Today Elon Musk laid out his views on electricity-generating solar roofs, the Tesla-SolarCity merger, SpaceX’s return to flight and artificial intelligence during an extraordinary 30-minute telephone interview on CNBC.
His timeliest comments may relate to next week’s presidential election: Musk gave a lukewarm endorsement to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I would say it’s not going to make much of a difference one way or the other, honestly,” he said. “I think Hillary’s economic policies and her environmental policies particularly are the right ones, you know? Yeah. Also, I don’t think this is the finest moment of our democracy in general. But so it goes.”
So what about GOP candidate Donald Trump? “I feel a bit stronger that probably he’s not the right guy,” Musk said. “He just doesn’t seem to have the sort of character that reflects well on the United States.”
Musk – who’s the billionaire CEO of the SpaceX rocket venture and the Tesla electric-car concern as well as chairman of SolarCity, a producer of solar panels – touched on a wide range of topics, with occasional commentary from one of Tesla’s biggest investors, billionaire Ron Baron.
Here’s a sampling of other topics from the interview:
• Musk said SpaceX was closing in on the cause of a launch-pad explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and its satellite payload in September. The problem had to do with how liquid helium was loaded into bottles contained within the liquid oxygen tank. The process caused some of the oxygen to turn solid and react explosively with the carbon composite tank. Changing the process should make it possible to “be back to launching around mid-December,” he said.
• He defended the use of the term “Autopilot” when referring to the autonomous features provided in Tesla’s electric cars. Musk compared it to the way the word is used with regard to airplanes. “The autopilot does not mean the plane is self-flying,” he said. “There are plenty of planes that crash all the time when autopilot is on.”
• Musk said merging Tesla and SolarCity will play off the natural symbiosis between electric-powered transportation and solar electric generation and storage. Once you have solar panels, batteries and electric cars, “you have a complete solution to a sustainable-energy future – but if any one of those pieces is missing, then you don’t,” he said.
• The recent announcement that SolarCity will be offering integrated electricity-generating roof panels is just the start of what Musk expects will be a long-term construction trend. “I really think it’s going to get to the point where if you get a ‘normal’ roof, it’s sort of odd,” he said. “It’s going to be, ‘Of course you’d get a solar roof. … Why would you get anything else?'”
• As automation plays an increasing role in everyday life, the effect on employment will probably force government officials to consider systems that provide a universal basic income, Musk said. “I’m not sure what else one would do,” he said.
• Musk was asked about his ultra-long-term vision for artificial intelligence. “Ultimately, I think there would need to be some kind of improved symbiosis with digital super-intelligence,” he replied, “but that’s a pretty involved discussion.”