Imagine waking up in Delhi and deciding to head to Mumbai, which is just an hour away. Will you be taking a supersonic flight? No. Chances are you will be on the newly built Hyperloop. You reach Mumbai and hail a cab from you mobile device. A Telsa model 5 picks you up. It doesn't need refueling because it runs on solar energy.
This is the future as envisioned by Elon Musk, who turns 45 today. He wants you to travel super fast, live in a colony on Mars, live longer and have access to energy without harming the environment. Many people now see Musk in the same light as they did Steve Jobs. People believe that he can transform life much like Jobs did with the Mac computers, iPod, iPhone and other gadgets. Except that Musk's dreams are much bigger than making people addicted to a screen.
The Elon Musk of today is a different man from the days when he founded startups such as Zip2 and PayPal. He has long outgrown the PayPal Mafia tag, a term which is associated with the founders and early employees of PayPal who are now successful entrepreneurs. While others are running Internet startups, Musk's focus is on anything but the Internet.
Right now he is the largest shareholder of 4 companies, Tesla, Space X, SolarCity, and OpenAI, their area of operations ranging from transport, space, energy and artificial intelligence.
Tesla has already achieved the iPhone-of-the-cars status and that too with electric cars, far removed from automobile glamour category until recently. Founded in 2003, the company produced a $110,000 electric car named Roadster in 2006 which it started shipping in 2008. At one point Tesla, the company, was almost finished but it recovered and made the famous Sedan Tesla Model S, widely considered a dream car. The Model S won many awards in the category of innovation and safety, receiving the top ratings for any car ever.
Later, the company released a more affordable Model X and now, the latest entrant, Tesla Model 3 has taken the world by storm. This is the most affordable car made by Telsa thus far and they will be shipping it to India as well. Musk already has a network of chargers across the US which lets your charge your Tesla car. His vision is to create a large network of Superchargers -- solar energy powered chargers that can refuel Tesla car batteries. For this, he is relying on his other company, SolarCity, which provides solar power solutions to homes and commercial users.
Recently, Musk's Telsa submitted an offer to Musk's SolarCity to acquire it. The move has come in for a lot of criticism, but at some point it makes sense. The two companies are working on a project called Powerwall, a backup battery which can store solar energy that can later be used in homes.
While Tesla is fulfilling dreams of better transport on earth, Space X is talking about taking the human race to Mars. The current focus of the company is to enable their reusable Falcon rockets to launch satellites. But the longer term plan is to transport humans to Mars and create a colony of at least a million people.
While all this may seem a little far fetched now, Musk has plans to generate revenue from rocket deliveries and later invest the money into making space travel and colonization cheap. Another dream transport project of his is Hyperloop, a high-speed train in a tube with an average speed of 970 kilometers per hour.
One thing that Musk is afraid of, is AI or Artificial Intelligence. “I don’t think anyone realizes how quickly artificial intelligence is advancing," Musk said recently, addressing a conference. "Particularly if [the machine is] involved in recursive self-improvement. And its utility function is something that’s detrimental to humanity, then it will have a very bad effect.”
That fear is the reason behind the founding of OpenAI. He wants AI to be humane and friendly, rather than a big black Skynet. More than the functionality, this group will be focusing on the 'safety' part of AI.
To achieve this vision of the hyper-future, Musk has laid down some rules. All his companies have a no A**holes policy. "If you don't like your colleague or boss, you won't come to work," he says. And like a lot of other successful industry icons, he believes that failure does lead to innovation. For Telsa, he has taken inspiration from Henry Ford. Musk says that Ford always found a solution.
But some caution that there is a dark side to Musk as well. After a meeting with Musk, some people feel skinned or demotivated. “I do think of him as the Terminator. He locks his gaze onto something and says, ‘It shall be mine.’ Bit by bit, he won me over," said Justine Musk, his ex-wife in a book.
Musk wants to usher our world into a reality that hitherto was firmly in the realm of Sci-Fi. There is a reason why he is compared with Tony Stark.