people as possible, and the British Museum, I think does a good job of that.
Lex Fridman (02:17:13):
Even if there’s a darker aspect to like the history of empire in general, whatever the empire is, however things were done, it is the history that happened. You can’t sort of erase that history, unfortunately. You could just become better in the future. That’s the point.
Elon Musk (02:17:29):
Yeah, I mean, it’s like, well, how are we gonna pass moral judgment on these things? Like, it’s like, you know, if one is gonna judge, say, the British Empire, you gotta judge, you know, what everyone was doing at the time, and how were the British relative to everyone. And I think the British would actually get like a relatively good grade, relatively good grade, not in absolute terms, but compared to what everyone else was doing, and they were not the worst.
Like I said, you gotta look at these things in the context of the history at the time, and say, what were the alternatives, and what are you comparing it against? And I do not think it would be the case that Britain would get a bad grade when looking at history at the time. Now, if you judge history from, you know, from what is morally acceptable today, you’re basically gonna give everyone a failing grade. I’m not clear, I don’t think anyone would get a passing grade in their morality of, like, you go back 300 years ago, like, who’s getting a passing grade? Basically no one.
Lex Fridman (02:18:41):
And we might not get a passing grade from generations that come after us. What does that one get? I don’t know. Sure, six, seven. For the Monty Python, maybe. I always love Monty Python, they’re great.
Elon Musk (02:18:57):
The Life of Brian and the Quest of the Holy Grail are incredible.
Lex Fridman (02:19:01):
Yeah, yeah. Damn, those serious eyebrows. Brashing them. How important do you think is facial hair to a great leadership? Well- You got a new haircut. Is that, how does that affect your leadership?
Elon Musk (02:19:14):
I don’t know, hopefully not. It doesn’t.
Lex Fridman (02:19:20):
Yeah, the second is no one.
Elon Musk (02:19:21):
First impression. There is no one competing with the first impression. No one to. Those are, like, epic eyebrows. So, sure. That’s ridiculous.
Lex Fridman (02:19:31):
Give it a six or seven, I don’t know. I like this, like, Shakespearean analysis of memes.
Elon Musk (02:19:36):
He had a flair for drama, as well. Like, you know. Showmanship.
Lex Fridman (02:19:42):
Yeah, yeah. It must come from the eyebrows. All right. Invention. Great engineering. Look what I invented. That’s the best thing since ripped up bread. Yeah. Because they invented sliced bread. Am I just explaining memes at this point? This is what my life has become. He’s a meme lawyer, he’s a meme explainer. I’m a meme, like a scribe that, like, runs around with the kings and just, like, writes down memes.
Elon Musk (02:20:15):
I mean, when was the cheeseburger invented? That’s, like, an epic invention. Yeah. Like, wow. Versus just, like, a burger? Or a burger, I guess a burger in general. It’s like, you know.
Lex Fridman (02:20:28):
Then there’s, like, what is a burger? What’s a sandwich? And then you start getting, is a pizza a sandwich? And what is the original? It gets into an ontology argument.
Elon Musk (02:20:37):
Yeah, but everybody knows, like, if you order, like, a burger or cheeseburger or whatever, and you, like, you get, like, you know, tomato and some lettuce and onions and whatever, and you know, mayo and ketchup and mustard. It’s, like, epic.
Lex Fridman (02:20:48):
Yeah, but I’m sure they’ve had bread and meat separately for a long time, and it was kind of a burger on the same plate, but somebody who actually combined them into the same thing and then could bite it and hold it makes it convenient. It’s a materials problem. Like, your hands don’t get dirty and whatever. Yeah, it’s- That’s probably the way to top it. I mean- Well- That is not what I would have guessed.
Elon Musk (02:21:11):
But everyone knows, like, if you order a cheeseburger, you know what you’re getting, you know? It’s not, like, some obtuse, like, well, I wonder what I’ll get, you know? You know, fries are, I mean, great. I mean, they were the devil, but fries are awesome. And yeah, pizza is incredible.
Lex Fridman (02:21:32):
Food innovation doesn’t get enough love. Yeah. I guess is what we’re getting at. Great. What about the Matthew McConaughey Austinite here? President Kennedy, do you know how to put men on the moon yet? NASA, no. President Kennedy, be a lot cooler if you did.
Elon Musk (02:21:50):
Pretty much, sure. Six, six, or seven, I suppose.
Lex Fridman (02:21:58):
And this is the last one. That’s funny. Someone drew a bunch of dicks all over the walls, Sistine Chapel, Boy’s Bath.
Elon Musk (02:22:07):
Sure, I’ll give it a nine, as it’s really true.
Lex Fridman (02:22:11):
This is our highest-ranking meme for today.
Elon Musk (02:22:14):
I mean, it’s true, like, how do they get away with it? Lots of nakedness. Dick pics are, I mean, just something throughout history. As long as people can draw things, there’s been a dick pic.
Lex Fridman (02:22:25):
It’s a staple of human history.
Elon Musk (02:22:26):
It’s a staple, consistent throughout human history.
Lex Fridman (02:22:30):
You tweeted that you aspire to comedy, you’re friends with Joe Rogan. Might you do a short stand-up comedy set at some point in the future? Maybe Open for Joe, something like that? Is that? Really, stand-up? Actual, just full-on stand-up? Full-on stand-up, is that in there, or is that? I’ve never thought about that. It’s extremely difficult, at least that’s what Joe says and the comedians say.
Elon Musk (02:22:56):
Huh, I wonder if I could. There’s only one way to find out. You know, I have done stand-up for friends, just impromptu, you know, I’ll get on a roof, and they do laugh, but they’re all friends, too, so I don’t know if you gotta call a room of strangers, are they gonna actually also find it funny, but I could try, see what happens.
Lex Fridman (02:23:22):
I think you’d learn something either way. I kind of love both when you bomb and when you do great, just watching people, how they deal with it. It’s so difficult, you’re so fragile up there, it’s just you, and you think you’re gonna be funny, and when it completely falls flat, it’s just beautiful to see people deal with that.
Elon Musk (02:23:46):
I think I might have enough material to do stand-up. I’ve never thought about it, but I might have enough material. I don’t know, like 15 minutes or something.
Lex Fridman (02:23:57):
Oh yeah, yeah, do a Netflix special. A Netflix special, sure. So, what’s your favorite Rick and Morty concept? Just to spring that on you, there’s a lot of scientific engineering ideas explored there, there’s the butter robot.
Elon Musk (02:24:13):
It’s great, yeah, it’s a great show. You like it?
Lex Fridman (02:24:17):
Yeah, Rick and Morty’s awesome. Somebody that’s exactly like you from an alternate dimension showed up there, Elon Tusk.
Elon Musk (02:24:24):
Yeah, that’s right. That you voiced. Yeah. Rick and Morty certainly explores a lot of interesting concepts. I like what’s the favorite one, I don’t know. The butter robot certainly is, you know, it’s certainly possible to have too much sentience in a device. Like, you don’t wanna have your toast to be a super genius toaster. It’s gonna hate life, because all it could just make is toast, but it’s like, you don’t wanna have super intelligence stuck in a very limited device.
Lex Fridman (02:24:52):
Do you think it’s too easy if we’re talking about, from the engineering perspective of super intelligence, like with Marvin the robot, it seems like it might be very easy to engineer just a depressed robot. It’s not obvious to engineer a robot that’s going to find a fulfilling existence. Same as humans, I suppose. But I wonder if that’s like the default. If you don’t do a good job on building a robot, it’s going to be sad a lot.
Elon Musk (02:25:24):
Well, we can reprogram robots easier than we can reprogram humans. So I guess if you let it evolve without tinkering, then it might get sad. But you can change the optimization function and have it be a cheery robot.
Lex Fridman (02:25:42):
You, like I mentioned with SpaceX, you give a lot of people hope, and a lot of people look up to you, millions of people look up to you. If we think about young people in high school, maybe in college, what advice would you give to them about, if they wanna try to do something big in this world, they wanna really have a big positive impact, what advice would you give them about their career, maybe about life in general?
Elon Musk (02:26:11):
Try to be useful. Do things that are useful to your fellow human beings to the world. It’s very hard to be useful. Very hard. Are you contributing more than you consume? You know, like, can you try to have a positive net contribution to society? I think that’s the thing to aim for. You know, not to try to be sort of a leader for the sake of being a leader or whatever.
A lot of the time, the people you want as leaders are the people who don’t want to be leaders. So if you live a useful life, that is a good life, a life worth having lived. You know, and like I said, I would encourage people to use the mental tools of physics and apply them broadly in life. They are the best tools.
Lex Fridman (02:27:20):
When you think about education and self-education, what do you recommend? So there’s the university, there’s a self-study, there is a hands-on sort of finding a company or a place or a set of people that do the thing you’re passionate about and joining them as early as possible. There’s taking a road trip across Europe for a few years and writing some poetry. Which trajectory do you suggest? In terms of learning about how you can become useful, as you mentioned, how you can have the most positive impact.
Elon Musk (02:28:04):
Well, I’d encourage people to read a lot of books. Just read, basically try to ingest as much information as you can and try to also just develop a good general knowledge. So you at least have a rough lay of the land of the knowledge landscape. Try to learn a little bit about a lot of things. Because you might not know what you’re really interested, how would you know what you’re really interested in if you at least aren’t doing a peripheral exploration of broadly of the knowledge landscape.
And talk to people from different walks of life and different industries and professions and skills and occupations, just try to learn as much as possible. Man’s search for a meeting.
Lex Fridman (02:29:00):
Isn’t the whole thing a search for a meeting?
Elon Musk (02:29:06):
Yeah, what’s the meaning of life and all. But just generally, like I said, I would encourage people to read broadly in many different subject areas. And then try to find something where there’s an overlap of your talents and what you’re interested in. So people may be good at something, or they may have skill at a particular thing, but they don’t like doing it. So you wanna try to find a thing where you’re, that’s a good combination of the things that you’re inherently good at, but you also like doing.
Lex Fridman (02:29:44):
And reading is a super fast shortcut to figure out which, where are you. You’re both good at it, you like doing it, and it’ll actually have positive impact.
Elon Musk (02:29:54):
Well, you gotta learn about things somehow. So reading a broad range, just really read it. You know, one point when I was a kid, I read through the encyclopedia, so that was pretty helpful. And there are also things I didn’t even know existed, well, a lot, so obviously. It’s like as broad as it gets. Encyclopedias were digestible, I think, you know, whatever, 40 years ago. So, you know, maybe read through the condensed version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, I’d recommend that. You can always skip subjects the way you read a few paragraphs, and you know you’re not interested, just jump to the next one. That’s how I read the encyclopedia, or skim through it.
And, but I put a lot of stock in, certainly have a lot of respect for someone who puts in an honest day’s work to do useful things. And just generally to have like not a zero sum mindset, or like have more of a grow the pie mindset, like the, if you sort of say like, when I see people like perhaps, including some very smart people, kind of taking an attitude of, like doing things that seem like morally questionable, it’s often because they have, at a base, sort of axiomatic level, a zero sum mindset. And they, without realizing it, they don’t realize they have a zero sum mindset, or at least they don’t realize it consciously. And so, if you have a zero sum mindset, then the only way to get ahead is by taking things from others.
If it’s like, if the pie is fixed, then the only way to have more pie is to take someone else’s pie. But this is false, like obviously the pie has grown dramatically over time, the economic pie. So, in reality, you can have, so, overuse this analogy, we have a lot of, there’s a lot of pie. The pie is not fixed, so you really wanna make sure you’re not operating without realizing it from a zero sum mindset, where the only way to get ahead is to take things from others, then that’s gonna result in you trying to take things from others, which is not good, it’s much better to work on adding to the economic pie.
So, creating, like I said, creating more than you consume, doing more than you, yeah. So, that’s a big deal. I think there’s a fair number of people in finance that do have a bit of a zero sum mindset.
Lex Fridman (02:32:49):
I mean, it’s all walks of life, I’ve seen that. One of the reasons Rogan inspires me is he celebrates others a lot, is not creating a constant competition, like there’s a scarcity of resources. What happens when you celebrate others and you promote others, the ideas of others, it actually grows that pie. I mean, the resources become less scarce, and that applies in a lot of kinds of domains. It applies in academia, where a lot of people are very, see some funding for academic research is zero sum, and it is not. If you celebrate each other, if you make, if you get everybody to be excited about AI, about physics, about mathematics, I think there’d be more and more funding, and I think everybody wins. Yeah, that applies, I think, broadly.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, last question about love and meaning. What is the role of love in the human condition broadly and more specific to you? How has love, romantic love or otherwise, made you a better person, a better human being? Better engineer?
Elon Musk (02:34:00):
Now you’re asking really perplexing questions. It’s hard to give a, I mean, there are many books, poems, and songs written about what is love and what exactly, you know, what is love, maybe you don’t hurt me.
Lex Fridman (02:34:23):
That’s one of the great ones, yes. Yeah. You have earlier quoted Shakespeare, but that’s really up there.
Elon Musk (02:34:29):
Yeah, love is a many-splendored thing.
Lex Fridman (02:34:34):
I mean, there’s, it’s because we’ve talked about so many inspiring things like be useful in the world, sort of like solve problems, alleviate suffering, but it seems like connection between humans is a source, you know, it’s a source of joy, it’s a source of meaning, and that’s what love is, friendship, love. I just wonder if you think about that kind of thing, when you talk about preserving the light of human consciousness and us becoming a multi-planetary species, I mean, to me, at least, that means, like, if we’re just alone and conscious and intelligent, it doesn’t mean nearly as much as if we’re with others.
Right? And there’s some magic created when we’re together. The French of it, and I think the highest form of it is love, which I think, broadly, is much bigger than just sort of romantic, but also, yes, romantic love and family and those kinds of things.
Elon Musk (02:35:38):
Well, I mean, the reason I guess I care about us becoming a multi-planet species in a space-faring civilization is, foundationally, I love humanity. And so I wish to see it prosper and do great things and be happy, and if I did not love humanity, I would not care about these things.
Lex Fridman (02:36:03):
So when you look at the whole of it, the human history, all the people who’s ever lived, all the people alive now, it’s pretty, we’re okay. On the whole, we’re a pretty interesting bunch.
Elon Musk (02:36:18):
All things considered, and I’ve read a lot of history, including the darkest, worst parts of it, and despite all that, I think, on balance, I still love humanity.
Lex Fridman (02:36:30):
You joked about it with the 42. What do you think is the meaning of this whole thing? Is there a non-numerical representation?
Elon Musk (02:36:39):
Yeah, really, I think what Douglas Adams was saying in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is that the universe is the answer, and what we really need to figure out are what questions to ask about the answer that is the universe, and that the question is really the hard part, and if you can properly frame the question, then the answer, relatively speaking, is easy. So therefore, if you want to understand what questions to ask about the universe, you want to understand the meaning of life, we need to expand the scope and scale of consciousness so that we’re better able to understand the nature of the universe and understand the meaning of life.
Lex Fridman (02:37:24):
And ultimately, the most important part would be to ask the right question. Yes. Thereby elevating the role of the interviewer. Yes, exactly. As the most important human in the room.
Elon Musk (02:37:38):
Good questions are, it’s hard to come up with good questions. Absolutely. But yeah, it’s like that is the foundation of my philosophy is that I am curious about the nature of the universe, and obviously I will die, I don’t know when I’ll die, but I won’t live forever. But I would like to know that we’re on a path to understanding the nature of the universe and the meaning of life and what questions to ask about the answer that is the universe. And so if we expand the scope and scale of humanity and consciousness in general, which includes silicon consciousness, then that seems like a fundamentally good thing.
Lex Fridman (02:38:27):
Elon, like I said, I’m deeply grateful that you would spend your extremely valuable time with me today and also that you have given millions of people hope in this difficult time, this divisive time, and this cynical time. So I hope you do continue doing what you’re doing. Thank you so much for talking.
Elon Musk (02:38:46):
All right, you’re welcome. Thanks for your excellent questions.
Lex Fridman (02:38:50):
Thanks for listening to this conversation with Elon Musk. To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, let me leave you with some words from Elon Musk himself. When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.