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Issue 1782 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

Elon Musk, a Man Destinated to Change the Fate of Mankind

He is not only one of the richest men in history, but he is also a magnet for sensationalist news and for heated discussions on Twitter.

Elon Musk Royal Society Photo: Royal Society on Wikimedia Commons


in Issue 1782

“If something's important enough, you should try. Even if - the probable outcome is failure”.

Elon Musk

With this quote, we start this article about one of the most inspiring and unique characters in human history: Elon Musk, who was born in June 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa. As a child, Elon Musk was independent and learnt on his own, stating that he was educated first by the books and then by his parents. Indeed, he taught himself programming and created a videogame called Blastar, which he sold for $500 by the age of 12. At the age of 17, he moved to Canada to study at Queen's University so as to avoid the obligatory military service in South Africa. Two years later, he was transferred to the University of Pennsylvania and ended up graduating with a double bachelor's degree in physics and economics, a clear prelude of his future job. Then he pursued a PhD in materials science and applied physics at Stanford University. However, he dropped out two days later in order to fund a company called Zip2 and the rest is history. 

Nowadays, Elon Musk is one of the wealthiest men in the world with a net worth of around $151 billion, owning several companies with very ambitious goals in mind. SpaceX aims to commercialize space travel and make humankind a multi-planetary civilisation; SolarCity produces sustainable energy, while Tesla can store that energy in its electric batteries; The Boring Company is designing a complex network of tunnels to avoid traffic jams and ease public transport in cities. Although none of his objectives have been accomplished yet, Elon Musk and his staff are taking little steps towards them. And this is something that I want to outline, although it is a reality that Elon Musk will be remembered by future generations, he would not be able to achieve his success without an extraordinarily talented team behind him. Could Napoleon Bonaparte have won his wars alone? The answer is certainly no; exceptional leaders are key to trigger meaningful changes, but leaders’ plans would not be executed if there were no other people working for them. The day a rocket lands on Mars, we should remember that it is not Elon Musk who arrived at Mars, but mankind. There is an excessive adoration towards the figure of a person because humans need heroes to adore, but reality is much more complex than just one person.

He has enough capital to make a real impact on the world even though we have not seen any life-changing results from him yet. 

Not considering himself a businessman but an engineer when tackling problems; his approach is always based on the scientific method. The steps to follow, like many other great ideas, are simple. First, ask a question. Second, find evidence to develop axioms, classifying each one of them from less to more probable. Third, with these axioms now you can establish a conclusion relevant to the question proposed in step one. Fourth, attempt to dismantle your conclusion. As a tip, it is recommended to ask for others' points of view. Finally, if the conclusion is found incorrect, go back to step two to formulate new axioms or find new evidence. In the case that no one can refute the conclusion, then it is arguably correct, and only arguably, because there is never an absolutely correct answer, every theory or law has some degree of error. The scientific method is the most plausible way to obtain realistic and effective solutions, but with certain flexibility to modify them according to new circumstances. Besides, it avoids wishful thinking, which is basically the claim of the truthfulness of something just because of the desire of that something being true. Elon Musk is also a visionary, innovating in each sector he is involved in. Examples of this are the reusable rockets of SpaceX, or the electric cars of Tesla -  when nobody believed in neither their relevance nor profitability. Elon Musk was even criticised by Neil Armstrong, who believed that his ideas of reusable rockets were far-fetched. According to Elon Musk though, the key to being innovative is starting with an unbiased mind and clear objectives to pursue. Most people commit the mistake of adding little modifications to a widespread product or service and consider it “innovation”. Avoid following what the mainstream is doing. In a world where machines are encroaching the most boring and repetitive tasks, the value of a creative and innovative mind is rising exponentially as there is still no such AI capable of imitating the flexibility and spontaneity of the human brain. 

However, not only is Elon Musk known for his contribution to sustainable transport and space travel, but also for his manifold controversial moments. One of the most memorable was when he smoked weed during a podcast with the comedian Joe Rogan in September 2018. The reaction of the general public was immediate, the podcast became viral with almost 48 million views up to date and GIFs of Elon Musk with the marijuana cigar have become a popular meme. The "joint" also instigated NASA to open an investigation about the health and safety standards of SpaceX, and there was a general devaluation of Elon's companies in the stock market. Twitter is the most used social media by Elon Musk to express his opinions to his millions of followers and it also one of the major sources of Elon Musk’s controversy. His incendiary tweets are abundant, but the most impactful were "Tesla stock price is too high imo" (May 2020), which caused the company to lose $14 billion in Tesla's value, or "The coronavirus panic is dumb" (March 2020), among many others. I am conscious that Elon’s honesty and impulsiveness are what make him unique. When you hear him speaking, you feel as if you’re listening to someone authentic, despite his monotonous and robotic voice. However, it is undeniably the relevance of his position as he moves millions or even billions of dollars every day, as well as being the CEO of two companies (Tesla and SpaceX) that are authentic leaders and innovators of their respective sectors. Any of his actions can shape the global economy and millions of lives. Therefore, I consider that such a powerful individual who is at the forefront of humanity’s progress has to be committed to his position, giving up a part of his personality for the sake of the rest of the people. 

Elon Musk is a source of inspiration due to his ambition, perseverance, and peculiar personality. He has enough capital to make a real impact on the world even though we have not seen any life-changing results from him yet. Most cars are still powered by fossil fuels, and I am not travelling to Mars the next year. Nevertheless, we must be hopeful and patient with the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. In the meantime, chase your own goals because reading about outstanding individuals is great, but not as great as actually becoming one of them.

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