The character is divisive, his ranting on Twitter makes him look like a high-tech Donald Trump, he sometimes seems to be talking nonsense and he didn’t like the series very much. Silicon Valley and his sarcastic portrayal of a small world full of himself. By design or not, this clown number is what most often catches the attention of Elon Musk. He “makes the show”. Blessed bread for the media and the general public, captivated by his cookie-cutter comments on bitcoin or his “excrement” emoticon addressed to Twitter CEO Parag Agarwal. With the consequence of leaving in a kind of artistic blur the projects that this South African entrepreneur, born in Pretoria in 1971, who became an American citizen in 2002, carries out in the space and automobile sectors, in the Internet by satellite and the interfaces brain- machine.
Everyone has heard of SpaceX or the Starlink constellation, Tesla electric cars, and possibly a brain implant called Neuralink. But concretely, what is it? How are these projects changing the game in their respective fields? What is even the scientific value? It is this material that Olivier Lascar, editor-in-chief of the digital division of Science and Futuredecided to explore.
How the Tesla “gigafactories” work
His book Investigation of Elon Musk, the man who defies science is therefore not a biography or a behind-the-scenes investigation of Tesla or SpaceX, let alone a book of sulphurous revelations. It is an analysis of the way in which Elon Musk carries out his projects, makes his technical choices and stands out, particularly in space, from the usual ways of doing things. The presentation is far from being superficial. This ranges from the design of the Falcon launchers, to the propulsion system and the steel (rather than aluminum) skin of the Starship rocket, to the operation of the Tesla “gigafactories”.
Many experts called upon by the author cast their gaze, amazed, distant if not annoyed, on reusable launchers, the conquest of Mars, autonomous cars or the Hyperloop hypersonic train: astrophysicists, transport or blockchain specialists, researchers at the CNRS and CNES, neurosurgeon…
There is a lot of bluster and announcement effect of course. Witness the false new idea of the Hyperloop train or the underground tunnels for autonomous cars supposed to relieve congestion in congested cities, which make all specialists on the subject scream. Or his ambiguous game around the false autonomy of his Tesla. Not to mention a certain inconsideration too, as evidenced by the way Musk pushed his Starlink constellation, with little regard for clutter around the Earth or astronomical observation.
“Investigation into Elon Musk, the man who defies science”, by Olivier Lascar, Alisio, 224 pages, 18€
Make a name for yourself in the drilling sector?
But as the author points out, the Elon Musk method lies above all in his ability to drown the fish. To make announcements that lead to something other than what everyone imagined. Take the “anti-traffic jam” tunnels. Is the ambition really to make automobile traffic more fluid or to impose itself in the drilling sector with its company set up for the occasion, The Boring Company?
And it is not the scientific articles from the teams working for the entrepreneur’s various companies that will reveal anything: the principle of scientific publication with peer review is totally ignored at Musk. So much so that some specialists had to reverse-engineer from the light reflected by the elements of the Starlink constellation to find out how the satellites were designed!
The book also pays a little for this tendency to secrecy and the unpredictability of the character: it takes for granted the takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk in April 2022, when nothing could cast doubt on the operation. However, it has been a few weeks since the man seems to be backtracking! That said, in a few more weeks, perhaps, it will be the end of this article that rings true, when Musk has indeed taken over Twitter…