Lex Fridman Podcast - #252 - Elon Musk: SpaceX, Mars, Tesla Autopilot, Self-Driving, Robotics, and AI

The following is a conversation with Elon Musk,

his third time on this, The Lex Friedman Podcast.

Yeah, make yourself comfortable.


No, wow, okay.

You don’t do the headphone thing?



I mean, how close do I need to get up to the same place?

The closer you are, the sexier you sound.

Hey, babe.

What’s up?

Can’t get enough of your love, baby.

I’m gonna clip that out

any time somebody messages me about it.

If you want my body and you think I’m sexy,

come right out and tell me so.

Do, do, do, do, do.

So good.

Okay, serious mode activate.

All right.

Serious mode.

Come on, you’re Russian.

You can be serious.

Yeah, I know.

Everyone’s serious all the time in Russia.

Yeah, yeah, we’ll get there.

We’ll get there.


It’s gotten soft.

Allow me to say that the SpaceX launch

of human beings to orbit on May 30th, 2020

was seen by many as the first step

in a new era of human space exploration.

These human space flight missions were a beacon of hope

to me and to millions over the past two years

as our world has been going through

one of the most difficult periods in recent human history.

We saw, we see the rise of division, fear, cynicism,

and the loss of common humanity

right when it is needed most.

So first, Elon, let me say thank you

for giving the world hope and reason

to be excited about the future.

Oh, it’s kind of easy to say.

I do want to do that.

Humanity has obviously a lot of issues

and people at times do bad things,

but despite all that, I love humanity

and I think we should make sure we do everything we can

to have a good future and an exciting future

and one where that maximizes the happiness of the people.

Let me ask about Crew Dragon Demo 2.

So that first flight with humans on board,

how did you feel leading up to that launch?

Were you scared?

Were you excited?

What was going through your mind?

So much was at stake.

Yeah, no, that was extremely stressful, no question.

We obviously could not let them down in any way.

So extremely stressful, I’d say, to say the least.

I was confident that at the time that we launched

that no one could think of anything at all to do

that would improve the probability of success.

And we racked our brains to think of any possible way

to improve the probability of success.

We could not think of anything more, nor could NASA.

And so that’s just the best that we could do.

So then we went ahead and launched.

Now, I’m not a religious person,

but I nonetheless got on my knees and prayed for that mission.

Were you able to sleep?


How did it feel when it was a success,

first when the launch was a success,

and when they returned back home or back to Earth?

It was a great relief.

Yeah, for high stress situations,

I find it’s not so much elation as relief.

And I think once, as we got more comfortable

and proved out the systems,

because we really got to make sure everything works,

it was definitely a lot more enjoyable

with the subsequent astronaut missions.

And I thought the Inspiration mission

was actually a very inspiring Inspiration 4 mission.

I’d encourage people to watch the Inspiration documentary

on Netflix, it’s actually really good.

And it really isn’t, I was actually inspired by that.

And so that one I felt I was kind of able

to enjoy the actual mission

and not just be super stressed all the time.

So for people that somehow don’t know,

it’s the all civilian, first time all civilian

out to space, out to orbit.

Yeah, and it was I think the highest orbit

that in like, I don’t know, 30 or 40 years or something.

The only one that was higher was the one shuttle,

sorry, a Hubble servicing mission.

And then before that, it would have been Apollo in 72.

It’s pretty wild.

So it’s cool, it’s good.

I think as a species, we want to be continuing

to do better and reach higher ground.

And like, I think it would be tragic, extremely tragic

if Apollo was the high watermark for humanity,

and that’s as far as we ever got.

And it’s concerning that here we are 49 years

after the last mission to the moon.

And so almost half a century, and we’ve not been back.

And that’s worrying.

It’s like, does that mean we’ve peaked as a civilization

or what?

So like, I think we got to get back to the moon

and build a base there, a science base.

I think we could learn a lot about the nature

of the universe if we have a proper science base

on the moon, like we have a science base in Antarctica

and many other parts of the world.

And so that’s like, I think the next big thing,

we’ve got to have like a serious moon base

and then get people to Mars and get out there

and be a spacefaring civilization.

I’ll ask you about some of those details,

but since you’re so busy with the hard engineering

challenges of everything that’s involved,

are you still able to marvel at the magic of it all,

of space travel, of every time the rocket goes up,

especially when it’s a crewed mission?

Or are you just so overwhelmed with all the challenges

that you have to solve?

And actually, sort of to add to that,

the reason I wanted to ask this question of May 30th,

it’s been some time, so you can look back

and think about the impact already.

It’s already, at the time it was an engineering problem

maybe, now it’s becoming a historic moment.

Like it’s a moment that, how many moments

will be remembered about the 21st century?

To me, that or something like that,

maybe Inspiration4, one of those would be remembered

as the early steps of a new age of space exploration.

Yeah, I mean, during the launches itself,

so I mean, I think maybe some people will know,

but a lot of people don’t know,

is like I’m actually the chief engineer of SpaceX,

so I’ve signed off on pretty much all the design decisions.

And so if there’s something that goes wrong

with that vehicle, it’s fundamentally my fault, so.

So I’m really just thinking about all the things that,

like, so when I see the rocket,

I see all the things that could go wrong

and the things that could be better

and the same with the Dragon spacecraft.

It’s like, other people will see,

oh, this is a spacecraft or a rocket

and this looks really cool.

I’m like, I’ve like a readout of like,

these are the risks, these are the problems,

that’s what I see.

Like, choo choo choo choo choo choo choo.

So it’s not what other people see

when they see the product, you know.

So let me ask you then to analyze Starship

in that same way.

I know you have, you’ll talk about,

in more detail about Starship in the near future, perhaps.

Yeah, we can talk about it now if you want.

But just in that same way, like you said,

you see, when you see a rocket,

you see sort of a list of risks.

In that same way, you said that Starship

is a really hard problem.

So there’s many ways I can ask this,

but if you magically could solve one problem perfectly,

one engineering problem perfectly,

which one would it be?

On Starship?

On, sorry, on Starship.

So is it maybe related to the efficiency,

the engine, the weight of the different components,

the complexity of various things,

maybe the controls of the crazy thing it has to do to land?

No, it’s actually by far the biggest thing

absorbing my time is engine production.

Not the design of the engine,

but I’ve often said prototypes are easy, production is hard.

So we have the most advanced rocket engine

that’s ever been designed.

Cause I’d say currently the best rocket engine ever

is probably the RD180 or RD170,

that’s the Russian engine basically.

And still, I think an engine should only count

if it’s gotten something to orbit.

So our engine has not gotten anything to orbit yet,

but it is, it’s the first engine

that’s actually better than the Russian RD engines,

which were amazing design.

So you’re talking about Raptor engine.

What makes it amazing?

What are the different aspects of it that make it,

like what are you the most excited about

if the whole thing works in terms of efficiency,

all those kinds of things?

Well, it’s, the Raptor is a full flow

staged combustion engine

and it’s operating at a very high chamber pressure.

So one of the key figures of merit, perhaps the key figure

of merit is what is the chamber pressure

at which the rocket engine can operate?

That’s the combustion chamber pressure.

So Raptor is designed to operate at 300 bar,

possibly maybe higher, that’s 300 atmospheres.

So the record right now for operational engine

is the RD engine that I mentioned, the Russian RD,

which is I believe around 267 bar.

And the difficulty of the chamber pressure

is increases on a nonlinear basis.

So 10% more chamber pressure is more like 50% more difficult.

But that chamber pressure is,

that is what allows you to get a very high power density

for the engine.

So enabling a very high thrust to weight ratio

and a very high specific impulse.

So specific impulse is like a measure of the efficiency

of a rocket engine.

It’s really the effect of exhaust velocity

of the gas coming out of the engine.

So with a very high chamber pressure,

you can have a compact engine

that nonetheless has a high expansion ratio,

which is the ratio between the exit nozzle and the throat.

So you see a rocket engine’s got sort of like a hourglass

shape, it’s like a chamber and then it necks down

and there’s a nozzle and the ratio of the exit diameter

to the throat is the expansion ratio.

So why is it such a hard engine to manufacture at scale?

It’s very complex.

So a lot of, what is complexity mean here?

There’s a lot of components involved.

There’s a lot of components and a lot of unique materials

that, so we had to invent several alloys

that don’t exist in order to make this engine work.

It’s a materials problem too.

It’s a materials problem and in a staged combustion,

a full flow staged combustion,

there are many feedback loops in the system.

So basically you’ve got propellants and hot gas

flowing simultaneously to so many different places

on the engine and they all have a recursive effect

on each other.

So you change one thing here, it has a recursive effect

here, it changes something over there

and it’s quite hard to control.

Like there’s a reason no one’s made this before.

And the reason we’re doing a staged combustion full flow

is because it has the highest possible efficiency.

So in order to make a fully reusable rocket,

which that’s the really the holy grail of orbital rocketry.

You have to have, everything’s gotta be the best.

It’s gotta be the best engine, the best airframe,

the best heat shield, extremely light avionics,

very clever control mechanisms.

You’ve got to shed mass in any possible way that you can.

For example, we are, instead of putting landing legs

on the booster and ship, we are gonna catch them

with a tower to save the weight of the landing legs.

So that’s like, I mean, we’re talking about catching

the largest flying object ever made with,

on a giant tower with chopstick arms.

It’s like Karate Kid with the fly, but much bigger.

I mean, pulling something like that home.

This probably won’t work the first time.

Anyway, so this is bananas, this is banana stuff.

So you mentioned that you doubt, well, not you doubt,

but there’s days or moments when you doubt

that this is even possible.

It’s so difficult.

The possible part is, well, at this point,

I think we will get Starship to work.

There’s a question of timing.

How long will it take us to do this?

How long will it take us to actually achieve

full and rapid reusability?

Cause it will take probably many launches

before we are able to have full and rapid reusability.

But I can say that the physics pencils out.

Like we’re not, like at this point,

I’d say we’re confident that, like let’s say,

I’m very confident success is in the set

of all possible outcomes.

For a while there, I was not convinced

that success was in the set of possible outcomes,

which is very important actually.

But so we’re saying there’s a chance.

I’m saying there’s a chance, exactly.

Just not sure how long it will take.

We have a very talented team.

They’re working night and day to make it happen.

And like I said, the critical thing to achieve

for the revolution in space flight

and for humanity to be a spacefaring civilization

is to have a fully and rapidly reusable rocket,

orbital rocket.

There’s not even been any orbital rocket

that’s been fully reusable ever.

And this has always been the holy grail of rocketry.

And many smart people, very smart people,

have tried to do this before and they’ve not succeeded.

So, cause it’s such a hard problem.

What’s your source of belief in situations like this?

When the engineering problem is so difficult,

there’s a lot of experts, many of whom you admire,

who have failed in the past.

And a lot of people, a lot of experts,

maybe journalists, all the kind of,

the public in general have a lot of doubt

about whether it’s possible.

And you yourself know that even if it’s a non null set,

non empty set of success, it’s still unlikely

or very difficult.

Like where do you go to, both personally,

intellectually as an engineer, as a team,

like for source of strength needed

to sort of persevere through this.

And to keep going with the project, take it to completion.

A source of strength.

That’s really not how I think about things.

I mean, for me, it’s simply this,

this is something that is important to get done

and we should just keep doing it or die trying.

And I don’t need a source of strength.

So quitting is not even like…

That’s not, it’s not in my nature.

And I don’t care about optimism or pessimism.

Fuck that, we’re gonna get it done.

Gonna get it done.

Can you then zoom back in to specific problems

with Starship or any engineering problems you work on?

Can you try to introspect your particular

biological neural network, your thinking process

and describe how you think through problems,

the different engineering and design problems?

Is there like a systematic process?

You’ve spoken about first principles thinking,

but is there a kind of process to it?

Well, yeah, like saying like physics is a law

and everything else is a recommendation.

Like I’ve met a lot of people that can break the law,

but I haven’t met anyone who could break physics.

So the first, for any kind of technology problem,

you have to sort of just make sure

you’re not violating physics.

And first principles analysis, I think,

is something that can be applied to really any walk of life,

anything really.

It’s really just saying, let’s boil something down

to the most fundamental principles.

The things that we are most confident are true

at a foundational level.

And that sets your axiomatic base,

and then you reason up from there,

and then you cross check your conclusion

against the axiomatic truths.

So some basics in physics would be like,

are you violating conservation of energy or momentum

or something like that?

Then it’s not gonna work.

So that’s just to establish, is it possible?

And another good physics tool

is thinking about things in the limit.

If you take a particular thing

and you scale it to a very large number

or to a very small number, how do things change?

Both like in number of things you manufacture

or something like that, and then in time?

Yeah, like let’s say take an example of like manufacturing,

which I think is just a very underrated problem.

And like I said, it’s much harder to

take an advanced technology product

and bring it into volume manufacturing

than it is to design it in the first place.

My orders of magnitude.

So let’s say you’re trying to figure out

is like why is this part or product expensive?

Is it because of something fundamentally foolish

that we’re doing or is it because our volume is too low?

And so then you say, okay, well, what if our volume

was a million units a year?

Is it still expensive?

That’s what I mean by thinking about things in the limit.

If it’s still expensive at a million units a year,

then volume is not the reason why your thing is expensive.

There’s something fundamental about the design.

And then you then can focus on reducing the complexity

or something like that in the design.

You gotta change the design to change the part

to be something that is not fundamentally expensive.

But like that’s a common thing in rocketry

because the unit volume is relatively low.

And so a common excuse would be,

well, it’s expensive because our unit volume is low.

And if we were in like automotive or something like that,

or consumer electronics, then our costs would be lower.

I’m like, okay, so let’s say

now you’re making a million units a year.

Is it still expensive?

If the answer is yes, then economies of scale

are not the issue.

Do you throw into manufacturing,

do you throw like supply chain?

Talked about resources and materials and stuff like that.

Do you throw that into the calculation

of trying to reason from first principles,

like how we’re gonna make the supply chain work here?

Yeah, yeah.

And then the cost of materials, things like that.

Or is that too much?

Exactly, so like a good example,

I think of thinking about things in the limit

is if you take any machine or whatever,

like take a rocket or whatever,

and say, if you look at the raw materials in the rocket,

so you’re gonna have like aluminum, steel, titanium,

Inconel, specialty alloys, copper,

and you say, what’s the weight of the constituent elements,

of each of these elements,

and what is their raw material value?

And that sets the asymptotic limit

for how low the cost of the vehicle can be

unless you change the materials.

So, and then when you do that,

I call it like maybe the magic one number

or something like that.

So that would be like, if you had the,

like just a pile of these raw materials,

again, you could wave the magic wand

and rearrange the atoms into the final shape.

That would be the lowest possible cost

that you could make this thing for

unless you change the materials.

So then, and that is almost always a very low number.

So then what’s actually causing things to be expensive

is how you put the atoms into the desired shape.

Yeah, actually, if you don’t mind me taking a tiny tangent,

I often talk to Jim Keller,

who’s somebody that worked with you as a friend.

Jim was, yeah, did great work at Tesla.

So I suppose he carries the flame

with the same kind of thinking

that you’re talking about now.

And I guess I see that same thing

at Tesla and SpaceX folks who work there,

they kind of learn this way of thinking

and it kind of becomes obvious almost.

But anyway, I had argument, not argument,

but he educated me about how cheap it might be

to manufacture a Tesla bot.

We just, we had an argument.

How can you reduce the cost of scale of producing a robot?

Because I’ve gotten the chance to interact quite a bit,

obviously, in the academic circles with humanoid robots

and then Boston Dynamics and stuff like that.

And they’re very expensive to build.

And then Jim kind of schooled me on saying like,

okay, like this kind of first principles thinking

of how can we get the cost of manufacturing down?

I suppose you do that,

you have done that kind of thinking for Tesla bot

and for all kinds of complex systems

that are traditionally seen as complex.

And you say, okay, how can we simplify everything down?

Yeah, I mean, I think if you are really good

at manufacturing, you can basically make,

at high volume, you can basically make anything

for a cost that asymptotically approaches

the raw material value of the constituents

plus any intellectual property that you need to do license.


But it’s hard.

It’s not like that’s a very hard thing to do,

but it is possible for anything.

Anything in volume can be made, like I said,

for a cost that asymptotically approaches

this raw material constituents

plus intellectual property license rights.

So what’ll often happen in trying to design a product

is people will start with the tools and parts

and methods that they are familiar with

and then try to create the product

using their existing tools and methods.

The other way to think about it is actually imagine the,

try to imagine the platonic ideal of the perfect product

or technology, whatever it might be.

And say, what is the perfect arrangement of atoms

that would be the best possible product?

And now let us try to figure out

how to get the atoms in that shape.

I mean, it sounds,

it’s almost like a Rick and Morty absurd

until you start to really think about it

and you really should think about it in this way

because everything else is kind of,

if you think, you might fall victim to the momentum

of the way things were done in the past

unless you think in this way.

Well, just as a function of inertia,

people will want to use the same tools and methods

that they are familiar with.

That’s what they’ll do by default.

And then that will lead to an outcome of things

that can be made with those tools and methods

but is unlikely to be the platonic ideal

of the perfect product.

So then, so that’s why it’s good to think of things

in both directions.

So like, what can we build with the tools that we have?

But then, but also what is the perfect,

the theoretical perfect product look like?

And that theoretical perfect part

is gonna be a moving target

because as you learn more,

the definition of that perfect product will change

because you don’t actually know what the perfect product is,

but you can successfully approximate a more perfect product.

So think about it like that and then saying,

okay, now what tools, methods, materials,

whatever do we need to create

in order to get the atoms in that shape?

But people rarely think about it that way.

But it’s a powerful tool.

I should mention that the brilliant Siobhan Ziles

is hanging out with us in case you hear a voice

of wisdom from outside, from up above.

Okay, so let me ask you about Mars.

You mentioned it would be great for science

to put a base on the moon to do some research.

But the truly big leap, again,

in this category of seemingly impossible,

is to put a human being on Mars.

When do you think SpaceX will land a human being on Mars?

Hmm, best case is about five years, worst case, 10 years.

Okay, so I’m gonna ask you about Mars.

You mentioned it would be great for science

to put a base on the moon to do some research.

But the truly big leap, again,

in this category of seemingly impossible,

is to put a human being on Mars.

But the truly big leap, again,

in this category of seemingly impossible,

is to put a human being on Mars.

When do you think SpaceX will land a human being on Mars?

Hmm, best case is about five years, worst case, 10 years.

What are the determining factors, would you say,

from an engineering perspective?

Or is that not the bottlenecks?

I don’t know, order of magnitude or something like that.

It’s a lot, it’s really next level.

So, and the fundamental optimization of Starship

is minimizing cost per ton to orbit,

and ultimately cost per ton to the surface of Mars.

This may seem like a mercantile objective,

but it is actually the thing that needs to be optimized.

Like there is a certain cost per ton to the surface of Mars

where we can afford to establish a self sustaining city,

and then above that, we cannot afford to do it.

So right now, you couldn’t fly to Mars for a trillion dollars.

No amount of money could get you a ticket to Mars.

So we need to get that above,

to get that something that is actually possible at all.

But that’s, we don’t just want to have,

with Mars, flags and footprints,

and then not come back for a half century,

like we did with the Moon.

In order to pass a very important, great filter,

I think we need to be a multi planet species.

This may sound somewhat esoteric to a lot of people,

but eventually, given enough time,

there’s something, Earth is likely to experience

some calamity that could be something

that humans do to themselves,

or an external event like happened to the dinosaurs.

But eventually, if none of that happens,

and somehow magically we keep going,

then the Sun is gradually expanding,

and will engulf the Earth,

and probably Earth gets too hot for life

in about 500 million years.

It’s a long time, but that’s only 10% longer

than Earth has been around.

And so if you think about the current situation,

it’s really remarkable, and kind of hard to believe,

but Earth’s been around four and a half billion years,

and this is the first time in four and a half billion years

that it’s been possible to extend life beyond Earth.

And that window of opportunity may be open

for a long time, and I hope it is,

but it also may be open for a short time.

And I think it is wise for us to act quickly

while the window is open, just in case it closes.

Yeah, the existence of nuclear weapons, pandemics,

all kinds of threats should kind of give us some motivation.

I mean, civilization could die with a bang or a whimper.

If it dies as a demographic collapse,

then it’s more of a whimper, obviously.

And if it’s World War III, it’s more of a bang.

But these are all risks.

I mean, it’s important to think of these things

and just think of things like probabilities, not certainties.

There’s a certain probability

that something bad will happen on Earth.

I think most likely the future will be good.

But there’s like, let’s say for argument’s sake,

a 1% chance per century of a civilization ending event.

Like that was Stephen Hawking’s estimate.

I think he might be right about that.

So then we should basically think of this

being a multi planet species,

just like taking out a planet from the sky,

multi planet species, just like taking out insurance

for life itself.

Like life insurance for life.

It’s turned into an infomercial real quick.

Life insurance for life, yes.

And we can bring the creatures from,

plants and animals from Earth to Mars

and breathe life into the planet

and have a second planet with life.

That would be great.

They can’t bring themselves there.

So if we don’t bring them to Mars,

then they will just for sure all die

when the sun expands anyway.

And then that’ll be it.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect

of building a civilization on Mars?

Terraforming Mars, like from an engineering perspective,

from a financial perspective, human perspective,

to get a large number of folks there

who will never return back to Earth?

No, they could certainly return.

Some will return back to Earth.

They will choose to stay there

for the rest of their lives.

Yeah, many will.

But we need the spaceships back,

like the ones that go to Mars.

We need them back.

So you can hop on if you want.

But we can’t just not have the spaceships come back.

Those things are expensive.

We need them back.

I’d like to come back and do another trip.

I mean, do you think about the terraforming aspect,

like actually building?

Are you so focused right now on the spaceships part

that’s so critical to get to Mars?

We absolutely, if you can’t get there,

nothing else matters.

So, and like I said, we can’t get there

at some extraordinarily high cost.

I mean, the current cost of, let’s say,

one ton to the surface of Mars

is on the order of a billion dollars.

So, because you don’t just need the rocket

and the launch and everything,

you need like heat shield, you need guidance system,

you need deep space communications,

you need some kind of landing system.

So, like rough approximation would be a billion dollars

per ton to the surface of Mars right now.

This is obviously way too expensive

to create a self sustaining civilization.

So we need to improve that by at least a factor of 1,000.

A million per ton?

Yes, ideally much less than a million ton.

But if it’s not, like it’s gotta be,

so you have to say like, well,

how much can society afford to spend

or just want to spend on a self sustaining city on Mars?

The self sustaining part is important.

Like it’s just the key threshold,

the great filter will have been passed

when the city on Mars can survive

even if the spaceships from Earth stop coming

for any reason, doesn’t matter what the reason is,

but if they stop coming for any reason,

will it die out or will it not?

And if there’s even one critical ingredient missing,

then it still doesn’t count.

It’s like, you know, if you’re on a long sea voyage

and you’ve got everything except vitamin C,

it’s only a matter of time, you know, you’re gonna die.

So we’re gonna get a Mars city

to the point where it’s self sustaining.

I’m not sure this will really happen in my lifetime,

but I hope to see it at least have a lot of momentum.

And then you could say, okay,

what is the minimum tonnage necessary

to have a self sustaining city?

And there’s a lot of uncertainty about this.

You could say like, I don’t know,

it’s probably at least a million tons

cause you have to set up a lot of infrastructure on Mars.

Like I said, you can’t be missing anything

that in order to be self sustaining,

you can’t be missing, like you need,

you know, semiconductor, fabs, you need iron ore refineries,

like you need lots of things, you know.

So, and Mars is not super hospitable.

It’s the least inhospitable planet,

but it’s definitely a fixer of a planet.

Outside of Earth.


Earth is pretty good.

Earth is like easy, yeah.

And also I should, we should clarify in the solar system.

Yes, in the solar system.

There might be nice like vacation spots.

There might be some great planets out there,

but it’s hopeless.

Too hard to get there?

Yeah, way, way, way, way, way too hard to say the least.

Let me push back on that, not really a push back,

but a quick curve ball of a question.

So you did mention physics as the first starting point.

So, general relativity allows for wormholes.

They technically can exist.

Do you think those can ever be leveraged

by humans to travel fast in the speed of light?

Well, the wormhole thing is debatable.

The, we currently do not know of any means

of going faster than the speed of light.

There is like, there are some ideas about having space.

Like so, you can only move at the speed of light

through space, but if you can make space itself move,

that’s like, that’s warping space.

Space is capable of moving faster than the speed of light.


Like the universe in the Big Bang,

the universe expanded at much,

much more than the speed of light by a lot.


So, but the, if this is possible,

the amount of energy required to warp space

is so gigantic, it boggles the mind.

So all the work you’ve done with propulsion,

how much innovation is possible with rocket propulsion?

Is this, I mean, you’ve seen it all,

and you’re constantly innovating in every aspect.

How much is possible?

Like how much, can you get 10x somehow?

Is there something in there in physics

that you can get significant improvement

in terms of efficiency of engines

and all those kinds of things?

Well, as I was saying, really the Holy Grail

is a fully and rapidly reusable orbital system.

So right now, the Falcon 9

is the only reusable rocket out there,

but the booster comes back and lands,

and you’ve seen the videos,

and we get the nose cone fairing back,

but we do not get the upper stage back.

So that means that we have a minimum cost

of building an upper stage.

And you can think of like a two stage rocket

of sort of like two airplanes,

like a big airplane and a small airplane.

And we get the big airplane back,

but not the small airplane.

And so it still costs a lot.

So that upper stage is at least $10 million.

And then the degree of,

the booster is not as rapidly and completely reusable

as we’d like in order of the fairings.

So our kind of minimum marginal cost

and our counting overhead for per flight

is on the order of 15 to $20 million, maybe.

So that’s extremely good for,

it’s by far better than any rocket ever in history.

But with full and rapid reusability,

we can reduce the cost per ton to orbit

by a factor of 100.

But just think of it like,

like imagine if you had an aircraft or something or a car.

And if you had to buy a new car

every time you went for a drive,

that would be very expensive.

It’d be silly, frankly.

But in fact, you just refuel the car or recharge the car.

And that makes your trip like,

I don’t know, a thousand times cheaper.

So it’s the same for rockets.

If you, it’s very difficult to make this complex machine

that can go to orbit.

And so if you cannot reuse it

and have to throw even any part of,

any significant part of it away,

that massively increases the cost.

So, you know, Starship in theory

could do a cost per launch of like a million,

maybe $2 million or something like that.

And put over a hundred tons in orbit, which is crazy.

Yeah, that’s incredible.

So you’re saying like it’s by far the biggest bang

for the buck is to make it fully reusable

versus like some kind of brilliant breakthrough

in theoretical physics.

No, no, there’s no, there’s no brilliant break.

No, there’s no, just make the rocket reusable.

This is an extremely difficult engineering problem.

Got it.

No new physics is required.

Just brilliant engineering.

Let me ask a slightly philosophical fun question.

Gotta ask, I know you’re focused on getting to Mars,

but once we’re there on Mars, what do you,

what form of government, economic system, political system

do you think would work best

for an early civilization of humans?

Is, I mean, the interesting reason to talk about this stuff,

it also helps people dream about the future.

I know you’re really focused

about the short term engineering dream,

but it’s like, I don’t know,

there’s something about imagining an actual civilization

on Mars that gives people, really gives people hope.

Well, it would be a new frontier and an opportunity

to rethink the whole nature of government,

just as was done in the creation of the United States.

So, I mean, I would suggest having a direct democracy,

people vote directly on things

as opposed to representative democracy.

So representative democracy, I think,

is too subject to a special interest

and a coercion of the politicians and that kind of thing.

So I’d recommend that there was just direct democracy,

people vote on laws, the population votes on laws themselves,

and then the laws must be short enough

that people can understand them.

Yeah, and then like keeping a well informed populace,

like really being transparent about all the information,

about what they’re voting for.

Yeah, absolute transparency.

Yeah, and not make it as annoying as those cookies

we have to accept. Accept cookies.

I’ve always, like, you know,

there’s like always like a slight amount of trepidation

when you click accept cookies,

like I feel as though there’s like perhaps

like a very tiny chance that it’ll open a portal to hell

or something like that.

That’s exactly how I feel.

Why do they, why do they keep wanting me to accept it?

What do they want with this cookie?

Like somebody got upset with accepting cookies

or something somewhere, who cares?

Like so annoying to keep accepting all these cookies.

To me, this is just a great example.

Yes, you can have my damn cookie.

I don’t care, whatever.

Heard it from Ilhan first.

He accepts all your damn cookies.

Yeah, and stop asking me.

It’s annoying.

Yeah, it’s one example of implementation

of a good idea done really horribly.

Yeah, it’s somebody who was like,

there’s some good intentions of like privacy or whatever,

but now everyone’s just has to accept cookies

and it’s not, you know, you have billions of people

who have to keep clicking accept cookie.

It’s super annoying.

Then we just accept the damn cookie, it’s fine.

There is like, I think a fundamental problem that we’re,

because we’ve not really had a major,

like a world war or something like that in a while.

And obviously we would like to not have world wars.

There’s not been a cleansing function

for rules and regulations.

So wars did have, you know, some sort of aligning

in that there would be a reset on rules

and regulations after a war.

So World Wars I and II,

there were huge resets on rules and regulations.

Now, if society does not have a war

and there’s no cleansing function

or garbage collection for rules and regulations,

then rules and regulations will accumulate every year

because they’re immortal.

There’s no actual, humans die, but the laws don’t.

So we need a garbage collection function

for rules and regulations.

They should not just be immortal

because some of the rules and regulations

that are put in place will be counterproductive,

done with good intentions, but counterproductive.

Sometimes not done with good intentions.

So if rules and regulations just accumulate every year

and you get more and more of them,

then eventually you won’t be able to do anything.

You’re just like Gulliver with, you know,

tied down by thousands of little structures

by thousands of little strings.

And we see that in, you know, US and like basically

all economies that have been around for a while

and regulators and legislators create new rules

and regulations every year,

but they don’t put effort into removing them.

And I think that’s very important that we put effort

into removing rules and regulations.

But it gets tough because you get special interests

that then are dependent on, like they have, you know,

a vested interest in that whatever rule and regulation

and then they fight to not get it removed.

Yeah, so I mean, I guess the problem with the constitution

is it’s kind of like C versus Java

because it doesn’t have any garbage collection built in.

I think there should be, when you first said

the metaphor of garbage collection, I loved it.

Yeah, from a coding standpoint.

From a coding standpoint, yeah, yeah.

It would be interesting if the laws themselves

kind of had a built in thing

where they kind of die after a while

unless somebody explicitly publicly defends them.

So that’s sort of, it’s not like somebody has to kill them.

They kind of die themselves.

They disappear.


Not to defend Java or anything, but you know, C++,

you know, you could also have a great garbage collection

in Python and so on.

Yeah, so yeah, something needs to happen

or just the civilization’s arteries just harden over time

and you can just get less and less done

because there’s just a rule against everything.

So I think like, I don’t know, for Mars or whatever,

I’d say, or even for, you know, obviously for Earth as well,

like I think there should be an active process

for removing rules and regulations

and questioning their existence.

Just like if we’ve got a function

for creating rules and regulations,

because rules and regulations can also think of us

like they’re like software or lines of code

for operating civilization.

That’s the rules and regulations.

So it’s not like we shouldn’t have rules and regulations,

but you have code accumulation, but no code removal.

And so it just gets to become basically archaic bloatware

after a while.

And it’s just, it makes it hard for things to progress.

So I don’t know, maybe Mars, you’d have like,

you know, any given law must have a sunset, you know,

and require active voting to keep it up there, you know.

And I actually also say like, and these are just,

I don’t know, recommendations or thoughts,

ultimately will be up to the people on Mars to decide.

But I think it should be easier to remove a law

than to add one because of the,

just to overcome the inertia of laws.

So maybe it’s like, for argument’s sake,

you need like say 60% vote to have a law take effect,

but only a 40% vote to remove it.

So let me be the guy, you posted a meme on Twitter recently

where there’s like a row of urinals,

and a guy just walks all the way across,

and he tells you about crypto.

I mean, that’s happened to me so many times.

I think maybe even literally.


Do you think, technologically speaking,

there’s any room for ideas of smart contracts or so on?

Because you mentioned laws.

That’s an interesting use of things like smart contracts

to implement the laws by which governments function.

Like something built on Ethereum,

or maybe a dog coin that enables smart contracts somehow.

I don’t quite understand this whole smart contract thing.

You know.

I mean, I’m too dumb to understand smart contracts.

That’s a good line.

I mean, my general approach to any kind of deal or whatever

is just make sure there’s clarity of understanding.

That’s the most important thing.

And just keep any kind of deal very short and simple,

plain language, and just make sure everyone understands

this is the deal, is it clear?

And what are the consequences if various things

don’t happen?

But usually deals are, business deals or whatever,

are way too long and complex and overly lawyered

and pointlessly.

You mentioned that Doge is the people’s coin.


And you said that you were literally going,

SpaceX may consider literally putting a Doge coin

on the moon, is this something you’re still considering?

Mars, perhaps, do you think there’s some chance,

we’ve talked about political systems on Mars,

that Doge coin is the official currency of Mars

at some point in the future?

Well, I think Mars itself will need to have

a different currency because you can’t synchronize

due to speed of light, or not easily.

So it must be completely stand alone from Earth.

Well, yeah, because Mars is, at closest approach,

it’s four light minutes away, roughly,

and then at furthest approach, it’s roughly

20 light minutes away, maybe a little more.

So you can’t really have something synchronizing

if you’ve got a 20 minute speed of light issue,

if it’s got a one minute blockchain.

It’s not gonna synchronize properly.

So Mars, I don’t know if Mars would have

a cryptocurrency as a thing, but probably, seems likely.

But it would be some kind of localized thing on Mars.

And you let the people decide.

Yeah, absolutely.

The future of Mars should be up to the Martians.

Yeah, so, I think the cryptocurrency thing

is an interesting approach to reducing

the error in the database that is called money.

I think I have a pretty deep understanding

of what money actually is on a practical day to day basis

because of PayPal.

We really got in deep there.

And right now, the money system, actually,

for practical purposes, is really a bunch

of heterogeneous mainframes running old COBOL.

Okay, you mean literally.

That’s literally what’s happening.

In batch mode.


In batch mode.

Yeah, pretty the poor bastards who have

to maintain that code.

Okay, that’s a pain.

Not even Fortran, it’s COBOL.


And the banks are still buying mainframes in 2021

and running ancient COBOL code.

And the Federal Reserve is probably even older

than what the banks have, and they have

an old COBOL mainframe.

And so, the government effectively has editing privileges

on the money database.

And they use those editing privileges to make more money,

whatever they want.

And this increases the error in the database that is money.

So, I think money should really be viewed

through the lens of information theory.

And so, it’s kind of like an internet connection.

Like what’s the bandwidth, total bit rate,

what is the latency, jitter, packet drop,

you know, errors in network communication.

Just think of money like that, basically.

I think that’s probably the right way to think of it.

And then say what system from an information theory

standpoint allows an economy to function the best.

And, you know, crypto is an attempt to reduce

the error in money that is contributed

by governments diluting the money supply

as basically a pernicious form of taxation.

So, both policy in terms of with inflation

and actual like technological COBOL,

like cryptocurrency takes us into the 21st century

in terms of the actual systems

that allow you to do the transaction,

to store wealth, all those kinds of things.

Like I said, just think of money as information.

People often will think of money

as having power in and of itself.

It does not.

Money is information and it does not have power

in and of itself.

Like, you know, applying the physics tools

of thinking about things in the limit is helpful.

If you are stranded on a tropical island

and you have a trillion dollars, it’s useless

because there’s no resource allocation.

Money is a database for resource allocation,

but there’s no resource to allocate except yourself.

So, money is useless.

If you’re stranded on a desert island with no food,

all the Bitcoin in the world will not stop you

from starving.

So, just think of money as a database

for resource allocation across time and space.

And then what system, in what form

should that database or data system,

what would be most effective?

Now, there is a fundamental issue

with say Bitcoin in its current form

in that the transaction volume is very limited

and the latency for a properly confirmed transaction

is too long, much longer than you’d like.

So, it’s actually not great from a transaction volume

standpoint or a latency standpoint.

So, it is perhaps useful to solve an aspect

of the money database problem, which is the sort of store

of wealth or an accounting of relative obligations,

I suppose, but it is not useful as a currency,

as a day to day currency.

But people have proposed different technological solutions.

Like Lightning.

Yeah, Lightning Network and the layer two technologies

on top of that.

I mean, it seems to be all kind of a trade off,

but the point is, it’s kind of brilliant to say

that just think about information,

think about what kind of database,

what kind of infrastructure enables

that exchange of information.

Yeah, just say like you’re operating an economy

and you need to have some thing that allows

for the efficient, to have efficient value ratios

between products and services.

So, you’ve got this massive number of products

and services and you need to, you can’t just barter.

It’s just like, that would be extremely unwieldy.

So, you need something that gives you the ratio

of exchange between goods and services.

And then something that allows you

to shift obligations across time, like debt.

Debt and equity shift obligations across time.

Then what does the best job of that?

Part of the reason why I think there’s some

Merit Doge coin, even though it was obviously created

as a joke, is that it actually does have

a much higher transaction volume capability than Bitcoin.

And the costs of doing a transaction,

the Doge coin fee is very low.

Like right now, if you want to do a Bitcoin transaction,

the price of doing that transaction is very high.

So, you could not use it effectively for most things.

And nor could it even scale to a high volume.

And when Bitcoin started, I guess around 2008

or something like that, the internet connections

were much worse than they are today.

Like Order of magnitude, I mean,

just way, way worse in 2008.

So, like having a small block size or whatever

is, and a long synchronization time made sense in 2008.

But 2021, or fast forward 10 years,

it’s like comically low.

And I think there’s some value to having a linear increase

in the amount of currency that is generated.

So, because some amount of the currency,

like if a currency is too deflationary,

or I should say, if a currency is expected

to increase in value over time,

there’s reluctance to spend it.

Because you’re like, oh, I’ll just hold it and not spend it

because it’s scarcity is increasing with time.

So, if I spend it now, then I will regret spending it.

So, I will just, you know, hodl it.

But if there’s some dilution of the currency occurring

over time, that’s more of an incentive

to use it as a currency.

So, those coins, somewhat randomly has just a fixed,

a number of sort of coins or hash strings

that are generated every year.

So, there’s some inflation, but it’s not a percentage base.

It’s a percentage of the total amount of money

it’s a fixed number.

So, the percentage of inflation

will necessarily decline over time.

So, I’m not saying that it’s like the ideal system

for a currency, but I think it actually is

just fundamentally better than anything else I’ve seen

just by accident, so.

I like how you said around 2008.

So, you’re not, you know, some people suggested

you might be Satoshi Nakamoto.

You’ve previously said you’re not.

Let me ask.

You’re not for sure.

Would you tell us if you were?



Do you think it’s a feature or a bug

that he’s anonymous or she or they?

It’s an interesting kind of quirk of human history

that there is a particular technology

that is a completely anonymous inventor

or creator.

Well, I mean, you can look at the evolution of ideas

before the launch of Bitcoin

and see who wrote, you know, about those ideas.

And then, like, I don’t know exactly,

obviously I don’t know who created Bitcoin

for practical purposes,

but the evolution of ideas is pretty clear for that.

And like, it seems as though like Nick Szabo

is probably more than anyone else responsible

for the evolution of those ideas.

So, he claims not to be Satoshi Nakamoto,

but I’m not sure that’s neither here nor there,

but he seems to be the one more responsible

for the ideas behind Bitcoin than anyone else.

So, it’s not perhaps like singular figures

aren’t even as important as the figures involved

in the evolution of ideas, the Leto thing, so.


Yeah, it’s, you know, perhaps it’s sad

to think about history,

but maybe most names will be forgotten anyway.

What is a name anyway?

It’s a name attached to an idea.

What does it even mean, really?

I think Shakespeare had a thing about roses and stuff,

whatever he said.

A rose by any other name, it smells sweet.

I got Elon to quote Shakespeare.

I feel like I accomplished something today.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?


I’m gonna clip that out.

I said it to people.

Not more temperate and more fair.


Tesla autopilot.

Tesla autopilot has been through an incredible journey

over the past six years,

or perhaps even longer in the minds of,

in your mind and the minds of many involved.

Yeah, I think that’s where we first like connected really

was the autopilot stuff, autonomy and.

The whole journey was incredible to me to watch.

I was, because I knew, well, part of it is I was at MIT

and I knew the difficulty of computer vision.

And I knew the whole, I had a lot of colleagues and friends

about the DARPA challenge and knew how difficult it is.

And so there was a natural skepticism

when I first drove a Tesla with the initial system

based on Mobileye.

I thought there’s no way, so first when I got in,

I thought there’s no way this car could maintain,

like stay in the lane and create a comfortable experience.

So my intuition initially was that the lane keeping problem

is way too difficult to solve.

Oh, lane keeping, yeah, that’s relatively easy.

Well, like, but not this, but solve in the way

that we just, we talked about previous is prototype

versus a thing that actually creates a pleasant experience

over hundreds of thousands of miles or millions.

Yeah, so we had to wrap a lot of code

around the Mobileye thing.

It doesn’t just work by itself.

I mean, that’s part of the story

of how you approach things sometimes.

Sometimes you do things from scratch.

Sometimes at first you kind of see what’s out there

and then you decide to do from scratch.

That was one of the boldest decisions I’ve seen

is both in the hardware and the software

to decide to eventually go from scratch.

I thought, again, I was skeptical

of whether that’s going to be able to work out

because it’s such a difficult problem.

And so it was an incredible journey

what I see now with everything,

the hardware, the compute, the sensors,

the things I maybe care and love about most

is the stuff that Andre Karpathy is leading

with the data set selection,

the whole data engine process,

the neural network architectures,

the way that’s in the real world,

that network is tested, validated,

all the different test sets,

versus the ImageNet model of computer vision,

like what’s in academia is like real world

artificial intelligence.

And Andre’s awesome and obviously plays an important role,

but we have a lot of really talented people driving things.

And Ashok is actually the head of autopilot engineering.

Andre’s the director of AI.

AI stuff, yeah, yeah.

So yeah, I’m aware that there’s an incredible team

of just a lot going on.

Yeah, obviously people will give me too much credit

and they’ll give Andre too much credit, so.

And people should realize how much is going on

under the hood.

Yeah, it’s just a lot of really talented people.

The Tesla Autopilot AI team is extremely talented.

It’s like some of the smartest people in the world.

So yeah, we’re getting it done.

What are some insights you’ve gained

over those five, six years of autopilot

about the problem of autonomous driving?

So you leaped in having some sort of

first principles kinds of intuitions,

but nobody knows how difficult the problem, like the problem.

I thought the self driving problem would be hard,

but it was harder than I thought.

It’s not like I thought it would be easy.

I thought it would be very hard,

but it was actually way harder than even that.

So, I mean, what it comes down to at the end of the day

is to solve self driving,

you basically need to recreate what humans do to drive,

which is humans drive with optical sensors,

eyes and biological neural nets.

And so in order to,

that’s how the entire road system is designed to work

with basically passive optical and neural nets,


And now that we need to,

so for actually for full self driving to work,

we have to recreate that in digital form.

So we have to, that means cameras with advanced neural nets

in silicon form, and then it will obviously solve

for full self driving.

That’s the only way.

I don’t think there’s any other way.

But the question is what aspects of human nature

do you have to encode into the machine, right?

Do you have to solve the perception problem, like detect?

And then you first realize

what is the perception problem for driving,

like all the kinds of things you have to be able to see,

like what do we even look at when we drive?

There’s, I just recently heard Andre talked about MIT

about car doors.

I think it was the world’s greatest talk of all time

about car doors, the fine details of car doors.

Like what is even an open car door, man?

So like the ontology of that,

that’s a perception problem.

We humans solve that perception problem,

and Tesla has to solve that problem.

And then there’s the control and the planning

coupled with the perception.

You have to figure out like what’s involved in driving,

like especially in all the different edge cases.

And then, I mean, maybe you can comment on this,

how much game theoretic kind of stuff needs to be involved

at a four way stop sign.

As humans, when we drive, our actions affect the world.

Like it changes how others behave.

Most autonomous driving, if you,

you’re usually just responding to the scene

as opposed to like really asserting yourself in the scene.

Do you think?

I think these sort of control logic conundrums

are not the hard part.

The, you know, let’s see.

What do you think is the hard part

in this whole beautiful, complex problem?

So it’s a lot of freaking software, man.

A lot of smart lines of code.

For sure, in order to have,

create an accurate vector space.

So like you’re coming from image space,

which is like this flow of photons,

you’re going to the camera, cameras,

and then you have this massive bitstream

in image space, and then you have to effectively compress

a massive bitstream corresponding to photons

that knocked off an electron in a camera sensor

and turn that bitstream into a vector space.

By vector space, I mean like, you know,

you’ve got cars and humans and lane lines and curves

and traffic lights and that kind of thing.

Once you’ve got all of that in your head,

once you have an accurate vector space,

the control problem is similar to that of a video game,

like a Grand Theft Auto of Cyberpunk,

if you have accurate vector space.

It’s the control problem is,

I wouldn’t say it’s trivial, it’s not trivial,

but it’s not like some insurmountable thing.

Having an accurate vector space is very difficult.

Yeah, I think we humans don’t give enough respect

to how incredible the human perception system is

to mapping the raw photons to the vector space

representation in our heads.

Your brain is doing an incredible amount of processing

and giving you an image that is a very cleaned up image.

Like when we look around here, we see,

like you see color in the corners of your eyes,

but actually your eyes have very few cones,

like cone receptors in the peripheral vision.

Your eyes are painting color in the peripheral vision.

You don’t realize it,

but their eyes are actually painting color

and your eyes also have like this blood vessels

and all sorts of gnarly things and there’s a blind spot,

but do you see your blind spot?

No, your brain is painting in the missing, the blind spot.

You’re gonna do these things online where you look here

and look at this point and then look at this point

and if it’s in your blind spot,

your brain will just fill in the missing bits.

The peripheral vision is so cool.

It makes you realize all the illusions for vision sciences,

so it makes you realize just how incredible the brain is.

The brain is doing crazy amount of post processing

on the vision signals for your eyes.

It’s insane.

And then even once you get all those vision signals,

your brain is constantly trying to forget

as much as possible.

So human memory is,

perhaps the weakest thing about the brain is memory.

So because memory is so expensive to our brain

and so limited,

your brain is trying to forget as much as possible

and distill the things that you see

into the smallest amounts of information possible.

So your brain is trying to not just get to a vector space,

but get to a vector space that is the smallest possible

vector space of only relevant objects.

And I think you can sort of look inside your brain

or at least I can,

when you drive down the road and try to think about

what your brain is actually doing consciously.

And it’s like you’ll see a car,

because you don’t have cameras,

I don’t have eyes in the back of your head or a side.

So you basically have like two cameras on a slow gimbal.

And eyesight is not that great.

Okay, human eyes are like,

and people are constantly distracted

and thinking about things and texting

and doing all sorts of things they shouldn’t do in a car,

changing the radio station.

So having arguments is like,

so when’s the last time you looked right and left

and rearward, or even diagonally forward

to actually refresh your vector space?

So you’re glancing around and what your mind is doing

is trying to distill the relevant vectors,

basically objects with a position and motion.

And then editing that down to the least amount

that’s necessary for you to drive.

It does seem to be able to edit it down

or compress it even further into things like concepts.

So it’s not, it’s like it goes beyond,

the human mind seems to go sometimes beyond vector space

to sort of space of concepts to where you’ll see a thing.

It’s no longer represented spatially somehow.

It’s almost like a concept that you should be aware of.

Like if this is a school zone,

you’ll remember that as a concept,

which is a weird thing to represent,

but perhaps for driving,

you don’t need to fully represent those things.

Or maybe you get those kind of indirectly.

You need to establish vector space

and then actually have predictions for those vector spaces.

So if you drive past, say a bus and you see that there’s people,

before you drove past the bus,

you saw people crossing or some,

just imagine there’s like a large truck

or something blocking site.

But before you came up to the truck,

you saw that there were some kids about to cross the road

in front of the truck.

Now you can no longer see the kids,

but you would now know, okay,

those kids are probably gonna pass by the truck

and cross the road, even though you cannot see them.

So you have to have memory,

you have to need to remember that there were kids there

and you need to have some forward prediction

of what their position will be at the time of relevance.

So with occlusions and computer vision,

when you can’t see an object anymore,

even when it just walks behind a tree and reappears,

that’s a really, really,

I mean, at least in academic literature,

it’s tracking through occlusions, it’s very difficult.

Yeah, we’re doing it.

I understand this.


So some of it.

It’s like object permanence,

like same thing happens with humans with neural nets.

Like when like a toddler grows up,

like there’s a point in time where they develop,

they have a sense of object permanence.

So before a certain age, if you have a ball or a toy

or whatever, and you put it behind your back

and you pop it out, if they don’t,

before they have object permanence,

it’s like a new thing every time.

It’s like, whoa, this toy went poof, just fared

and now it’s back again and they can’t believe it.

And that they can play peekaboo all day long

because peekaboo is fresh every time.

But then we figured out object permanence,

then they realize, oh no, the object is not gone,

it’s just behind your back.

Sometimes I wish we never did figure out object permanence.

Yeah, so that’s a…

So that’s an important problem to solve.

Yes, so like an important evolution

of the neural nets in the car is

memory across both time and space.

So now you can’t remember, like you have to say,

like how long do you want to remember things for?

And there’s a cost to remembering things for a long time.

So you can like run out of memory

to try to remember too much for too long.

And then you also have things that are stale

if you remember them for too long.

And then you also need things that are remembered over time.

So even if you like say have like,

for our good sake, five seconds of memory on a time basis,

but like let’s say you’re parked at a light

and you saw, use a pedestrian example,

that people were waiting to cross the road

and you can’t quite see them because of an occlusion,

but they might wait for a minute before the light changes

for them to cross the road.

You still need to remember that that’s where they were

and that they’re probably going

to cross the road type of thing.

So even if that exceeds your time based memory,

it should not exceed your space memory.

And I just think the data engine side of that,

so getting the data to learn all of the concepts

that you’re saying now is an incredible process.

It’s this iterative process of just,

it’s this hydranet of many.


We’re changing the name to something else.

Okay, I’m sure it’ll be equally as Rick and Morty like.

There’s a lot of, yeah.

We’ve rearchitected the neural net,

the neural nets in the cars so many times it’s crazy.

Oh, so every time there’s a new major version,

you’ll rename it to something more ridiculous

or memorable and beautiful, sorry.

Not ridiculous, of course.

If you see the full array of neural nets

that are operating in the cars,

it kind of boggles the mind.

There’s so many layers, it’s crazy.

So, yeah.

And we started off with simple neural nets

that were basically image recognition

on a single frame from a single camera

and then trying to knit those together

with C, I should say we’re really primarily running C here

because C++ is too much overhead

and we have our own C compiler.

So to get maximum performance,

we actually wrote our own C compiler

and are continuing to optimize our C compiler

for maximum efficiency.

In fact, we’ve just recently done a new river

on our C compiler that’ll compile directly

to our autopilot hardware.

If you want to compile the whole thing down

with your own compiler, like so efficiency here,

because there’s all kinds of compute,

there’s CPU, GPU, there’s like basic types of things

and you have to somehow figure out the scheduling

across all of those things.

And so you’re compiling the code down that does all, okay.

So that’s why there’s a lot of people involved.

There’s a lot of hardcore software engineering

at a very sort of bare metal level

because we’re trying to do a lot of compute

that’s constrained to our full self driving computer.

So we want to try to have the highest frames per second

possible in a sort of very finite amount of compute

and power.

So we really put a lot of effort into the efficiency

of our compute.

And so there’s actually a lot of work done

by some very talented software engineers at Tesla

that at a very foundational level

to improve the efficiency of compute

and how we use the trip accelerators,

which are basically, you know,

doing matrix math dot products,

like a bazillion dot products.

And it’s like, what are neural nets?

It’s like compute wise, like 99% dot products.

So, you know.

And you want to achieve as many high frame rates

like a video game.

You want full resolution, high frame rate.

High frame rate, low latency, low jitter.

So I think one of the things we’re moving towards now

is no post processing of the image

through the image signal processor.

So like what happens for cameras is that,

almost all cameras is they,

there’s a lot of post processing done

in order to make pictures look pretty.

And so we don’t care about pictures looking pretty.

We just want the data.

So we’re moving just raw photon counts.

So the system will, like the image that the computer sees

is actually much more than what you’d see

if you represented it on a camera.

It’s got much more data.

And even in a very low light conditions,

you can see that there’s a small photon count difference

between this spot here and that spot there,

which means that,

so it can see in the dark incredibly well

because it can detect these tiny differences

in photon counts.

Like much better than you could possibly imagine.

So, and then we also save 13 milliseconds on a latency.


From removing the post processing on the image?


It’s like,

it’s incredible.

Cause we’ve got eight cameras

and then there’s roughly, I don’t know,

one and a half milliseconds or so,

maybe 1.6 milliseconds of latency for each camera.

And so like going to just,

basically bypassing the image processor

gets us back 13 milliseconds of latency,

which is important.

And we track latency all the way from, you know,

photon hits the camera to, you know,

all the steps that it’s got to go through to get,

you know, go through the various neural nets

and the C code.

And there’s a little bit of C++ there as well.

Well, I can maybe a lot, but it,

the core stuff is heavy duty computers all in C.

And so we track that latency all the way

to an output command to the drive unit to accelerate

the brakes just to slow down the steering,

you know, turn left or right.

So, cause you go to output a command

that’s got to go to a controller.

And like some of these controllers have an update frequency

that’s maybe 10 Hertz or something like that,

which is slow.

That’s like now you lose a hundred milliseconds potentially.

So, so then we want to update the,

the drivers on the like say steering and braking control

to have more like a hundred Hertz instead of 10 Hertz.

And then you’ve got a 10 millisecond latency

instead of a hundred millisecond worst case latency.

And actually jitter is more of a challenge than latency.

Cause latency is like, you can, you can,

you can anticipate and predict, but if you’re,

but if you’ve got a stack up of things going

from the camera to the, to the computer through

then a series of other computers,

and finally to an actuator on the car,

if you have a stack up of tolerances of timing tolerances,

then you can have quite a variable latency,

which is called jitter.

And, and that makes it hard to, to, to anticipate exactly

what, how you should turn the car or accelerate,

because if you’ve got maybe a hundred,

50, 200 milliseconds of jitter,

then you could be off by, you know, up to 0.2 seconds.

And this can make, this could make a big difference.

So you have to interpolate somehow to, to, to,

to deal with the effects of jitter.

So that you can make like robust control decisions.

You have to, so the jitters and the sensor information,

or the jitter can occur at any stage in the pipeline.

You can, if you have just, if you have fixed latency,

you can anticipate and, and like say, okay,

we know that our information is for argument’s sake,

150 milliseconds stale.

Like, so for, for, for 150 milliseconds

from photon second camera to where you can measure a change

in the acceleration of the vehicle.

So then, then you can say, okay, well, we’re going to enter,

we know it’s 150 milliseconds.

So we’re going to take that into account

and, and compensate for that latency.

However, if you’ve got then 150 milliseconds of latency

plus a hundred milliseconds of jitter,

that’s which could be anywhere from zero,

zero to a hundred milliseconds on top.

So, so then your latency could be from 150 to 250 milliseconds.

Now you’ve got a hundred milliseconds

that you don’t know what to do with.

And that’s basically random.

So getting rid of jitter is extremely important.

And that affects your control decisions

and all those kinds of things.


Yeah, the car’s just going to fundamentally maneuver better

with lower jitter.

Got it.

The cars will maneuver with superhuman ability

and reaction time much faster than a human.

I mean, I think over time the autopilot,

full self driving will be capable of maneuvers

that are far more than what like James Bond could do

in like the best movie type of thing.

That’s exactly what I was imagining in my mind,

as you said it.

It’s like an impossible maneuvers

that a human couldn’t do.

Yeah, so.

Well, let me ask sort of looking back the six years,

looking out into the future,

based on your current understanding,

how hard do you think this,

this full self driving problem,

when do you think Tesla will solve level four FSD?

I mean, it’s looking quite likely

that it will be next year.

And what does the solution look like?

Is it the current pool of FSD beta candidates,

they start getting greater and greater

as they have been degrees of autonomy,

and then there’s a certain level

beyond which they can do their own,

they can read a book.

Yeah, so.

I mean, you can see that anybody

who’s been following the full self driving beta closely

will see that the rate of disengagements

has been dropping rapidly.

So like disengagement be where the driver intervenes

to prevent the car from doing something dangerous,

potentially, so.

So the interventions per million miles

has been dropping dramatically at some point.

And that trend looks like it happens next year

is that the probability of an accident on FSD

is less than that of the average human,

and then significantly less than that of the average human.

So it certainly appears like we will get there next year.

Then of course, then there’s gonna be a case of,

okay, well, we now have to prove this to regulators

and prove it to, you know, and we want a standard

that is not just equivalent to a human,

but much better than the average human.

I think it’s gotta be at least two or three times

two or three times higher safety than a human.

So two or three times lower probability of injury

than a human before we would actually say like,

okay, it’s okay to go, it’s not gonna be equivalent,

it’s gonna be much better.

So if you look, FSD 10.6 just came out recently,

10.7 is on the way, maybe 11 is on the way,

so we’re in the future.

Yeah, we were hoping to get 11 out this year,

but 11 actually has a whole bunch of fundamental rewrites

on the neural net architecture,

and some fundamental improvements

in creating vector space, so.

There is some fundamental like leap

that really deserves the 11,

I mean, that’s a pretty cool number.

Yeah, 11 would be a single stack

for all, you know, one stack to rule them all.

But there are just some really fundamental

neural net architecture changes

that will allow for much more capability,

but at first they’re gonna have issues.

So like we have this working on like sort of alpha software

and it’s good, but it’s basically taking a whole bunch

of C, C++ code and leading a massive amount of C++ code

and replacing it with a neural net.

And Andre makes this point a lot,

which is like neural nets are kind of eating software.

Over time there’s like less and less conventional software,

more and more neural net, which is still software,

but it’s, you know, still comes out the lines of software,

but it’s more neural net stuff

and less, you know, heuristics basically.

More matrix based stuff and less heuristics based stuff.

And, you know, like one of the big changes will be,

like right now the neural nets will deliver

a giant bag of points to the C++ or C and C++ code.

We call it the giant bag of points.

And it’s like, so you’ve got a pixel and something associated

with that pixel.

Like this pixel is probably car.

The pixel is probably lane line.

Then you’ve got to assemble this giant bag of points

in the C code and turn it into vectors.

And it does a pretty good job of it, but it’s,

we want to just, you know,

we need another layer of neural nets on top of that

to take the giant bag of points and distill that down

to a vector space in the neural net part of the software,

as opposed to the heuristics part of the software.

This is a big improvement.

Neural nets all the way down.

That’s what you want.

It’s not even all neural nets, but this will be just a,

this is a game changer to not have the bag of points,

the giant bag of points that has to be assembled

with many lines of C++ and have the,

and have a neural net just assemble those into a vector.

So the neural net is outputting much, much less data.

It’s outputting, this is a lane line.

This is a curb.

This is drivable space.

This is a car.

This is a pedestrian or a cyclist or something like that.

It’s outputting, it’s really outputting proper vectors

to the C, C++ control code,

as opposed to the sort of constructing the vectors in C,

which we’ve done, I think, quite a good job of,

but we’re kind of hitting a local maximum

on how well the C can do this.

So this is really a big deal.

And just all of the networks in the car

need to move to surround video.

There’s still some legacy networks that are not surround video.

And all of the training needs to move to surround video

and the efficiency of the training,

it needs to get better and it is.

And then we need to move everything to raw photon counts

as opposed to processed images,

which is quite a big reset on the training

because the system’s trained on post processed images.

So we need to redo all the training

to train against the raw photon counts

instead of the post processed image.

So ultimately, it’s kind of reducing the complexity

of the whole thing.

So reducing the…

Lines of code will actually go lower.

Yeah, that’s fascinating.

So you’re doing fusion of all the sensors

and reducing the complexity of having to deal with these…

Fusion of the cameras.

Fusion of the cameras, really.

Right, yes.

Same with humans.

Well, I guess we’ve got ears too.

Yeah, we’ll actually need to incorporate sound as well

because you need to listen for ambulance sirens

or fire trucks or somebody yelling at you or something.

I don’t know.

There’s a little bit of audio that needs to be incorporated as well.

Do you need to go back for a break?

Yeah, sure, let’s take a break.


Honestly, frankly, the ideas are the easy thing

and the implementation is the hard thing.

The idea of going to the moon is the easy part.

Not going to the moon is the hard part.

It’s the hard part.

And there’s a lot of hardcore engineering

that’s got to get done at the hardware and software level.

Like I said, optimizing the C compiler

and just cutting out latency everywhere.

If we don’t do this, the system will not work properly.

So the work of the engineers doing this,

they are like the unsung heroes,

but they are critical to the success of the situation.

I think you made it clear.

I mean, at least to me, it’s super exciting.

Everything that’s going on outside of what Andre is doing.

Just the whole infrastructure, the software.

I mean, everything is going on with Data Engine,

whatever it’s called.

The whole process is just work of art to me.

The sheer scale of it boggles my mind.

Like the training, the amount of work done with,

like we’ve written all this custom software for training and labeling

and to do auto labeling.

Auto labeling is essential.

Because especially when you’ve got surround video, it’s very difficult.

To label surround video from scratch is extremely difficult.

Like take a human such a long time to even label one video clip,

like several hours.

Or the auto label, basically we just apply heavy duty,

like a lot of compute to the video clips to preassign

and guess what all the things are that are going on in the surround video.

And then there’s like correcting it.


And then all the human has to do is like tweet,

like say, adjust what is incorrect.

This is like increases productivity by in fact a hundred or more.


So you’ve presented Tesla Bot as primarily useful in the factory.

First of all, I think humanoid robots are incredible.

From a fan of robotics, I think the elegance of movement

that humanoid robots, that bipedal robots show are just so cool.

So it’s really interesting that you’re working on this

and also talking about applying the same kind of all the ideas,

some of which we’ve talked about with Data Engine,

all the things that we’re talking about with Tesla Autopilot,

just transferring that over to just yet another robotics problem.

I have to ask, since I care about human robot interaction,

so the human side of that.

So you’ve talked about mostly in the factory.

Do you see part of this problem that Tesla Bot has to solve

is interacting with humans and potentially having a place like in the home.

So interacting, not just not replacing labor, but also like, I don’t know,

being a friend or an assistant or something like that.

Yeah, I think the possibilities are endless.

It’s not quite in Tesla’s primary mission direction

of accelerating sustainable energy,

but it is an extremely useful thing that we can do for the world,

which is to make a useful humanoid robot that is capable of interacting with the world

and helping in many different ways.

I think if you say extrapolate to many years in the future,

I think work will become optional.

There’s a lot of jobs that if people weren’t paid to do it,

they wouldn’t do it.

It’s not fun necessarily.

If you’re washing dishes all day,

it’s like, you know, even if you really like washing dishes,

you really want to do it for eight hours a day every day.

Probably not.

And then there’s like dangerous work.

And basically, if it’s dangerous, boring,

it has like potential for repetitive stress injury, that kind of thing.

Then that’s really where humanoid robots would add the most value initially.

So that’s what we’re aiming for is for the humanoid robots to do jobs

that people don’t voluntarily want to do.

And then we’ll have to pair that obviously

with some kind of universal basic income in the future.

So I think.

So do you see a world when there’s like hundreds of millions of Tesla bots

doing different, performing different tasks throughout the world?

Yeah, I haven’t really thought about it that far into the future,

but I guess there may be something like that.


Can I ask a wild question?

So the number of Tesla cars has been accelerating.

There’s been close to two million produced.

Many of them have autopilot.

I think we’re over two million now.

Do you think there will ever be a time when there will be more Tesla bots

than Tesla cars?


Actually, it’s funny you asked this question,

because normally I do try to think pretty far into the future,

but I haven’t really thought that far into the future with the Tesla bot,

or it’s codenamed Optimus.

I call it Optimus subprime.

It’s not like a giant transformer robot.


But it’s meant to be a general purpose, helpful bot.

And basically, like the things that we’re basically like, like,

Tesla, I think is the has the most advanced real world AI

for interacting with the real world,

which are developed as a function of to make self driving work.

And so along with custom hardware and like a lot of, you know,

hardcore low level software to have it run efficiently

and be power efficient because it’s one thing to do neural nets

if you’ve got a gigantic server room with 10,000 computers.

But now let’s say you just you have to now distill that down

into one computer that’s running at low power in a humanoid robot or a car.

That’s actually very difficult.

A lot of hardcore software work is required for that.

So since we’re kind of like solving the navigate the real world

with neural nets problem for cars,

which are kind of robots with four wheels,

then it’s like kind of a natural extension of that is to put it

in a robot with arms and legs and actuators.

So like the two hard things are like you basically need to make the

have the robot be intelligent enough to interact in a sensible way

with the environment.

So you need real world AI and you need to be very good at manufacturing,

which is a very hard problem.

Tesla is very good at manufacturing and also has the real world AI.

So making the humanoid robot work is basically means developing custom motors

and sensors that are different from what a car would use.

But we’ve also we have I think we have the best expertise

in developing advanced electric motors and power electronics.

So it just has to be for humanoid robot application on a car.

Still, you do talk about love sometimes.

So let me ask.

This isn’t like for like sex robots or something like that.

Love is the answer.


There is something compelling to us, not compelling,

but we connect with humanoid robots or even like robots like with the dog

and shapes of dogs.

It just it seems like, you know, there’s a huge amount of loneliness in this world.

All of us seek companionship with other humans, friendship

and all those kinds of things.

We have a lot of here in Austin, a lot of people have dogs.

There seems to be a huge opportunity to also have robots that decrease

the amount of loneliness in the world or help us humans connect with each other.

So in a way that dogs can.

Do you think about that with TeslaBot at all?

Or is it really focused on the problem of performing specific tasks,

not connecting with humans?

I mean, to be honest, I have not actually thought about it from the companionship

standpoint, but I think it actually would end up being it could be actually

a very good companion.

And it could develop like a personality over time that is that is like unique,

like, you know, it’s not like they’re just all the robots are the same

and that personality could evolve to be, you know,

match the owner or the, you know, yes, the owner.

Well, whatever you want to call it.

The other half, right?

In the same way that friends do.

See, I think that’s a huge opportunity.

Yeah, no, that’s interesting.

Because, you know, like there’s a Japanese phrase I like, Wabi Sabi,

you know, the subtle imperfections are what makes something special.

And the subtle imperfections of the personality of the robot mapped

to the subtle imperfections of the robot’s human friend.

I don’t know, owner sounds like maybe the wrong word,

but could actually make an incredible buddy, basically.

In that way, the imperfections.

Like R2D2 or like a C3PO sort of thing, you know.

So from a machine learning perspective,

I think the flaws being a feature is really nice.

You could be quite terrible at being a robot for quite a while

in the general home environment or in general world.

And that’s kind of adorable.

And that’s like, those are your flaws and you fall in love with those flaws.

So it’s very different than autonomous driving

where it’s a very high stakes environment you cannot mess up.

And so it’s more fun to be a robot in the home.

Yeah, in fact, if you think of like C3PO and R2D2,

like they actually had a lot of like flaws and imperfections

and silly things and they would argue with each other.

Were they actually good at doing anything?

I’m not exactly sure.

They definitely added a lot to the story.

But there’s sort of quirky elements and, you know,

that they would like make mistakes and do things.

It was like it made them relatable, I don’t know, enduring.

So yeah, I think that that could be something that probably would happen.

But our initial focus is just to make it useful.

So I’m confident we’ll get it done.

I’m not sure what the exact timeframe is,

but like we’ll probably have, I don’t know,

a decent prototype towards the end of next year or something like that.

And it’s cool that it’s connected to Tesla, the car.

Yeah, it’s using a lot of, you know,

it would use the autopilot inference computer

and a lot of the training that we’ve done for cars

in terms of recognizing real world things

could be applied directly to the robot.

But there’s a lot of custom actuators and sensors that need to be developed.

And an extra module on top of the vector space for love.


That’s what I’m saying.

We can add that to the car too.

That’s true.

Yeah, it could be useful in all environments.

Like you said, a lot of people argue in the car,

so maybe we can help them out.

You’re a student of history,

fan of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast.

Yeah, it’s great.

Greatest podcast ever?

Yeah, I think it is actually.

It almost doesn’t really count as a podcast.

It’s more like an audio book.

So you were on the podcast with Dan.

I just had a chat with him about it.

He said you guys went military and all that kind of stuff.

Yeah, it was basically, it should be titled Engineer Wars, essentially.

Like when there’s a rapid change in the rate of technology,

then engineering plays a pivotal role in victory and battle.

How far back in history did you go?

Did you go World War II?

Well, it was supposed to be a deep dive on fighters and bomber technology in World War II,

but that ended up being more wide ranging than that,

because I just went down the total rathole of studying all of the fighters and bombers of World War II

and the constant rock, paper, scissors game that one country would make this plane,

then it would make a plane to beat that, and that country would make a plane to beat that.

And really what matters is the pace of innovation

and also access to high quality fuel and raw materials.

Germany had some amazing designs, but they couldn’t make them

because they couldn’t get the raw materials,

and they had a real problem with the oil and fuel, basically.

The fuel quality was extremely variable.

So the design wasn’t the bottleneck?

Yeah, the U.S. had kickass fuel that was very consistent.

The problem is if you make a very high performance aircraft engine,

in order to make it high performance, the fuel, the aviation gas,

has to be a consistent mixture and it has to have a high octane.

High octane is the most important thing, but it also can’t have impurities and stuff

because you’ll foul up the engine.

And Germany just never had good access to oil.

They tried to get it by invading the Caucasus, but that didn’t work too well.

It never worked so well.

It didn’t work out for them.

See you, Jerry.

Nice to meet you.

Germany was always struggling with basically shitty oil,

and they couldn’t count on high quality fuel for their aircraft,

so they had to have all these additives and stuff.

Whereas the U.S. had awesome fuel, and they provided that to Britain as well.

So that allowed the British and the Americans to design aircraft engines

that were super high performance, better than anything else in the world.

Germany could design the engines, they just didn’t have the fuel.

And then also the quality of the aluminum alloys that they were getting

was also not that great.

Is this like, you talked about all this with Dan?



Broadly looking at history, when you look at Genghis Khan,

when you look at Stalin, Hitler, the darkest moments of human history,

what do you take away from those moments?

Does it help you gain insight about human nature, about human behavior today,

whether it’s the wars or the individuals or just the behavior of people,

any aspects of history?

Yeah, I find history fascinating.

There’s just a lot of incredible things that have been done, good and bad,

that they help you understand the nature of civilization and individuals.

Does it make you sad that humans do these kinds of things to each other?

You look at the 20th century, World War II, the cruelty, the abuse of power,

talk about communism, Marxism, and Stalin.

I mean, there’s a lot of human history.

Most of it is actually people just getting on with their lives,

and it’s not like human history is just nonstop war and disaster.

Those are actually just, those are intermittent and rare.

If they weren’t, then humans would soon cease to exist.

But it’s just that wars tend to be written about a lot,

whereas something being like, well,

a normal year where nothing major happened doesn’t get written about much.

But that’s, most people just like farming and kind of living their life,

being a villager somewhere.

And every now and again, there’s a war.

And I would have to say, there aren’t very many books where I just had to stop reading

because it was just too dark.

But the book about Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar, I had to stop reading.

It was just too dark and rough.


The 30s, there’s a lot of lessons there to me,

in particular that it feels like humans,

like all of us have that, it’s the old Solzhenitsyn line,

that the line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man,

that all of us are capable of evil, all of us are capable of good.

It’s almost like this kind of responsibility that all of us have

to tend towards the good.

And so to me, looking at history is almost like an example of,

look, you have some charismatic leader that convinces you of things.

It’s too easy, based on that story, to do evil onto each other,

onto your family, onto others.

And so it’s like our responsibility to do good.

It’s not like now is somehow different from history.

That can happen again. All of it can happen again.

And yes, most of the time, you’re right,

the optimistic view here is mostly people are just living life.

And as you’ve often memed about, the quality of life was way worse

back in the day, and this keeps improving over time

through innovation, through technology.

But still, it’s somehow notable that these blimps of atrocities happen.


Yeah, I mean, life was really tough for most of history.

I mean, for most of human history, a good year would be one

where not that many people in your village died of the plague,

starvation, freezing to death, or being killed by a neighboring village.

It’s like, well, it wasn’t that bad.

It was only like we lost 5% this year.

That was a good year.

That would be par for the course.

Just not starving to death would have been the primary goal

of most people throughout history,

is making sure we’ll have enough food to last through the winter

and not freeze or whatever.

So, now food is plentiful.

I have an obesity problem.

Well, yeah, the lesson there is to be grateful for the way things are now

for some of us.

We’ve spoken about this offline.

I’d love to get your thought about it here.

If I sat down for a long form in person conversation with the President of Russia,

Vladimir Putin, would you potentially want to call in for a few minutes

to join in on a conversation with him, moderated and translated by me?

Sure, yeah.

Sure, I’d be happy to do that.

You’ve shown interest in the Russian language.

Is this grounded in your interest in history of linguistics, culture, general curiosity?

I think it sounds cool.

Sounds cool and that looks cool.

Well, it takes a moment to read Cyrillic.

Once you know what the Cyrillic characters stand for,

actually then reading Russian becomes a lot easier

because there are a lot of words that are actually the same.

Like bank is bank.

So find the words that are exactly the same and now you start to understand Cyrillic.

If you can sound it out, there’s at least some commonality of words.

What about the culture?

You love great engineering, physics.

There’s a tradition of the sciences there.

You look at the 20th century from rocketry.

Some of the greatest rockets, some of the space exploration has been done in the former Soviet Union.

So do you draw inspiration from that history?

Just how this culture that in many ways, one of the sad things is because of the language,

a lot of it is lost to history because it’s not translated.

Because it is in some ways an isolated culture.

It flourishes within its borders.

So do you draw inspiration from those folks, from the history of science engineering there?

The Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine as well have a really strong history in space flight.

Some of the most advanced and impressive things in history were done by the Soviet Union.

So one cannot help but admire the impressive rocket technology that was developed.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, there’s much less that then happened.

But still things are happening, but it’s not quite at the frenetic pace that it was happening before the Soviet Union kind of dissolved into separate republics.

Yeah, there’s Roscosmos, the Russian agency.

I look forward to a time when those countries with China are working together.

The United States are all working together.

Maybe a little bit of friendly competition.

I think friendly competition is good.

Governments are slow and the only thing slower than one government is a collection of governments.

So the Olympics would be boring if everyone just crossed the finishing line at the same time.

Nobody would watch.

And people wouldn’t try hard to run fast and stuff.

So I think friendly competition is a good thing.

This is also a good place to give a shout out to a video titled,

The Entire Soviet Rocket Engine Family Tree by Tim Dodd, AKA Everyday Astronaut.

It’s like an hour and a half.

It gives the full history of Soviet rockets.

And people should definitely go check out and support Tim in general.

That guy is super excited about the future, super excited about space flight.

Every time I see anything by him, I just have a stupid smile on my face because he’s so excited about stuff.

Yeah, Tim Dodd is really great.

If you’re interested in anything to do with space, he’s, in terms of explaining rocket technology to your average person, he’s awesome.

The best, I’d say.

And I should say like the part of the reason like I switched us from like Rafter at one point was going to be a hydrogen engine.

But hydrogen has a lot of challenges.

It’s very low density.

It’s a deep cryogen.

So it’s only liquid at a very, very close to absolute zero.

Requires a lot of insulation.

So it is a lot of challenges there.

And I was actually reading a bit about Russian rocket engine developments.

And at least the impression I had was that the Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine primarily were actually in the process of switching to Methalox.

And there were some interesting tests and data for ISP.

Like they were able to get like up to like a 380 second ISP with the Methalox engine.

And I was like, well, OK, that’s actually really impressive.

So I think you could actually get a much lower cost, like in optimizing cost per ton to orbit, cost per ton to Mars.

I think Methalox is the way to go.

And I was partly inspired by the Russian work on the test stands with Methalox engines.

And now for something completely different.

Do you mind doing a bit of a meme review in the spirit of the great, the powerful PewDiePie?

Let’s say 1 to 11.

Just go over a few documents printed out.

We can try.

Let’s try this.

I present to you document numero uno.

I don’t know. OK.

Vladimir Impaler discovers marshmallows.

That’s not bad.

So you get it? Because he likes impaling things.

Yes, I get it.

I don’t know, three, whatever.

That’s not very good.

This is grounded in some engineering, some history.

Yeah, give us an eight out of ten.

What do you think about nuclear power?

I’m in favor of nuclear power.

I think in a place that is not subject to extreme natural disasters, I think nuclear power is a great way to generate electricity.

I don’t think we should be shutting down nuclear power stations.

Yeah, but what about Chernobyl?


I think there’s a lot of fear of radiation and stuff.

The problem is a lot of people just don’t study engineering or physics.

Just the word radiation just sounds scary.

They can’t calibrate what radiation means.

But radiation is much less dangerous than you think.

For example, Fukushima, when the Fukushima problem happened due to the tsunami,

I got people in California asking me if they should worry about radiation from Fukushima.

I’m like, definitely not, not even slightly, not at all.

That is crazy.

Just to show this is how the danger is so much overplayed compared to what it really is that I actually flew to Fukushima.

I donated a solar power system for a water treatment plant, and I made a point of eating locally grown vegetables on TV in Fukushima.

I’m still alive.

So it’s not even that the risk of these events is low, but the impact of them is…

The impact is greatly exaggerated.

It’s human nature.

People don’t know what radiation is.

I’ve had people ask me, what about radiation from cell phones causing brain cancer?

I’m like, when you say radiation, do you mean photons or particles?

They’re like, I don’t know, what do you mean photons or particles?

Do you mean, let’s say, photons?

What frequency or wavelength?

And they’re like, I have no idea.

Do you know that everything’s radiating all the time?

What do you mean?

Like, yeah, everything’s radiating all the time.

Photons are being emitted by all objects all the time, basically.

And if you want to know what it means to stand in front of nuclear fire, go outside.

The sun is a gigantic thermonuclear reactor that you’re staring right at it.

Are you still alive?


Okay, amazing.

Yeah, I guess radiation is one of the words that could be used as a tool to fear monger by certain people.

That’s it.

I think people just don’t understand.

I mean, that’s the way to fight that fear, I suppose, is to understand, is to learn.

Yeah, just say, okay, how many people have actually died from nuclear accidents?

It’s practically nothing.

And say, how many people have died from coal plants?

And it’s a very big number.

So, like, obviously we should not be starting up coal plants and shutting down nuclear plants.

It just doesn’t make any sense at all.

Coal plants, like, I don’t know, 100 to 1,000 times worse for health than nuclear power plants.

You want to go to the next one?

This is really bad.

It’s 90, 180, and 360 degrees.

Everybody loves the math.

Nobody gives a shit about 270.

It’s not super funny.

I don’t know, like, 203.

This is not a, you know, LOL situation.


That was pretty good.

The United States oscillating between establishing and destroying dictatorships.

It’s like a metronome.

Is that a metronome?

Yeah, it’s out of 7 out of 10.

It’s kind of true.

Oh, yeah, this is kind of personal for me.

Next one.

Oh, man.

Is this Leica?


Well, no.

Or it’s like referring to Leica or something?

As Leica’s, like, husband.


Yeah, yeah.


Yes, this is dog.

Your wife was launched into space.

And then the last one is him with his eyes closed and a bottle of vodka.


Leica didn’t come back.


They don’t tell you the full story of, you know, what the impact they had on the loved




It’s like 711 for me.


The Soviet shadow.

Oh, yeah.

This keeps going on the Russian theme.

First man in space.

Nobody cares.

First man on the moon.

Well, I think people do care.

No, I know.


There is…

Yuri Gagarin’s name will be forever in history, I think.

There is something special about placing, like, stepping foot onto another totally foreign


It’s not the journey, like, people that explore the oceans.

It’s not as important to explore the oceans as to land on a whole new continent.


Well, this is about you.

Oh, yeah, I’d love to get your comment on this.

Elon Musk, after sending 6.6 billion dollars to the UN to end world hunger, you have three


Yeah, well, I mean, obviously, 6 billion dollars is not going to end world hunger.

So I mean, the reality is at this point, the world is producing far more food than it can

really consume.

Like, we don’t have a caloric constraint at this point.

So where there is hunger, it is almost always due to, like, civil war or strife or some

like, it’s not a thing that is extremely rare for it to be just a matter of, like, lack

of money.

It’s like, you know, it’s like some civil war in some country and like one part of the

country is literally trying to starve the other part of the country.

So it’s much more complex than something that money could solve.

It’s geopolitics.

It’s a lot of things.

It’s human nature.

It’s governments.

It’s money, monetary systems, all that kind of stuff.

Yeah, food is extremely cheap these days.

It’s like, I mean, the US at this point, you know, among low income families, obesity is

actually another problem.

It’s not, like, obesity, it’s not hunger.

It’s like too much, you know, too many calories.

So it’s not that nobody’s hungry anywhere.

It’s just, this is not a simple matter of adding money and solving it.


What do you think that one gets?

It’s getting…


We’re just going after empires, world, where did you get those artifacts?

The British Museum.

Shout out to Monty Python.

We found them.


The British Museum is pretty great.

I mean, admittedly Britain did take these historical artifacts from all around the world

and put them in London, but, you know, it’s not like people can’t go see them.

So it is a convenient place to see these ancient artifacts is London for, you know, for a large

segment of the world.

So I think, you know, on balance, the British Museum is a net good, although I’m sure a

lot of countries will argue about that.


It’s like you want to make these historical artifacts accessible to as many people as

possible and the British Museum, I think, does a good job of that.

Even if there’s a darker aspect to like the history of empire in general, whatever the

empire is, however things were done, it is the history that happened.

You can’t sort of erase that history, unfortunately.

You could just become better in the future.

That’s the point.


I mean, it’s like, well, how are we going to pass moral judgment on these things?

Like it’s like if, you know, if one is going to judge, say, the Russian Empire, you’ve

got to judge, you know, what everyone was doing at the time and how were the British

relative to everyone.

And I think the British would actually get like a relatively good grade, relatively good

grade, not in absolute terms, but compared to what everyone else was doing, they were

not the worst.

Like I said, you got to look at these things in the context of the history at the time

and say, what were the alternatives and what are you comparing it against?

And I do not think it would be the case that Britain would get a bad grade when looking

at history at the time.

You know, if you judge history from, you know, from what is morally acceptable today, you

basically are going to give everyone a failing grade.

I’m not clear.

It’s not, I don’t think anyone would get a passing grade in their morality of like you

could go back 300 years ago, like who’s getting a passing grade?

Basically no one.

And we might not get a passing grade from generations that come after us.

What does that one get?


Six, seven.

For the Monty Python, maybe.

I always love Monty Python.

They’re great.

The Life of Brian and the Quest of the Holy Grail are incredible.


Those serious eyebrows.

How important do you think is facial hair to great leadership?

Well, you got a new haircut.

How does that affect your leadership?

I don’t know.

Hopefully not.

It doesn’t.

Is that the second no one?


The second is no one.

There is no one competing with Brezhnev.

No one, too.

Those are like epic eyebrows.



That’s ridiculous.

Give it a six or seven, I don’t know.

I like this Shakespearean analysis of memes.

Brezhnev, he had a flair for drama as well.

Like, you know, showmanship.


It must come from the eyebrows.

All right.

Invention, great engineering, look what I invented, that’s the best thing since ripped

up bread.


Because they invented sliced bread, am I just explaining memes at this point?

This is where my life has become a meme, what it like, you know, like a scribe that like

runs around with the kings and just like writes down memes.

I mean, when was the cheeseburger invented?

That’s like an epic invention.


Like, like, wow.


Versus just like a burger or a burger, I guess a burger in general is like, you know, then

there’s like, what is a burger, what’s a sandwich, and then you start getting a pizza sandwich

and what is the original, it gets into an ontology argument.


But everybody knows like if you order like a burger or cheeseburger or whatever and you

like, you got like, you know, tomato and some lettuce and onions and whatever and, you know,

mayor and ketchup and mustard, it’s like epic.


But I’m sure they’ve had bread and meat separately for a long time and it was kind of a burger

on the same plate, but somebody who actually combined them into the same thing and then

you bite it and hold it makes it convenient.

It’s a materials problem.


Like your hands don’t get dirty and whatever.


It’s brilliant.

Well, that is not what I would have guessed, but everyone knows like you, if you order

a cheeseburger, you know what you’re getting, you know, it’s not like some obtuse, like,

well, I wonder what I’ll get, you know, um, you know, uh, fries are, I mean, great.

I mean, they were the devil, but fries are awesome.

And uh, yeah, pizza is incredible.

Food innovation doesn’t get enough love, I guess is what we’re getting at.


Um, uh, what about the, uh, Matthew McConaughey, Austinite here, uh, president Kennedy, do

you know how to put men on the moon yet?



President Kennedy, it’d be a lot cooler if you did.

Pretty much sure, six, six or seven, I suppose.

All right.

And this is the last one that’s funny.

Someone drew a bunch of dicks all over the walls, 16 chapel boys bath.


I’ll give it a nine.

It’s super.

It’s really true.

All right.

This is our highest ranking meme for today.

I mean, it’s true.

Like, how do they get away with it?

Lots of nakedness.

I mean, dick pics are, I mean, just something throughout history.

Uh, as long as people can draw things, there’s been a dick pic.

It’s a staple of human history.

It’s a staple.

It’s just throughout human history.

You tweeted that you aspire to comedy.

You’re friends with Joe Rogan.

Might you, uh, do a short standup comedy set at some point in the future, maybe, um, open

for Joe, something like that.

Is that, is that…



Actual, just full on standup?

Full on standup.

Is that in there or is that…

It’s extremely difficult if, uh, at least that’s what, uh, like Joe says and the comedians



I wonder if I could, um, I mean, I, I, you know, I, I have done standup for friends,

just, uh, impromptu, you know, I’ll get, get on like a roof, uh, and they, they do laugh,

but they’re our friends too.

So I don’t know if, if you’ve got to call, you know, like a room of strangers, are they

going to actually also find it funny, but I could try, see what happens.

I think you’d learn something either way.

Um, yeah.

I kind of love, um, both the, when you bomb and when, when you do great, just watching

people, how they deal with it, it’s so difficult.

It’s so, you’re so fragile up there.

It’s just you and you, you think you’re going to be funny.

And when it completely falls flat, it’s just, it’s beautiful to see people deal with like



I might have enough material to do standup.

I’ve never thought about it, but I might have enough material.

Um, I don’t know, like 15 minutes or something.

Oh yeah.


Do a Netflix special.

Netflix special.


Um, what’s your favorite Rick and Morty concept, uh, just to spring that on you.

Is there, there’s a lot of sort of scientific engineering ideas explored there.

There’s the butter robot.

That’s a great, uh, that’s a great show.

Um, yeah.

Rick and Morty is awesome.

Somebody that’s exactly like you from an alternate dimension showed up there.

Elon Tusk.

Yeah, that’s right.

That you voiced.


Rick and Morty certainly explores a lot of interesting concepts.

Uh, so like what’s the favorite one?

I don’t know.

The butter robot certainly is, uh, you know, it’s like, it’s certainly possible to have

too much sentience in a device.

Um, like you don’t want to have your toast to be like a super genius toaster.

It’s going to hate, hate life cause all it could do is make his toast.

But if it’s like, you don’t want to have like super intelligent stuck in a very limited


Um, do you think it’s too easy from a, if we’re talking about from the engineering perspective

of super intelligence, like with Marvin the robot, like, is it, it seems like it might

be very easy to engineer just the depressed robot.

Like it’s not obvious to engineer and robot that’s going to find a fulfilling existence.

Sometimes humans I suppose, but, um, I wonder if that’s like the default, if you don’t do

a good job on building a robot, it’s going to be sad a lot.

Well we can reprogram robots easier than we can reprogram humans.

So I guess if you let it evolve without tinkering, then it might get a sad, uh, but you can change

the optimization function and have it be a cheery robot.

You uh, like I mentioned with, with SpaceX, you give a lot of people hope and a lot of

people look up to you.

Millions of people look up to you.

Uh, if we think about young people in high school, maybe in college, um, what advice

would you give to them about if they want to try to do something big in this world,

they want to really have a big positive impact.

What advice would you give them about their career, maybe about life in general?

Try to be useful.

Um, you know, do things that are useful to your fellow human beings, to the world.

It’s very hard to be useful.

Um, very hard.

Um, you know, are you contributing more than you consume?

You know, like, uh, like can you try to have a positive net contribution to society?

Um, I think that’s the thing to aim for, you know, not, not to try to be sort of a leader

for just for the sake of being a leader or whatever.

Um, a lot of time people, a lot of times the people you want as leaders are the people

who don’t want to be leaders.

So, um, if you live a useful life, that is a good life, a life worth having lived.

Um, you know, and I, like I said, I would, I would encourage people to use the mental

tools of physics and apply them broadly in life.

There are the best tools.

When you think about education and self education, what do you recommend?

So there’s the university, there’s a self study, there is a hands on sort of finding

a company or a place or a set of people that do the thing you’re passionate about and joining

them as early as possible.

Um, there’s, uh, taking a road trip across Europe for a few years and writing some poetry,

which, uh, which, which trajectory do you suggest?

In terms of learning about how you can become useful, as you mentioned, how you can have

the most positive impact.

Well, I encourage people to read a lot of books, just read, basically try to ingest

as much information as you can, uh, and try to also just develop a good general knowledge.

Um, so, so you at least have like a rough lay of the land of the knowledge landscape.

Like try to learn a little bit about a lot of things, um, cause you might not know what

you’re really interested in.

How would you know what you’re really interested in if you at least aren’t like doing a peripheral

explore exploration of broadly of, of the knowledge landscape?

Um, and you talk to people from different walks of life and different, uh, industries

and professions and skills and occupations, like just try to learn as much as possible.

Man’s search for meaning.

Isn’t the whole thing a search for meaning?


What’s the meaning of life and all, you know, but just generally, like I said, I would encourage

people to read broadly, um, in many different subject areas, um, and, and, and then try

to find something where there’s an overlap of your talents and, and what you’re interested


So people may, may, may be good at something, but, or they may have skill at a particular

thing, but they don’t like doing it.

Um, so you want to try to find a thing where you have your, that’s a good, a good, a combination

of, of your, of the things that you’re inherently good at, but you also like doing, um, and,


And reading is a super fast shortcut to, to figure out which, where are you, you both

good at it.

You like doing it and it will actually have positive impact.

Well, you got to learn about things somehow.

So read, reading a broad range, just really read, read it.

You know, one point was that kid I read through the encyclopedia, uh, so that was pretty helpful.

Um, and, uh, there are also things that I didn’t even know existed a lot, so obviously


It’s like as broad as it gets.

Encyclopedias were digestible, I think, uh, you know, whatever, 40 years ago.

Um, so, um, you know, maybe read through the, the condensed version of the encyclopedia

of Britannica.

And that, um, you can always like skip subjects or you read a few paragraphs and you know

you’re not interested, just jump to the next one.

That sort of read the encyclopedia or scan, skim, skim through it.

Um, and, um, but I, you know, I put a lot of stock and certainly have a lot of respect

for someone who puts in an honest day’s work, uh, to do useful things and, and just generally

to have like a, not a zero sum mindset, um, or, uh, like have, have more of a grow the

pie mindset.

Like the, if you, if you sort of say like when, when I see people like perhaps, um,

including some very smart people kind of taking an attitude of, uh, like, like, like doing

things that seem like morally questionable, it’s often because they have at a base sort

of axiomatic level, a zero sum mindset.

Um, and, and they, without realizing it, they don’t realize they have a zero sum mindset

or at least that they don’t realize it consciously.

Um, and so if you have a zero sum mindset, then the only way to get ahead is by taking

things from others.

If it’s like, if the, if the, if the pie is fixed, then the only way to have more pie

is to take someone else’s pie.

But this is false.

Like obviously the pie has grown dramatically over time, the economic pie.

Um, so the reality, in reality you can have the, so overuse this analogy, if you have

a lot of, there’s a lot of pie, pie is not fixed.

Um, uh, so you really want to make sure you don’t, you’re not operating, um, without realizing

it from a zero sum mindset where, where the only way to get ahead is to take things from


And you take, try to take things from others, which is not, not good.

It’s much better to work on, uh, adding to the economic pie, maybe, you know, so creating,

like I said, create, creating more than you consume, uh, doing more than you.


Um, so that’s, that’s a big deal.

Um, I think there’s like, you know, a fair number of people in, in finance that, uh,

do have a bit of a zero sum mindset.

I mean, it’s all walks of life.

I’ve seen that one of the, one of the reasons, uh, Rogan inspires me is he celebrates others

a lot.

There’s not, not creating a constant competition.

Like there’s a scarcity of resources.

What happens when you celebrate others and you promote others, the ideas of others, it,

it, uh, it actually grows that pie.

I mean, it, every, like the, uh, the resource, the resources become less scarce and that,

that applies in a lot of kinds of domains.

It applies in academia where a lot of people are very, uh, see some funding for academic

research is zero sum and it is not.

If you celebrate each other, if you make, if you get everybody to be excited about AI,

about physics, above mathematics, I think it, there’ll be more and more funding and

I think everybody wins.


That applies, I think broadly.


yeah, yeah, exactly.

So last, last question about love and meaning, uh, what is the role of love?

In the human condition, broadly and more specific to you, how has love, romantic love or otherwise

made you a better person, a better human being?

Better engineer?

Now you’re asking really perplexing questions.

Um, it’s hard to give a, I mean, there are many books, poems and songs written about

what is love and what is, what exactly, you know, um, you know, what is love, baby don’t

hurt me.

Um, that’s one of the great ones.



You’ve, you’ve earlier quoted Shakespeare, but that that’s really up there.


Love is a many splinter thing.

Uh, I mean there’s, um, it’s cause we’ve talked about so many inspiring things like be useful

in the world, sort of like solve problems, alleviate suffering, but it seems like connection

between humans is a source, you know, it’s a, it’s a source of joys, a source of meaning

and that, that’s what love is, friendship, love.

I just wonder if you think about that kind of thing where you talk about preserving the

light of human consciousness and us becoming a multi planetary, multi planetary species.

I mean, to me at least, um, that, that means like if we’re just alone and conscious and

intelligent and it doesn’t mean nearly as much as if we’re with others, right?

And there’s some magic created when we’re together, the, uh, the, the friendship of


And I think the highest form of it is love, which I think broadly is, is much bigger than

just sort of romantic, but also yes, romantic love and, um, family and those kinds of things.

Well, I mean, the reason I guess I care about us becoming multi planet species in a space

frank civilization is foundationally, I love humanity, um, and, and so I wish to see it

prosper and do great things and be happy and, um, and if I did not love humanity, I would

not care about these things.

So when you look at the whole of it, the human history, all the people who’s ever lived,

all the people live now, it’s pretty, we’re, we’re okay.

On the whole, we’re pretty interesting bunch.


All things considered, and I’ve read a lot of history, including the darkest, worst parts

of it, and, uh, despite all that, I think on balance, I still love humanity.

You joked about it with the 42, uh, what do you, what do you think is the meaning of this

whole thing?

Is like, is there a non numerical representation?


Well, really, I think what Douglas Adams was saying in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

is that, um, the universe is the answer and, uh, what we really need to figure out are

what questions to ask about the answer that is the universe and that the question is the

really the hard part.

And if you can properly frame the question, then the answer, relatively speaking, is easy.

Uh, so, so, so therefore, if you want to understand what questions to ask about the universe,

you want to understand the meaning of life, we need to expand the scope and scale of consciousness

so that we’re better able to understand the nature of the universe and, and understand

the meaning of life.

And ultimately, the most important part would be to ask the right question, thereby elevating

the role of the interviewer as the most important human in the room.

Good questions are, you know, it’s a hard, it’s hard to come up with good questions.


Um, but yeah, like, it’s like that, that is the foundation of my philosophy is that, um,

I am curious about the nature of the universe and, uh, you know, and obviously I will die.

I don’t know when I’ll die, but I won’t live forever.

Um, but I would like to know that we are on a path to understanding the nature of the

universe and the meaning of life and what questions to ask about the answer that is

the universe.

And, um, and so if we expand the scope and scale of humanity and consciousness in general,

um, which includes silicon consciousness, then that, you know, that, that, that seems

like a fundamentally good thing.

Elon, like I said, um, I’m deeply grateful that you would spend your extremely valuable

time with me today and also that you have given millions of people hope in this difficult

time, this divisive time, in this, uh, cynical time.

So I hope you do continue doing what you’re doing.

Thank you so much for talking today.

Oh, you’re welcome.

Uh, thanks for your excellent questions.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with Elon Musk.

To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description.

And now let me leave you with some words from Elon Musk himself.

When something is important enough, you do it, even if the odds are not in your favor.

Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.

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