Elon Musk shares views on tech, cars, and life during Code Conference

The Tesla and SpaceX chief executive officer talked about his hopes for human civilization, Apple's lagging car projects, and his conviction that mankind is living within a sentient video game.

Jae C. Hong/AP Photo/File
Chief executive officer Elon Musk introduces the SpaceX Dragon V2 spaceship at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., in April 2014. Mr. Musk predicted during an interview at the Code Conference in southern California on Wednesday that people would be on Mars in 2025.

Tesla founder and chief executive officer Elon Musk spoke for more than an hour at the Code Conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes on Wednesday, commenting on the future of space travel, electric cars, and competition with other tech giants such as Google and Apple.

Mr. Musk's many companies include the electric car maker Tesla and rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX). These companies have pioneered some of the most cutting edge technology, introducing the world to reusable rockets and more affordable electric cars. 

During Wednesday's talk, Musk was first asked to talk about SpaceX and its recent successful landing of a reusable rocket on a barge off the coast of Florida. 

SpaceX has now successfully landed three reusable rockets this year. Musk told the audience that landing rockets accomplishes several several things – not only does it save a "pallet of cash," but it also lays the groundwork for eventual landings on other planets.

"Every mode of transport has a design that is appropriate to its medium. If you're in space, wings are not very useful. Because there's no air," said Musk to laughter. "And if you want to go somewhere other than Earth, there's also no runways."

It is important to move toward a "future among the stars," says Musk. He told moderators that he believes humans can and should become a multi-planet civilization. He has previously stated his intent to land a rocket on Mars by 2018, and a manned rocket on the planet by 2024.

Musk also spoke to the future of sustainable transport, saying that Tesla had open sourced its patents in hopes of moving more quickly towards a sustainable world.

When moderators asked Musk about Tesla's competition, however, he seemed unconcerned. 

Other tech giants entered the automaker market in a big way several years ago – Google has had a self-driving car project since 2009. Musk told moderators that despite these efforts, he doesn't see Google as a direct competitor since it is not a car company.

As for Apple's autonomous car project, Musk says he "hopes it works out," but he does not think the company can produce cars for sale before 2020.

"They should have embarked upon this project sooner," said Musk. "It's a missed opportunity."

Musk has made similar predictions in the past. In January, he told the BBC that it was an "open secret" that Apple was working on a car. 

Apple appears much more confident about its own lagging production schedule, sharing tantalizing hints that it is engaged in this project (including poaching competitors' engineers), but refusing to make a real statement about the status of any autonomous vehicle initiative.

"Do you remember when you were a kid, and Christmas Eve, it was so exciting, you weren't sure what was going to be downstairs?" said Apple's chief executive officer Tim Cook at a shareholder meeting in February. "Well, it's going to be Christmas Eve for a while." 

Once again, Musk once again expressed concerns about Artificial Intelligence on Wednesday, despite innovation from several of his competitors, including Google and Apple. 

"I think that it is incredibly important that if we have this incredible power of AI," said Musk, "that it not be concentrated in the hands of a few and lead to a world that we don't want."

In order to counter the potential concentration of AI power, Musk has created a nonprofit named OpenAI to "democritize AI." OpenAI encourages artificial intelligence researchers to share their discoveries with the world, he says.

Musk ended his approximately 90 minute talk by taking questions from the audience, revealing that he believes he believes technology has the potential to advance so much in the future that there is only a tiny chance that we are not already living in a sentient video game reality.

There is a "one in billions chance that this is base reality," said Musk.

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