Elon Musk is 47 years old and terrified by artificial intelligence. The Silicon Valley billionaire thinks we’re living in a version of The Matrix. Maybe that is why he is building “ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers”. He wants to colonise Mars. Mr Musk made his money from the online payment company PayPal. Since then he has made big bets on electric cars and space travel. He appears to be living proof that if speaking truth to power is difficult, speaking truth to money is much, much harder.
Last week Mr Musk turned up in Thailand with a miniature submarine which he thought could help rescue a dozen boys from a flooded underground cave complex. The international dive team, headed by the Thai navy, went in without the submersible craft because it was considered impractical by the authorities. Mr Musk might have felt sore that his commendable effort to help was rejected. He should have got over it as the divers, sans the Musk machine, brought the boys back alive. However, when a British diver who found the boys criticised Mr Musk for a “PR stunt”, the billionaire made an allegation of paedophilia against him in a tweet that he later deleted. The diver says he is “astonished and very angry” about the baseless claim and is considering legal action. This is a ridiculous state of affairs that Mr Musk’s thin skin is to blame for. He ought to hire a PR firm to run his Twitter account. He has enough money to do so. One suspects that Mr Musk, like President Donald Trump, whom he once advised, likes social media because it allows him to attack critics and maybe to divert attention from perhaps more substantive issues facing his businesses. In recent months there have been reports about delays in the production of supposedly game-changing, affordable electric cars; a deadly crash involving his luxury cars; and questions about whether his firm – Tesla – could pay its debts. He took to Twitter with an ill-tempered, and at times bizarre, rant about journalism. There have also been spats with unions in his factories and with sceptical Wall Street analysts who he said were asking “boring bonehead questions”.
Mr Musk is a talented engineer who has made billions from technology. But he could gain a lot from a little humility. It’s easy for the tech elite to forget about the helping hand of the state that made their businesses possible. Mr Musk says he is “somewhat libertarian”, but not enough to stop sucking up $4.9bn in government subsidies. There’s also a tendency among the insanely wealthy to see their riches as somehow marking them out as intellectually and morally superior. There’s nothing wrong with Mr Musk going to Thailand with an offer of help but he need not take up arms against his detractors. He has plenty of things to keep him busy; such as allegations about serious injuries to workers in Tesla factories. Wisdom does not automatically flow from business success. Rather, it is gained through experience. It is our hope that this episode has taught Mr Musk that much.