While Tesla and Spacex founder Elon Musk often makes the news for his crazy ideas about computers being controlled by our brains, or plans to send private citizens to the moon, the billionaire businessman continues to make ground in the world of energy and autonomous vehicles.
In a recent TED Talk interview with Chris Anderson, Musk discussed the progress of Tesla’s controversial autopilot software, the construction of his high-speed Hyperloop train system, and the disadvantages of autonomous cars.
Musk also provided his vision for the future and outlined how technology needs “hard work” to keep from stagnating.
The disadvantages of autonomous cars
Discussing the potential disadvantages of autonomous transport may seem counter-intuitive for the founder of Tesla, however, Musk’s Hyperloop concept is attempting to solve congestion caused by an excess of “soul-destroying” traffic — a problem Musk believes autonomous vehicles will contribute to.
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“A lot of people think that when you make cars autonomous, they’ll be able to go faster and that will alleviate congestion. And to some degree that will be true, but once you have shared autonomy where it’s much cheaper to go by car and you can go point to point, the affordability of going in a car will be better than that of a bus,” he says.
“Like, it will cost less than a bus ticket. So the amount of driving that will occur will be much greater with shared autonomy, and actually, traffic will get far worse.”
Cross-country driverless trips on the horizon
With thousands of Tesla cars on the road gathering data for the company, Musk is confident a Tesla vehicle will be able to drive from Los Angeles to New York “fully autonomous” by the end of the year.
Discussing the concept with Musk, Anderson asked if users would be able to “sit in a Tesla without touching the steering wheel, tap in “New York,” off it goes”.
“Yeah … [in] November or December of this year, we should be able to go all the way from a parking lot in California to a parking lot in New York, no controls touched at any point during the entire journey.”
Musk also predicts the cars will be able to change routes, not being practised on just one route ironed out with Tesla data.
“I’m actually fairly confident it will be able to do that route even if you change the route dynamically,” he said.
“So it’s not sort of limited to LA to New York. We could change it and make it Seattle-Florida, that day, in real time. So you were going from LA to New York. Now go from LA to Toronto.”
“Hard work” needed to keep technology improving
“People are mistaken when they think that technology just automatically improves. It does not automatically improve,” Musk says.
“It only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better, and actually it will, I think, by itself degrade, actually.
“You look at great civilisations like Ancient Egypt, and they were able to make the pyramids, and they forgot how to do that. And then the Romans, they built these incredible aqueducts. They forgot how to do it.”
The future is amongst the stars
Asked why Musk is pursuing the colonisation of Mars, Musk said his goal is to build a future that is “inspiring and appealing”.
When Musk first presented the plans, he outlined two futures for humanity — one where we stay on Earth, and the other where we become a “multiplanetary species”. At the time, Musk said hoped to carry out a trip to Mars every two years from 2018 onwards.
For Musk, this ambitious vision is a reason “you get up in the morning and you want to live”.
“Why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future?” he says.
“And if we’re not out there, if the future does not include being out there among the stars and being a multiplanet species, I find that it’s incredibly depressing if that’s not the future that we’re going to have.”