15 mind-boggling things Elon Musk said in his Dubai talk

He was in the UAE to launch Tesla but Musk covered everything from the dangers of AI to commercial space flight.

Neil Churchill February 14, 2017

Yesterday, one of the world’s most celebrated minds addressed an audience of over one thousand people at the World Government Summit in Dubai. The large hall, filled with UAE sheikhs, government representatives from around the world, VIPs and international media, hung on his every word.

Elon Musk was in town to announce the regional launch of Tesla, his electric and autonomous car manufacturer. But Musk spent 45 minutes on stage discussing anything and everything from artificial intelligence to space travel and what it’s like being him.

He began with one of his well-known theories that he’s repeated a few times at similar events; the question of if we are living in a Matrix-style virtual reality. He started by talking about the vintage video game Pong and how the gaming industry has evolved over the decades to today's level of photo-realism, with millions of people playing a game simultaneously.

Here’s how he said it, and 14 other mind-boggling views he shared.

1. “If you extrapolate that out into the future with any rate of progress at all, then eventually those video games will be indistinguishable from reality. They will be so realistic you will not be able to tell the difference from that game and life as we know it. How do we know that didn’t happen in the past and we are not in one of those games ourselves?”

2. “10 years from now all cars will be capable of full autonomy, with enough compute power to be safer than humans. Getting in a car will be like getting in an elevator. You get in and you tell it where to go.”

3. “Deep artificial intelligence will be much smarter than the smartest human on earth; this I think is a dangerous situation. Digital super intelligence will be like an intelligent alien race.”

4. “Where are the aliens? Maybe they’re among us, I don’t know. Some people think I am an alien. If there are super intelligent aliens out there they’re probably already observing us and we’re just not smart enough to realise.” 

5. Within 50 years’ time he believes the human race will be visiting the moons of Jupiter and travelling frequently through the solar system. 

6. “I don’t have a Mars death wish, but we’re all going to die one day. If given the choice, why not die on Mars? But if I do die on Mars I don’t want it to be on impact.” 

7. He believes that tunnels under cities are the key to fixing urban congestion. “You can always go deeper than you can go up. The deepest mines are deeper than the tallest buildings. Buildings are in 3D, and current roads are just one level. Tunnels could be multilayer, 50 stories deep. The challenge is learning how to build tunnels quickly at low cost, with high safety.” 

8. Advice to governments: “Pay close attention to the development of artificial intelligence. Be careful that scientists don’t get carried away. They can get so engrossed that they don’t realise the ramifications.”

9. “Mass unemployment is going to be a massive challenge. We’re going to need a universal basic income. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better. The harder challenge is how do people then have meaning, because people derive their meaning from their employment. So if you are not needed, do you have meaning, are you useless? That is a much harder problem to deal with.”

10. “There will be some sort of merger with biological intelligence and digital intelligence. It will be some high bandwidth connection to the brain that will help us achieve a symbiosis between our brain and artificial intelligence.” He continued to say that in some ways we are already cyborgs. “You think of all the digital tools that you have, your phone, your computer, that you can ask a question and instantly get an answer from Google and other things. You already have a digital tertiary layer.” 

11. Talking about his company Space X and its aim to develop reusable rockets, he compared the reusability of airplanes. “If aircrafts were sole use and cost millions of dollars per ticket, nobody would fly. If rockets were reusable the cost would come down and more people would use them.”

12. His biggest challenge: “Getting correct feedback when people around you tell you what you want to hear.”

13. His advice to younger generations: “I’d recommend studying the thinking process around physics. It’s the best framework for understanding things that are counterintuitive.” 

14. “You’re always to some degree wrong, and your goal is to be less wrong.” 

15. “Being Elon Musk sounds better than it is. It’s not as fun being me as you’d think.”