SpaceX, Tesla, Hyperloop, StarLink, Cybertruck: the man all of these topics have in common is called Elon Musk. Engineer and entrepreneur aged 48 with three nationalities, he is one of the most influential figures in the world of new technologies. Who is he? Where is he from? Where is he going? Portrait of the man who wants to take humanity to space.
First invention at the age of 12
Before being the undisputed star that he is today, Elon Musk was a “nerd”. Between his schoolwork, in his hometown of Pretoria in South Africa, he read the science fiction novels of Isaac Asimov and learned to code on his own on his Commodore VIC-20. At the age of twelve, to test his nascent computer skills, he codes in a BASIC language his own video game, Blastar. This one is certainly very primitive and looks like a Space Invaders or Asteroids. But, like a good little inventor and already an apprentice businessman, Elon Musk, sells the source code of his first creation for the equivalent of 500 dollars to a South African specialist magazine, PC And Office Technology, which published it in December 1984. Former Google programmer now working for SpaceX, Thomas Lloret Llinares, reproduced the famous game in 2015 and made it accessible to everyone.
The Zip2 start-up or geographic targeting ahead of its time
In 1995, when he had just begun doctoral studies in materials science and energy physics, Elon Musk left the benches of Stanford University in California and founded his first start-up. He then held dual nationality – South African and Canadian – which he completed in 2002 with American nationality. As the Internet begins to become more accessible, Elon, and his brother Kimbal, launch Global Link Information Network, aka Zip2. The latter allows advertisers to communicate online with customers by interposed fax – one of the first versions of “web-canvassing”. One of the most innovative features of this concept is “Auto-Guide”, which sends information about local businesses to people who subscribe to online magazines and newspapers. In February 1999, the Musk brothers resell Zip2 to Compaq, wishing to enrich its AltaVista browser, for more than 300 million dollars.
Space, cars, and energy: the initial bet
After buying Zip2, Elon Musk founded an online bank called X.com. This very quickly merged with Confinity and resulted in the creation of the famous online payment service, PayPal. When eBay bought PayPal for $ 1.5 billion in 2002, Musk left the ship with a nice jackpot: around 170 million greenbacks. However, rather than take it easy in the sun, Elon Musk decides to reinvest them in full to create three companies that will determine the rest of his career. That same year, with $ 100 million, he launched his own aerospace engineering company, SpaceX. He invests between 50 and 70 million in Tesla, of which he will become CEO in 2008. An additional $ 10 million is earmarked in 2006 for the creation of Solar City, now a subsidiary of Tesla, for the mass production of solar panels and systems for using solar energy.
Tesla Model S or the rebirth of the electric automobile
Renewable energy – and especially electricity – is one of the great obsessions of Elon Musk. The Solar City company is one of its materializations. But the most successful and the most striking remains the influence of Tesla Motors (now Tesla, Inc.) in the field of 100% electric and rechargeable automobiles. In the late 2000s, Tesla created his first sedan, the Tesla Model S. It was gradually launched on the international market in the early 2010s. At that time, the number of electric cars sold in the world does not even amount to half a million. But Tesla’s little wonder is a game-changer. In 2013, Tesla’s price rose to $ 160 and its capital reached 20 billion. Three years later, even before the creation of the Tesla Model 3, the automotive industry exceeded one million electric vehicles sold. In 2017, Tesla was recognized as the world’s second-largest electric car maker. In other words, without Tesla, it’s hard to say if the electric car and Elon Musk would be as popular as they are today.
Hyperloop, first project too crazy to be true?
At the top following Tesla’s stock market success, Elon Musk, once again, is not resting on his laurels. His mind, still in turmoil, is interested in a way to speed up the travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In August 2013, he made his Hyperloop concept, a new type of underground transport available to everyone. His idea is to build a capsule three meters wide and three tons, raised on an air cushion, and to propel it through an almost vacuum tube using magnets. However, busy leading Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk leaves the realization of this crazy project to others. Among the first attempts at the time, only two start-ups still clash in the race for Hyperloop: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies(HTT) and Virgin’s Hyperloop One. At present, each is still in the study and test phases. In October 2017, Hyperloop One tested how its prototype worked for the first time. In June 2019, HTT announced the completion of the construction of their Hyperloop to scale, in Toulouse, France. Translation: the Hyperloop is not about to emerge between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Heading to space: SpaceX and NASA
Several decades after Blastar, Elon Musk’s imagination remains fixed on the stars. In 2008, six years after the founding of SpaceX, he won a first contract with the American Aerospace Agency (NASA) for $ 1.6 billion. In 2012, SpaceX’s Dragon space freighter was the first from a private company to refuel the International Space Station (ISS). Since then, SpaceX has been working on projects with the largest Earth space agency. At the start of 2020, its new Crew Dragon capsule will be tasked with sending two astronauts to the ISS and then bringing them back safely to Earth. Besides, Elon Musk’s space company is part of a group of companies specialized engineering whose services NASA has hired (with, in particular, Lockheed or Blue Origin, a company of Jeff Bezos, boss of Amazon). Their task is to develop the rockets and devices that will send astronauts to the Moon in 2024, as part of the Artemis mission, then to Mars.
The obsession with interconnected humanity: Neuralink and StarLink
“We are changing the world, changing history, and you are or not,” Elon Musk claims in his biography written by American journalist Ashlee Vance. To bring his stone to the building, Elon Musk is counting on three things: the colonization of space, energy independence, in particular with the Gigafactory (a gigantic factory producing electric batteries drawing only on solar energy), and the interconnection of human intelligence. This “link” in Elon Musk manifests itself in two forms. First, the availability of an Internet connection for all, thanks to StarLink, a constellation of server satellites. An idea that is not new (OneWeb or even Kuiper from Amazon are also working on similar projects) but is currently well on the way to realization – to the chagrin of astronomers. The second comes from the creation of a human-machine interface directly in our brain. To do this, he launched Neuralink, a company that creates brain implants to repair or increase an individual’s brain capacity. Ultimately, by 2027, Neuralink wants to allow human beings to act on machines and artificial intelligence by their simple thought.
Artificial intelligence: his great fear
Unlike other big names in Silicon Valley, like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk is not a big fan of the gradual takeover of artificial intelligence in our lives. In the documentary Do You Trust This Computer? , he even goes so far as to sound the alarm: “We are moving quickly towards a digital super-intelligence that will far exceed any human (and) if AI has a goal and humanity is on its way. way, then it will destroy humanity naturally without even thinking about it, without any hard feelings ”. Elon Musk would just be another traumatized by the Terminator or War Games movies? No, anyone who grew up with Asimov’s laws of robotics refuses to do so. In 2015, he co-founded the research company OpenID, which aims to reflect on general artificial intelligence technologies that are “friendly” and “beneficial” for humanity.
Neither Democrat nor Republican, or is it both?
Shortly after the launch of the FWD.us collective by Mark Zuckerberg, of which he is one of the main contributors, he left it for political differences. According to him, the ideas of the collective – supposed to inspire government reforms on vast subjects – are “not ecological enough”. He has been seen several times in the company of the American Democratic President, Barack Obama. However, a few years later, he agreed to join the Technology Council opened by his Republican successor, Donald Trump, a fervent climate-skeptic. But here again, he is breaking away from it in order to mark his disagreement with Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreements.
Cybertruck, flamethrower, etc: The show must go on!
Boss, inventor, businessman, idealist, Elon Musk is also a show-man. It is often criticized for this characteristic, given the many delays in some of its revolutionary projects originally presented as “feasible”. One of his companies, The Boring Company, is a case in point. Elon Musk founded it with the idea of relieving traffic congestion by building tunnels accessible from the surface thanks to car lifts. This surrealist project, requiring a pharaonic budget is not ready to see the light of day, despite the estimates given initially. Regardless, Elon Musk isn’t afraid of ridicule. To showcase his new company, he makes a bet to his fans: buy enough The Boring Company caps to force him to create an individual flamethrower! More recently, everyone (or almost) has heard of the Cybertruck, Tesla’s new escapade. If it remains memorable, it is not for its qualities or its design, inspired by the film Blade Runner, but for its spectacular “failure” and the self-mocking intervention of Elon Musk on stage that followed.
Is he the Iron Man of the real world?
When he was a student, Elon ate red pepper noodles for a dollar a day budget to secure his financial future and focus on his college career. Today, he devotes almost all of his time and energy to managing and developing projects. He would spend his weeks between SpaceX and Tesla at the rate of 18 hours of work per day. “If there was a way not to eat and to be able to work more, I wouldn’t eat anymore,” he said, according to a former classmate. He himself says on Twitter: “No one changes the world by working just 40 hours a week. “In a way, the king of modern innovation looks a bit like Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, or even more like Tony Stark, the fictional character in Iron-Man’s armor. So much so that he influences his interpreter on the big screen, Robert Downey Jr., in his incarnation of the superhero. In the movie Iron Man 2, the two even briefly interact. “I am not easily amazed (but) this guy was astonishing”, admits the actor in the biography of Elon Musk which he describes as “accessible eccentric. “ According to him, Elon Musk and Tony Stark have in common having seized ideas which they have devoted their lives.