Elon Musk: SpaceX's Mars Rocket Could Fly Short Flights By Next Year 144

On stage at SXSW, Elon Musk issued yet another incredibly ambitious timeline. During a Q&A session on Sunday, Musk said SpaceX will be ready to fly its Mars rocket in 2019. He said: We are building the first ship, or interplanetary ship, right now, and we'll probably be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, during the first half of next year. Further reading: Fortune.

Elon Musk: The Danger of AI is Much Greater Than Nuclear Warheads. We Need Regulatory Oversight Of AI Development. ( 322

Elon Musk has been vocal about the need for regulation for AI in the past. At SXSW on Sunday, Musk, 46, elaborated his thoughts. We're very close to seeing cutting edge technologies in AI, Musk said. "It scares the hell out of me," the Tesla and SpaceX showrunner said. He cited the example of AlphaGo and AlphaZero, and the rate of advancements they have shown to illustrate his point. He said: Alpha Zero can read the rules of any game and beat the human. For any game. Nobody expected that rate of improvement. If you ask those same experts who think AI is not progressing at the rate that I'm saying, I think you will find their betting average for things like Go and other AI advancements, is very weak. It's not good.

We will also see this with self driving. Probably by next year, self driving will encompass all forms of driving. By the end of next year, it will be at least 100 percent safer than humans. [...] The rate of improvements is really dramatic and we have to figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital super intelligence is symbiotic with humanity. I think that's the single biggest existential crisis we face, and the most pressing one. I'm not generally an advocate of regulation -- I'm actually usually on the side of minimizing those things. But this is a case, where you have a very serious danger to the public. There needs to be a public body that has insight and oversight to ensure that everyone is developing AI safely. This is extremely important. The danger of AI is much greater than danger of nuclear warheads. By a lot.


Elon Musk Changes 'Boring Company' Vision To Reward Cyclists and Pedestrians ( 152

"Remember Elon Musk's plan to dig a massive web of traffic-beating tunnels underneath Los Angeles...?" asks CNN. "Now, that plan appears to be getting a huge makeover." An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: While it will still focus on digging tunnels to provide a network of underground tubes suitable for use by high-speed Hyperloop pods, the plan now is to use that Hyperloop to transport pedestrians and cyclists first, and then only later to work on moving cars around underground to bypass traffic. Musk shared the update via Twitter, noting that the idea would be to load customers onto cars roughly the size that a single parking space takes up currently, [thousands of which] would be dotted around an urban environment close to any destinations where someone might travel. The single-car station model would be designed to replace the current subway-style model, Musk said, where only a few small stations are very spread out... This is a big departure from the original vision, and it seems like one that might have evolved after Musk and his collaborators on the project spoke to urban planners and transit authorities.
"If someone can't afford a car, they should go first," Musk posted on Twitter, sharing a new conceptual video where an elevator lowers one of these pedestrian- and cyclist-focussed shuttle pods underground.

TechCrunch says this new vision "would be appealing both to urban officials looking to decrease congestion on downtown roads and discourage personal vehicle use, and to anyone hoping to increase access to affordable transit options."

Elon Musk Sides With Trump On Trade With China, Citing 25 Percent Import Duty On American Cars ( 331

Elon Musk believes China isn't playing fair in the car trade with the U.S. since it puts a 25 percent import duty on American cars, while the U.S. only does 2.5 percent for Chinese cars. "I am against import duties in general, but the current rules make things very difficult," Musk tweeted. "It's like competing in an Olympic race wearing lead shoes." CNBC reports: Tesla's Elon Musk is complaining to President Donald Trump about China's car tariffs. "Do you think the US & China should have equal & fair rules for cars? Meaning, same import duties, ownership constraints & other factors," Musk said on Twitter in response to a Trump tweet about trade with China. He added that no American car company is "allowed to own even 50% of their own factory" in the Asian country, but China's auto firms can own their companies in the U.S. Trump responded to Musk's tweets later at his steel and aluminum tariff press conference Thursday. "We are going to be doing a reciprocal tax program at some point, so that if China is going to charge us 25% or if India is going to charge us 75% and we charge them nothing ... We're going to be at those same numbers. It's called reciprocal, a mirror tax," Trump said after reading Musk's earlier tweets out loud.
Data Storage

Putting Civilization in a Box For Space Means Choosing Our Legacy ( 92

When SpaceX's record-breaking Falcon Heavy rocket made its first test launch in early February , the craft didn't just hurl Elon Musk's shiny red roadster and spacesuit-clad mannequin to space. It had another, smaller payload, which at first glance seems much less impressive: a 1-inch-wide (2.5 centimeters) quartz disc with Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy encoded in laser-etched gratings . From a report: The famous science fiction series is only the beginning of the discs' planned contents. At a time when traditional hard drives are just breaking into the terabyte range, the quartz medium can hold up to 360 terabytes per disc. It also boasts a life span of 14 billion years. That's longer than the current age of the universe. This disc was symbolic; future devices will contain much more, and more useful, information. But the technology speaks to grander issues that humanity is now pondering: becoming a multiplanetary civilization, storing information for thousands or millions of years, and contacting and communicating with other intelligences (alien and Earthling).

So how should we record our knowledge and experiences for posterity? How should we ensure that this information is understandable to civilizations that may be quite different from our own? And, most importantly, what should we say? Humans have faced challenges like these before. Ancient civilizations built monuments like the pyramids and left artifacts and writing, sometimes deliberately. Later researchers have used this material to try to piece together ancient worldviews. However, in the modern era, we've set our sights much further: from centuries to millennia, from one planet to interstellar space, and from one species to many.


Elon Musk Steps Down From AI Safety Group To Avoid Conflict of Interest With Tesla 32

New submitter the gmr writes: According to an announcement on the OpenAI blog, Elon Musk has stepped down from the board of directors of the nonprofit AI safety group, which he co-founded in 2015, due potential conflict of interest with his company Tesla. As explained in a post on Futurism, the move away from OpenAI may indicate that Tesla may be moving forward with more AI projects than most people may realize. Musk's departure may mean that Tesla is closer to delivering vehicles capable of Level 5 autonomy, "fully self-driving" vehicles that more than 35,000 Tesla customers paid for even though the technology does not yet exist. "Elon Musk will depart the OpenAI Board but will continue to donate and advise the organization," the announcement reads. "As Tesla continues to become more focused on AI, this will eliminate a potential future conflict for Elon." The OpenAI board of directors now consists of Greg Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, Holden Karnofsky, and Sam Altman, with whom Musk co-founded the venture. The company reportedly plans to not only fill Musk's seat but expand their team as well.

"Open AI has also been a prominent voice in the conversation concerning the limitations, challenges, and potential dangers of artificial intelligence," reports Futurism. "Just this week, the company co-released a report with a number of other global AI experts that outlines the potential 'malicious' uses of the technology and how to prevent them."

SpaceX Successfully Launches Falcon 9 Carrying Starlink Demo Satellites ( 51

SpaceX has successfully launched a Falcon 9 from SLC-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base today, its first launch since its successful Falcon Heavy test earlier this month. The launch took off early Wednesday morning, after being rescheduled a couple of times from an initial target of this past weekend. From a report: The launch was primarily designed to bring the PAZ satellite to orbit (which was deployed as planned into a low Earth, sun-synchronous polar orbit), a satellite for a Spanish customer that's designed to provide geocommunications and radar imaging for both government and private commercial customers. This launch had a secondary purpose, however, and one that might ultimately be more important to SpaceX's long-term goals. SpaceX packed two demonstration micro satellites for its planned internet broadband service (which Elon Musk confided via tweet it will call 'Starlink'). These will perform tests required before it's certified to operate the service, which it hopes to use to generate revenue by signing up subscribers to its internet service, which will hopefully be globe-spanning once complete.

Amazon Is Developing a TV Series Based On Iain M. Banks' Sci-Fi Novel 'Consider Phlebas' ( 104

leathered writes: Jeff Bezos today announced that Amazon Studios has picked up the rights to adapt the late Iain M. Bank's acclaimed Culture novels to the small screen, beginning with the first in the series, Consider Phlebas. This comes after nearly three decades of attempts to bring Banks' utopian, post-scarcity society to film or television. A huge fan of the Culture series is Elon Musk, whose SpaceX drone ships are named after Culture space vessels. Here's how Amazon describes Consider Phlebas: "a kinetic, action-packed adventure on a huge canvas. The book draws upon the extraordinary world and mythology Banks created in the Culture, in which a highly advanced and progressive society ends up at war with the Idirans, a deeply religious, warlike race intent on dominating the entire galaxy. The story centers on Horza, a rogue agent tasked by the Idirans with the impossible mission of recovering a missing Culture 'Mind,' an artificial intelligence many thousands of times smarter than any human -- something that could hold the key to wiping out the Culture altogether. What unfolds, with Banks' trademark irreverent humor, ultimately asks the poignant question of how we can use technology to preserve our humanity, not surrender it."

SpaceX Hits Two Milestones In Plan For Low-Latency Satellite Broadband ( 82

SpaceX is about to launch two demonstration satellites, and it is on track to get the Federal Communications Commission's permission to offer satellite internet service in the U.S. "Neither development is surprising, but they're both necessary steps for SpaceX to enter the satellite broadband market," reports Ars Technica. "SpaceX is one of several companies planning low-Earth orbit satellite broadband networks that could offer much higher speeds and much lower latency than existing satellite internet services." From the report: Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed approving SpaceX's application "to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis," a commission announcement said. SpaceX would be the fourth company to receive such an approval from the FCC, after OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat. "These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests," the FCC said today. SpaceX's application has undergone "careful review" by the FCC's satellite engineering experts, according to Pai. "If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies," Pai said.

Separately, CNET reported yesterday that SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch on Saturday will include "[t]he first pair of demonstration satellites for the company's 'Starlink' service." The demonstration launch is confirmed in SpaceX's FCC filings. One SpaceX filing this month mentions that a secondary payload on Saturday's Falcon 9 launch will include "two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b." Those are the two satellites that SpaceX previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing.


Tesla Roadster Elon Musk Launched Into Space Has 6 Percent Chance of Hitting Earth In the Next Million Years ( 150

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk grabbed the world's attention last week after launching his Tesla Roadster into space. But his publicity stunt has a half-life way beyond even what he could imagine -- the Roadster should continue to orbit through the solar system, perhaps slightly battered by micrometeorites, for a few tens of millions of years. Now, a group of researchers specializing in orbital dynamics has analyzed the car's orbit for the next few million years. And although it's impossible to map it out precisely, there is a small chance that one day it could return and crash into Earth. But don't panic: That chance is just 6% over a million years, and it would likely burn up as it entered the atmosphere.

Hanno Rein of the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues regularly model the motions of planets and exoplanets. "We have all the software ready, and when we saw the launch last week we thought, 'Let's see what happens.' So we ran the [Tesla's] orbit forward for several million years," he says. The Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX propelled the car out toward Mars, but the sun's gravity will bring it swinging in again some months from now in an elliptical orbit, so it will repeatedly cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, and Venus until it sustains a fatal accident. The Roadster's first close encounter with Earth will be in 2091 -- the first of many in the millennia to come.


SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Center Booster Lacked Ignition Fluid To Light Engines and Land On Platform ( 171

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Los Angeles Times: The center core booster of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy didn't land on a floating sea platform as intended during last week's first test flight because it ran out of ignition fluid, company Chief Executive Elon Musk said Monday. Musk took to Twitter on Monday morning to give a few more updates on the Falcon Heavy's first flight. After liftoff, the rocket's two side boosters touched down simultaneously on land, eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd of SpaceX employees gathered in the company's Hawthorne headquarters, as seen on the launch livestream. Those two boosters, which were used in previous launches of SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, will not be reused again, Musk said in a post-launch news conference last week. But the center core booster ended up hitting the Atlantic Ocean at 300 mph and about 328 feet from the floating platform where it was supposed to land. Musk said Monday that there wasn't enough ignition fluid to light the outer two engines of the booster "after several three engine relights."

Elon Musk Explains Why SpaceX Prefers Clusters of Small Engines ( 240

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The company's development of the Falcon 9 rocket, with nine engines, had given Musk confidence that SpaceX could scale up to 27 engines in flight, and he believed this was a better overall solution for the thrust needed to escape Earth's gravity. To explain why, the former computer scientist used a computer metaphor. "It's sort of like the way modern computer systems are set up," Musk said. "With Google or Amazon they have large numbers of small computers, such that if one of the computers goes down it doesn't really affect your use of Google or Amazon. That's different from the old model of the mainframe approach, when you have one big mainframe and if it goes down, the whole system goes down."

For computers, Musk said, using large numbers of small computers ends up being a more efficient, smarter, and faster approach than using a few larger, more powerful computers. So it was with rocket engines. "It's better to use a large number of small engines," Musk said. With the Falcon Heavy rocket, he added, up to half a dozen engines could fail and the rocket would still make it to orbit. The flight of the Falcon Heavy likely bodes well for SpaceX's next rocket, the much larger Big Falcon Rocket (or BFR), now being designed at the company's Hawthorne, California-based headquarters. This booster will use 31 engines, four more than the Falcon Heavy. But it will also use larger, more powerful engines. The proposed Raptor engine has 380,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, compared to 190,000 pounds of thrust for the Merlin 1-D engine.


AIs Have Replaced Aliens As Our Greatest World Destroying Fear ( 227

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Quartz: As we've turned our gaze away from the stars and toward our screens, our anxiety about humanity's ultimate fate has shifted along with it. No longer are we afraid of aliens taking our freedom: It's the technology we're building on our own turf we should be worried about. The advent of artificial intelligence is increasingly bringing about the kinds of disturbing scenarios the old alien blockbusters warned us about. In 2016, Microsoft's first attempt at a functioning AI bot, Tay, became a Hitler-loving mess an hour after it launched. Tesla CEO Elon Musk urged the United Nations to ban the use of AI in weapons before it becomes "the third revolution in warfare." And in China, AI surveillance cameras are being rolled out by the government to track 1.3 billion people at a level Big Brother could only dream of. As AI's presence in film and TV has evolved, space creatures blowing us up now seems almost quaint compared to the frightening uncertainties of an computer-centric world. Will Smith went from saving Earth from alien destruction to saving it from robot servants run amok. More recently, Ex Machina, Chappie, and Transcendence have all explored the complexities that arise when the lines between human and robot blur.

However, sentient machines aren't a new anxiety. It arguably all started with Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner. It's a stunning depiction of a sprawling, smog-choked future, filled with bounty hunters muttering "enhance" at grainy pictures on computer screens. ("Alexa, enlarge image.") The neo-noir epic popularized the concept of intelligent machines being virtually indistinguishable from humans and asked the audience where our humanity ends and theirs begin. Even alien sci-fi now acknowledges that we've got worse things to worry about than extra-terrestrials: ourselves.


SpaceX Successfully Lands Two Falcon Heavy Boosters Simultaneously After Rocket Launch [Update] ( 446

After nearly a decade of development, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has successfully launched from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today. After reaching orbit, the two side boosters simultaneously landed at Landing Zone One. We do not know the status of the central core of the rocket, which was destined to land on the "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship roughly 8:19 minutes into the flight.

According to, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket to launch since NASA's Saturn V -- the iconic vessel that, with 7.5 million pounds of thrust, accomplished the definitive Apollo-era feat of putting astronauts on the moon. Elon Musk says that Falcon Heavy is "twice as powerful as any other booster operating today." As for the payload, it includes a Tesla Roadster electric car. "The Falcon Heavy will send the vehicle around the sun in an elliptical orbit that will extend farther than Mars' orbit," reports

UPDATE: SpaceX has confirmed The Verge's reporting that the middle core of SpaceX's Heavy Rocket missed the drone ship where it was supposed to land. "The center core was only able to relight one of the three engines necessary to land, and so it hit the water at 300 miles per hour," reports The Verge. "Two engines on the drone ship were taken out when it crashed, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a press call after the rocket launch. It's a small hiccup in an otherwise successful first flight."

SpaceX Has Received Permission From the US Government To Launch Elon Musk's Car Toward Mars ( 225

SpaceX this week is preparing to launch Falcon Heavy, the biggest rocket in the company's history, for the first time. From a report: The 230-foot-tall three-booster launcher is scheduled to blast off Tuesday between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. ET. SpaceX says Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket in the world. SpaceX's founder, Elon Musk, wanted this test launch to happen as early as 2013, though he recently said it could end in an explosion. Instead of putting a standard "mass simulator" or dummy payload atop Falcon Heavy, Musk -- who once launched a wheel of cheese into orbit -- will put his personal 2008 midnight-cherry-red Tesla Roadster on top of the monster rocket. In an Instagram post over the weekend, Musk also revealed that the car would carry a dummy driver, which Musk is calling "Starman," wearing a SpaceX space suit. "Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring," Musk said in an Instagram post in December, adding that the company "decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel." However, all rocket payloads need a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration to launch, and Musk's sleek electric car is no exception. The FAA granted SpaceX that permission on Friday in a staunchly formal notice, which Keith Cowing posted on NASA Watch.

Elon Musk Sells $10 Million in Flamethrowers in Four Days ( 147

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: A handful of tweets and four days later, Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk has closed orders for his latest novelty product, after selling 20,000 flamethrowers at $500 a piece. "Guaranteed to liven up any party!" was Musk's tagline for a sale which raised $10 million for his high-speed tunnel venture The Boring Company... "When the zombie apocalypse happens, you'll be glad you bought a flamethrower," he tweeted last Saturday. "Works against hordes of the undead or your money back!"
The fundraising comes as Tesla "struggles" meet its production commitments, notes the article, adding that analysts are wondering if the car manufacturer will eventually need billions more in funding.

By Wednesday Musk had sold out his entire suppy of flamethrowers, though "Apparently, some customs agencies are saying they won't allow shipment of anything called a 'Flamethrower'," Musk tweeted Friday night, adding "To solve this, we are renaming it 'Not a Flamethrower'."

"Or maybe 'Temperature Enhancement Device.'"
The Almighty Buck

eBay Is Dumping PayPal For Dutch Rival Adyen ( 143

schwit1 shares a report from CNN: EBay, one of the world's biggest online marketplaces, announced Wednesday that it's dropping PayPal as its main partner for processing payments in favor of Dutch company Adyen. In 2002, eBay paid $1.5 billion to buy PayPal, an online payments company whose founders include Silicon Valley heavyweights Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. It proved to be a very successful investment. When eBay spun off PayPal in 2015 -- something investors and analysts had urged it to do -- the payments company's market value was close to $50 billion. It's now above $100 billion. Based in Amsterdam, Adyen already works with other big tech companies including Uber and Netflix. It says it handles more than 200 different payment methods and over 150 currencies. The shift will start gradually in North America later this year and eBay expects most marketplace customers around the world to be using the new system in 2021.

Tesla Employees Say Gigafactory Problems Are Worse Than Known ( 184

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Tesla's problems with battery production at the company's Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, are worse than the company has acknowledged and could cause further delays and quality issues for the new Model 3, according to a number of current and former Tesla employees. These problems include Tesla needing to make some of the batteries by hand and borrowing scores of employees from one of its suppliers to help with this manual assembly, said these people. Tesla's future as a mass-market carmaker hinges on automated production of the Model 3, which more than 400,000 people have already reserved, paying $1,000 refundable fees to do so. The company has already delayed production, citing problems at the Gigafactory. On Nov. 1, 2017, CEO Elon Musk assured investors in an earnings call that Tesla was making strides to correct its manufacturing issues and get the Model 3 out. But more than a month later, in mid-December, Tesla was still making its Model 3 batteries partly by hand, according to current engineers and ex-Tesla employees who worked at the Gigafactory in recent months. They say Tesla had to "borrow" scores of employees from Panasonic, which is a partner in the Gigafactory and supplies lithium-ion battery cells, to help with this manual assembly. Tesla is still not close to mass producing batteries for the basic $35,000 model of this electric sedan, sources say.

Elon Musk's Boring Company Delivers $600 Flamethrower ( 106

Last December, Boring Company CEO Elon Musk promised to sell a Boring Company-branded flamethrower after selling 50,000 Boring Company hats. Well, sure enough, 50,000 hats were sold and Musk is delivering on his promise. The Verge reports: Mark this down as one of the promises Elon delivers on, apparently, because it looks like the Boring Company flamethrower is here. Redditors in a few SpaceX, Boring Company, and Musk-related subreddits noticed earlier this week that the URL "" started redirecting to a page with a password box. And at least one user was able to guess the original password, too: "flame." (It's since been changed.) Behind that password was a shop page that looks just like the one for The Boring Company's hat. But instead of a $20 cap, they found a preorder prompt for a $600 flamethrower. "Prototype pictured above," the listing reads. "Final production flamethrower will be better."
The Almighty Buck

Elon Musk To Stay At Tesla For Another Decade ( 92

Thelasko writes: "On Tuesday, Tesla's board announced that it had convinced Musk to stay at the helm for another decade with a truly gargantuan performance-based pay package," reports Ars Technica. The pay package is in a series of 12 milestones based on market capitalization.

[The report notes the possibility that Musk could get nothing for a decade's work as Tesla's CEO if the company's stock never rises above $100 billion. However, Musk will get awarded with $1 billion -- 1 percent of the company's stock -- if the stock reaches a value of $100 billion and the company either achieves revenues of $20 billion or earnings of $1.5 billion.] "If the stock rises to $150 billion (and Musk reaches another revenue or profit target), Musk gets another 1 percent of the stock, which will be worth $1.5 billion," reports Ars. "That pattern continues in $50 billion increments until Tesla's stock rises above $650 billion -- at which point Musk will get a stock award worth $6.5 billion. Musk's stock awards will total $45 billion if he hits all 12 milestones."

I guess Musk will have to wait to move to Mars until 2028...

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