Mission to Mars and Existential Threats

by Jennifer Lahl, CBC President on October 28, 2014

I just finished listening to a fascinating interview with Elon Musk—the founder/co-founder of PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and several other companies&mdashthat he gave at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department’s 2014 Centennial Symposium. You can listen in here to the full range of issues he discussed, most of which focused on the Symposium theme of the future of aeronautics and air and space travel. It’s fascinating and well worth your time.

Just minutes into the interview, it is clear that Musk is one smart guy, full of imagination and ideas, with a love for the entrepreneurial spirit that led to many of his own business successes.

Talking about his SpaceX work and his relationship with NASA, he discusses how he hoped his work would have enlarged NASA’S budget so that their space projects would flourish. Musk thinks that in order for our species to survive, we must build a multi-planet universe. This means not only sending people into space or putting a man on Mars, but that we need to colonize Mars and inhabit other planets.

Musk believes a window of technological opportunity is open for the first time in the history of the earth, and we need to seize the opportunity. He calls the plan to build a multi-planet universe life insurance for life collectively. We owe it to the future of the human race to push in this direction, he says.

He’s a personable guy with a real sense of concern for using technology for good. He shares how in his early days, his hiring practices were concerned with recruiting the most intellectual and talented people. However, he realizes now that a person’s personality, and whether they have a “good heart” and treat others well are equally important.

At the end of the interview the audience is allowed to pose questions to him. One gentleman asks about his thoughts on artificial intelligence (AI), and Musk doesn’t skip a beat. He declares we need to be very careful about AI, that it is possibly the biggest existential threat facing us now, and that with AI we are “summoning the demon.”

While I’m not sure if or when we will truly become a multi-planet species, I’m glad to have people like Musk, with his intellectual chops and his concern for people and for the future of the human race leading some of the thinking and raising important questions.

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