Elon Musk appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience, an incredibly popular video and podcast last night, and there is a lot to take in and take away. Sadly, most of what the eccentric tech luminary and Rogan, himself a knowledgeable, straight-shooting personality, will get lost in the frenzy of media hot takes about Musk taking a few hits off a cigarette blended with some marijuana. He was also sipping on whiskey throughout the conversation that covered the multiverse, the physics of flying cars and chimps vs. bonobos. (All of these topics were tackled before any pot use.) Musk is an adult, and in a state where marijuana is legal for recreational use, but for some reason an unedited 157-minute was distilled into "OMG: Musk Smokes Pot."
There are so many better topics to address from the conversation, but let's clear the sensational trash out of the way, before we get to the good stuff.
Takeaway One: Some of the Media are Out to Get Musk
The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX should not be immune to scrutiny, but his popularity equals website clicks. This is a business based on page views, and Elon is the golden goose for tech sites; negative stories also equal page views. Put them together and you have the chocolate and peanut butter of click bait. Reporting shouldn’t be about making delicious candy though. It's relaying what really happened in a palatable way.
In an article posted this morning, CNBC' called a clip of the brief puff a "bizarre video," substantiating Musk's reckless use of unspecified recreational drugs and Ambien, a prescribed sleep aid.
Seems awfully inaccurate (and petty) to call a person smoking a joint in California "bizarre." Musk told Rogan he "almost never" uses the substance, which might be the bizarre part.
As for C-Suite, Dave Morton resigned as Chief Accounting Officer after one month, though Morton states that the fast pace of the company and public scrutiny that caused him to reconsider.
One fun fact about all this is that Musk previously attacked CNBC's credibility in July.
While on the topic of stocks, Tesla shares are actually up to 262 (at 1 p.m. ET) from the 259.55 at the NASDAQ's open. The low was 254, which may have been based on the hyperbolic reporting of the podcast.
Takeaway Two: Musk Is a Genius Marketer
Let's turn from smoke to fire, specifically the Boring Co. "Not a Flamethrower."
"This was an off the cuff thing," Musk says of the limited release product released earlier this year. "It started out as a joke and decided to make it real."
Simply a roofing torch with an airsoft rifle cover, the Boring Co. manufactured 20,000 and sold them for $500. "We sold out in four days," says Musk. That's $10 million of revenue, and it was stolen from Spaceballs' Yoda-ripoff, Yogurt ("Merchandising!"). If he found a way to make lightsabers real, SpaceX would have enough cash to get to Mars by the end of the week.
Takeaway Three: AI Has Crushed His Soul (Almost)
Like the late Stephen Hawking, Musk has been vocal about limiting the power and scope of artificial intelligence for years. That's not what’s keeping him up at night, though.
"It's less of a worry than it used to be, mostly due to taking more of a fatalistic attitude," he told Rogan. "It's hard to predict what happens past the event horizon. It could be terrible, it could be great. It's not clear. One thing's for sure: we will not control it."
He compares the dangers of AI, which he believes will most assuredly be weaponized by some government, to those of automobiles prior to heavy regulation.
"The auto industry fought seat belts successfully for a very long time and many people died," he explained.
This, he says, will lead to sensible regulations on the tech, and possibly a more harmonious balance where we merge with AI. So he's not entirely fatalistic.
"You have to be optimistic about the future," Musk says later in the podcast. "I'd rather be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right."
Takeaway Four: Our Grandkids Will Be Cyborgs
"The percentage of intelligence that is not human is increasing," Musk warns. "Eventually, we will represent a very small percentage of intelligence."
It's debatable that this already happened around 2009 , which marked the release of "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," and the rise to prominence of the equally mind-numbing Twitter.
Musk has a solid plan to circumvent humanity's planned obsolescence: Merging with AI
"If you can’t beat it, join it," he offered.
The plan is to do this via a new company Neuralink, which "creates a high-bandwidth interface to the brain such that we can by symbiotic with AI."
He says we have a current bandwidth problem accessing data, as our fingers can’t move as fast as our brains.
Expect a huge announcement in the next few months, but Musk teases for now: "It will enable anyone who wants to have superhuman cognition. That’s the theory."
For how much this could change the rate of innovation and the effect of a billion super smart agents, Musk asks people consider how much smarter they are using their phone.
"You're already a cyborg—that phone is an extension of yourself," he says.
If that's what a cyborg looks like now, the cybernetic enhancements teens get in forty years will make the current in vogue ear lobe mutilations look quaint.
Takeaway Five: Tesla Still Needs Him
"We're just trying to make things that people love," Musk said as a general statement about his many projects.
It's clear his passion (at least for now) is still grounded with Tesla. He still feels guilty about Autopilot not being fully ready in time to save a cyclist last year hit by a Tesla S 90D in the United Kingdom.
Musk also commented that a recent video of a Tesla driver sleeping in Los Angeles gridlock may inspire the company to change some features, making it so the car will gradually come to stop and turn the emergency lights on if the steering wheel isn't touched for a certain period of time.
The subject of safety turned to an even more polarizing criticism of the electric car company: subsidies.
"All fossil fuel burning vehicles fundamentally are subsidized by the environmental cost to earth," Musk responded. "We are going to pay for it in the future."
Musk is different, for sure, but the world needs people like that to be difference-makers. And Tesla, with the Model 3 meeting and possibly soon to be exceeding production goals, his unconventional business style seems to be working. Or at least isn’t hindering it. Without him, it's just another car company. Now that is a boring company.
I recommend listening to the whole conversation (I listened to about 90%) to get your own impressions. Jump to the 2:16:00 mark for the laughably not scandalous pot moment. Feel free to tell us what you think about Elon Musk in the comments below.