At this year’s TED2017 conference in Vancouver, BC, the central theme was “The Future You.” And TED folk and viewers at home received no better glimpse at our future selves — or at least our future society — than when the nonprofit’s head curator, Chris Anderson, sat down with SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk for an interview about what to expect over the next decade in technology. And if things play out the way Musk predicts, we’re going to have a lot more batteries, a lot more rockets, and at least one not-sad real-life Tony Stark.
Although it can sometimes take months for the juiciest of TED talks to be delivered online (there are a lot of talks and their releases are spaced out), Musk’s interview, which ran for a relatively lengthy 40 minutes, dropped online only days after it took place. Musk himself tweeted the interview dubbing it “My boring TED Talk.”
My boring TED talk https://t.co/QNgolyJXMr
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 1, 2017
But that boring label is only a tongue-in-cheek reference to Musk’s latest endeavor, The Boring Company. Toward the beginning of the interview, Musk described his
tunneling boring intentions as well as how much boring progress he’s made, noting that the goal of boring is to ultimately develop a network of multilayered tunnels beneath, presumably, as many major cities as possible. Musk noted that not only can we “alleviate any arbitrary level of urban congestion with a 3D tunnel network,” but that tunneling itself can be improved in efficiency by at least a factor of 10. (The target is to be able to tunnel faster than a snail, who’s named Gary after Gary in Spongebob Squarepants.)
In the brief yet fascinating boring clip (above), Tesla vehicles are shown being maneuvered onto skates, then lowered down several stories into a network of tunnels, where the cars zip along like slot cars at upwards of 120MPH. But cars, according to Musk, won’t only be without a pilot while on skates. Back on regular roads, full autonomy will take over.
At around minute 14 in the video, Tesla’s fully autonomous vehicle system is shown in action, with zero driver inputs. It’s something that’s been done before, of course, but what’s unique about Tesla’s system is that it will rely on cameras alone, rather than on a combination of cameras, GPS, and a LIDAR system. Musk claims that once vision is “solved,” autonomous vehicles that rely purely on cameras will be 10 times better than human drivers. As far as actually having fully autonomous vehicles (that can also be employed as self-driving taxis by their owners), that’s apparently only two years away.
Along with tunnels and autonomy, Musk also discussed one of his, and Tesla’s, core goals: accelerating the advent of sustainable energy and sustainable transportation. In that vein, Musk revealed a teaser photo of Tesla’s upcoming electric semi truck, which is set to be unveiled in September. From the darkened glimpse of the semi’s truck front, it’s apparently the child of Darth Vader and a Mack. It can also — using electricity alone — supposedly pull a diesel-powered semi up a hill, and handle like a sports car thanks to its flat torque curve.Tesla’s fully electric semi truck. Image: Tesla
In terms of producing the electricity used to power the semi, as well as the rest of Tesla’s fleet — including the upcoming Model 3 — that’s where the company’s solar panels, batteries, and gigafactory enter the equation. Musk seemingly wants to install a Tesla solar roof, which Musk states will be an economic “no-brainer” compared to a regular roof, on as many homes around the world as possible. And that gigafactory, which will literally be the biggest building in the world when it’s finished and produce more lithium-ion batteries than the rest of the world’s factories combined, may not be the only one of its kind soon. Musk hinted at up to four more gigafactories being announced later this year, probably in countries outside the U.S.
SpaceX and the “not inevitable” march toward Mars was also discussed, and Musk took great pains here to note that there is no law of physics that says we must leave Earth and explore other planets. “People are mistaken,” Musk said, “when they think that technology automatically improves…it only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better.” At SpaceX, this hard work has resulted in the reuse of an orbital-class rocket, and a plan to take humans to Mars within the next eight to 10 years. (Musk notes that SpaceX’s internal targets are “more aggressive.”)
Musk discussed numerous other points, including his current political role, but there wasn’t any discussion of Neuralink or the possibility of all of us becoming cyborgs to fend off dangerous AI. As far as Musk’s vision for “The Future You,” he ultimately expressed more of a warning than anything else: “If the future does not include being out there among the stars, and being a multi-planet species, I find that incredibly depressing if that’s not the future we’re going to have.”
What do you think about these timelines and new technologies coming from Musk and his companies? Are you now inspired to do more to change the world? Let us know your thoughts below!