He’s firing people to Mars. He’s shooting people around the world in vacuum tubes. He’s stapling computers into people’s brains and making our future AI overlords a bit, y’know, fluffier. He’s Elon Musk and he’s everywhere, out to turn every ’60s sci-fi comic into a humanity-saving reality.
But who is he? Where did all his billions materialise from? And how come he’s dating Grimes, a hook-up as bizarre as Alice Glass turning up on the arm of Bill Gates? If you want to have any chance of blagging your way onto the last escape pod off the planet you’d better gen up, and fast, so here’s our bluffer’s guide to the man trying to save us all from oblivion. But not ‘Oblivion’.
Who is Elon Musk?
The South African son of an electromechanical engineer and a model, Musk is quite possibly the only kid who spent his teenage years reading Isaac Asimov and writing computer game code and then actually went on to make billions combining the two. After completing a couple of degrees in physics and economics, Musk dropped out of a PHD at Stanford after two days, having decided to become an entrepreneur.
How did he make his billions?
By laddering up to PayPal. In 1995 Musk launched a web software company called Zip2 which developed online city guides for newspapers. Zip2 sold to Compaq in 1999 for $340 million, so $22 million in Musk’s back pocket. $10 million of that then went into founding X.com, an email payment company that went on to merge with the company that owned PayPal, and when that sold to eBay in 2002 – boom – another $165 million payday for Musk.
From there, the sky stopped being the limit. Driven by the dream of landing a miniature greenhouse on Mars, he launched – quite literally – SpaceX, a company devoted to building improved rockets (with funny names) to aid in space exploration. Rockets Falcon 1 and Falcon 9, named after the Millenium Falcon, and a spaceship called Dragon (after, um Puff The Magic Dragon) worked a treat and NASA, looking for a replacement for the Space Shuttle, got into the Musk business. Thrusters set for Kerching-12.
Since then SpaceX have regularly landed a rocket back on the launch pad, allowing for far cheaper space missions, created the most powerful rocket to date and put a car in orbit with it and developed a rocket to fire people in earth between continents. Musk’s interplanetary ambitions haven’t dimmed either – he intends to start an electricity-driven Mars colony of 80,000 by 2040, with the first manned flights leaving in 2024. Musk says he wants to die on Mars, “just not on impact.”
Wasn’t there something about electric cars?
Quite right. In 2004 Musk joined the board of directors at Tesla, where he worked on developing electric sports cars, SUVs and sedans. He also allowed Tesla patents to be used by other companies to accelerate the production of electric vehicles, and has been developing a solar power system company called SolarCity under the Tesla umbrella too, after getting the idea at Burning Man. Because hey, climate change won’t battle itself, and if there’s a $2.6 billion company award in it for our Elon, what price can we put on saving the planet, right?
What’s his Hyperloop idea all about?
Musk claimed in 2017 that he had “verbal government approval” to build a high-speed Hyperloop system between New York and Washington DC – a mode of transport in which pressurised capsules ride on air cushions, using a partial vacuum to reduce aerodynamic drag and cost. The various transport authorities involved claim no knowledge of any such agreement, but Musk continues work on what sounds like a kind of human air pistol.
Isn’t he trying to turn us into cyborgs too?
Look, do you want to be part of the AI uprising or get your worthless human skull crushed beneath a Terminator’s foot claw? Considering the advancement of AI technology as “summoning the demon”, Musk launched OpenAI in 2015, a non-profit research company aiming to develop artificial intelligence to benefit humanity rather than gain power for governments or profit for corporations. He’s since switched his focus to Neuralink, a start-up working on creating devices to implant into the human brain to create “mind-computer interfaces” to improve memory or allow you to communicate psychically with your kettle or something. The real benefit, of course, will be that when the robots begin the grand extermination, they might sniff you like the alien sniffing Ripley in Alien 3, realise you’re One Of Them and let you live.
Where does Grimes come into all this?
After an on-off series of marriages with British actress Talulah Riley and a year of dating Johnny Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard, Musk began dating Grimes after originally coming across each other during a twitter conversation about time travel and the singularity. She’s since come in for criticism for taking on some of Musk’s more questionable attitudes, such as defending Musk donating far more to the Republican party than the Democrats because it’s “the price of doing business in America”.
Can we just not talk about this? Date who you want, but it’s depressing to see you promo Space X and defend practices which epitomise Darwinian neoliberalism. Not sure how much fans can take before enjoying yr music is undermined. You’ve set yourself higher standards than Yeezy
— Simon Mitchell (@perilsofbirding) July 26, 2018
This reminds me of ppl I know who consider themselves allies of marginalized groups but then roll their eyes at anti-war progressives because "We have to do lots of wars and kill lots of innocent brown ppl because that's how America works." A better world is possible, Grimes.
— Paula Stokes (@pstokesbooks) July 26, 2018
But as she changes her name to the scientific symbol to represent the speed of light (an italicised, lower-case c), reportedly with Musk’s encouragement, speculation is mounting that this most bizarre of hook-ups is definitive proof that we’re living in a computer simulation. And presumably there’s a ‘random celebrity relationship’ setting.
And what’s the deal with Azealia Banks?
“Literally been sitting at Elon Musk’s house alone for days waiting for Grimes to show up and start these sessions,” Banks wrote in an Instagram Story. “I have no idea when she is coming back. I’m going to wait one more day then I’m going to go home.”
Banks later went on to call Grimes a “dirty-sneaker-inbred-out of the woods”, labelling Musk a “trash ass beta male” with “pork skin”.
Musk denied knowing Banks, saying that he “has never even met [Banks] or communicated with her in any way.”