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Businesses

Elon Musk Is Really Boring (bloomberg.com) 225

Sometimes it is hard to tell if Elon Musk is serious about the things he says. But as for his "boring" claims, that's really happening. In a wide-range interview with Bloomberg, the billionaire talked more about his new venture, The Boring Company. The idea began on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago when Musk tweeted, "Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging..." Over the course of next few hours later, Musk added, "It shall be called 'The Boring Company,' Boring, it's what we do. I am actually going to do this. Excerpts from the story: And so, around noon on a Friday in January, an excavation crew started digging. "I was like, 'Hey, what's the biggest hole we can make by Sunday evening?'" Musk says. [...] "My other idea was to call it Tunnels R Us and to essentially troll Toys "R" Us into filing a lawsuit," he says, letting out a loud and well-articulated ha-ha-ha-ha. "Now we've decided to troll AT&T instead! We're going to call it American Tubes and Tunnels." When I ask him if the tunnel venture will be a subsidiary of SpaceX or an independent company, he responds cryptically. "Don't you read my Twitter? The Boring Company. Or TBC. To Be Continued." An aide chimes in: Yes, the Boring Company, aka To Be Continued, aka Tunnels R Us, aka American Tubes and Tunnels, aka whatever, will indeed be an independent company. Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago. Musk says he hopes to build a much faster tunneling machine and use it to dig thousands of miles, eventually creating a vast underground network that includes as many as 30 levels of tunnels for cars and high-speed trains such as the Hyperloop. Musk chose the SpaceX parking lot as the site of his first dig, mostly because it was convenient and he could legally do so without city permits. The plan is to expand the current hole into a ramp designed for a large tunnel boring machine and then start digging horizontally once the machine is 50 feet or so below ground, which would make it low enough to clear gas and sewer lines and to be undetectable at the surface. 100 marks to Bloomberg for the headline, and the story which is as funny as it is insightful.
Robotics

Elon Musk: Humans Need To Merge With Machines Else They Will Become Irrelevant in AI Age (cnbc.com) 251

Billionaire Elon Musk is known for his futuristic ideas. So it didn't come as a surprise when on Monday at the World Government Summit in Dubai, he predicted that over time we will see a "closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence." He added, via a CNBC report: "It's mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output." Musk explained what he meant by saying that computers can communicate at "a trillion bits per second", while humans, whose main communication method is typing with their fingers via a mobile device, can do about 10 bits per second. In an age when AI threatens to become widespread, humans would be useless, so there's a need to merge with machines, according to Musk. "Some high bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence and maybe solves the control problem and the usefulness problem," Musk explained.
Businesses

Tesla Employee Calls For Unionization, Musk Says That's 'Morally Outrageous' (arstechnica.com) 594

"In a Medium post published today, Tesla employee Jose Moran detailed working conditions at the company's Freemont factory and called for the factory workers to unionize with United Auto Workers (UAW)," reports Ars Technica. In response, Elon Musk told Gizmodo via Twitter Direct Messages: "Our understanding is that this guy was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union. Frankly, I find this attack to be morally outrageous. Tesla is the last car company left in California, because costs are so high." Musk went on to blame the UAW for killing the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc (NUMMI), which sold the Fremont factory to Musk in 2010. Ars Technica reports: Tesla currently employs more than 5,000 non-union workers at its Fremont, CA-based factory. Moran wrote that the workers are often faced with "excessive mandatory overtime" and earn between $17 and $21 hourly, compared with the national average of $25.58 hourly for most autoworkers in the U.S. The Tesla employee noted that the astronomical cost of living in the Bay Area makes $21 an hour difficult to live on. Moran also claimed that the factory's "machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies," and requires "too much twisting and turning and extra physical movement to do jobs that could be simplified if workers' input were welcomed." He added that at one point, six out of eight people on his team were out on medical leave "due to various work-related injuries."
Transportation

Tesla To Start Pilot Production of Model 3 This Month (reuters.com) 112

According to Reuters, Tesla is planning to "begin test-building its Model 3 sedans on February 20, a move that could allay concerns about the company meeting its target to start production in July." The sources familiar with the matter did not mention how many of the Model 3 vehicles Tesla aims to build in February, though the number is likely to be small to test the assembly system and the quality of vehicle parts. From the report: Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk last year told investors and more than 370,000 customers who put deposits down for a Model 3 that he intended to start building the cars in July 2017. At the time, many analysts and suppliers said the timeline was too ambitious and would be difficult to achieve, pointing to Tesla's history of missing aggressive production targets. If Tesla succeeds in starting pilot production of the sedan at its factory in Fremont, California on Feb. 20, the company would be able to share the news with shareholders two days later when it reports fourth-quarter results and better answer any questions about the Model 3 rollout. Musk had told investors last year that the company could miss the July 2017 startup target if suppliers do not meet deadlines.
Space

SpaceX Plans to Start Launching Rockets Every Two To Three Weeks (fortune.com) 104

Space Exploration Technologies, better known as SpaceX, plans to launch its Falcon 9 rockets every two to three weeks, its fastest rate since starting launches in 2010, once a new launch pad is put into service in Florida next week. From a report: The ambitious plan comes only five months after a SpaceX rocket burst into flames on the launch pad at the company's original launch site in Florida. SpaceX, controlled by billionaire Elon Musk, has only launched one rocket since then, in mid-January. "We should be launching every two to three weeks," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in an interview on Monday.
Government

97 Tech Companies Including Apple, Google, Microsoft Call Travel Ban Unlawful In Rare Coordinated Legal Action (washingtonpost.com) 626

An anonymous reader shares a WashingtonPost report: Silicon Valley is stepping up its confrontation with the Trump administration. On Sunday night, technology giants Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Uber and many others filed a legal brief opposing the administration's contentious entry ban. The move represents a rare coordinated action across a broad swath of the industry (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source) -- 97 companies in total -- and demonstrates the depth of animosity toward the Trump ban. The amicus brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which is expected to rule within a few days on an appeal by the administration after a federal judge in Seattle issued late Friday a temporary restraining order putting the entry ban on hold. The brief comes at the end of a week of nationwide protests against the plan -- as well as a flurry of activity in Silicon Valley, a region that sees immigration as central to its identity as an innovation hub.From a TechCrunch report: Notably absent from the list of 97 companies are several who met with Trump prior to his inauguration: Amazon, Oracle, IBM, SpaceX and Tesla. Although Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was highly critical of Trump prior to his election, he has not spoken out against the immigration policy. Oracle CEO Safra Catz is serving as an advisor to the Trump transition team, while SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has defended his decision to remain on an advisory council for Trump.
AI

Are Gates, Musk Being 'Too Aggressive' With AI Concerns? (xconomy.com) 311

gthuang88 reports on a talk titled "Will Robots Eat Your Job?" Bill Gates and Elon Musk are sounding the alarm "too aggressively" over artificial intelligence's potential negative consequences for society, says MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson. The co-author of The Second Machine Age argues it will take at least 30 to 50 years for robots and software to eliminate the need for human laborers. In the meantime, he says, we should be investing in education so that people are prepared for the jobs of the future, and are focused on where they still have an advantage over machines -- creativity, empathy, leadership, and teamwork.
The professor acknowledges "there are some legitimate concerns" about robots taking jobs away from humans, but "I don't think it's a problem we have to face today... It can be counterproductive to overestimate what machines can do right now." Eventually humankind will reach a world where robots do practically everything, the professor believes, but with a universal basic income this could simply leave us humans with more leisure time.
Businesses

Tesla Drops 'Motors' From Name As CEO Musk Looks Beyond Cars (reuters.com) 69

Tesla Motors changed its name to "Tesla Inc" as Chief Executive Elon Musk looks to transform the Silicon Valley firm from an electric car maker to a diversified energy products company. From a report on Reuters: In October, Musk unveiled solar-powered roof tiles that eliminate the need for traditional panels and a longer-lasting home battery illustrating the benefits of combining his electric car and battery maker with solar installer SolarCity Corp.
AI

Elon Musk Thinks We Will Have To Use AI This Way To Avoid a Catastrophic Future (cnbc.com) 110

Elon Musk has long said that artificial intelligence will have to augment human abilities, rather than compete with them, in order to avoid a portentous future. He has been active in trying to find ways to evaluate and reduce potential risks posed by AI. From a report: On Monday, Musk tweeted out a set of principles for AI research and development created by a group of scientists at a recent conference for the Future of Life Institute (of which Musk is a board member). Musk said in response to a comment that ensuring AI augments human abilities is "critical to the future of humanity." Musk recently told a Twitter user that there may be an announcement "next month" regarding such as device, which Musk has called, in the past, a neural lace.
Transportation

SpaceX Is Livestreaming A Hyperloop Pod Competition (spacex.com) 93

SpaceX is livestreaming a competition between hyperloop pods from outside their headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and at least one Los Angeles newspaper is also covering the event live on Facebook. "This competition is the first of its kind anywhere in the world," SpaceX writes, noting that 27 teams put their pods through a "litany" of pre-qualifying tests hoping to qualify for a run on the track on "Rocket Road". An anonymous reader writes: The mile-long track is "roughly half the width of a full-scale Hyperloop system," according to Fortune -- but it's still a near-total vacuum inside, making it possible for the magnetically-levitated pods to attain extremely high speeds. "The winning team will be the one that hits the highest top speed -- then stops before hitting the end of the tube. 'There'll be a bit of tension," Elon Musk mused. 'Will it brake in time?'" Sunday's event "will mark the first time anyone gets to see the Hyperloop pods in action," according to Business Insider, which has photos and descriptions of the 27 pods -- including the MIT Hyperloop and the crowdfunded non-profit rLoop, which crowdsourced their open source development effort on Reddit.
SpaceX engineers ultimately awarded the highest overall score to the team from Delft University and determined that the fastest pod came from the Technical University of Munich, Germany. But SpaceX will also be hosting a second competition this summer focused on one criterion: speed.
Businesses

Tesla CEO Elon Musk Joins President Trump's New Manufacturing Council (electrek.co) 137

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: Tesla CEO Elon Musk was already on President Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum, but the White House announced today that he will also be joining the administration's new manufacturing council, a private sector group that advises the U.S. secretary of commerce. He headed a meeting on Monday at the White House. Musk was present along with several other industry leaders who are now also formally joining the manufacturing council. CNBC reports: "The group of business leaders includes Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and chief executives of large American companies like Ford, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Richard Trumka, president of the labor federation AFL-CIO, will also give advice." As we recently reported, while Musk's mission to accelerate the advent of renewable energy might seem at odd with Trump's plan to unlock fossil fuel reserve, but Musk is betting that job creation is more important to the new President than simply satisfying the oil industry. If Trump wants to be the champion of job creation and Tesla shows that renewables create a lot of jobs, then their interests are aligned. Tesla currently employs over 30,000 people, more than 25,000 of which are in the U.S. The company wants to add over 3,000 manufacturing jobs at its factory in Fremont, California, 1,000 at its solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York, and over to 6,500 at the Gigafactory in Nevada.
Transportation

Elon Musk Says He'll Start Digging a Tunnel From SpaceX HQ Next Month (techcrunch.com) 288

It appears Elon Musk is really serious about digging a tunnel to fix the traffic jams on roads. Last month, the SpaceX CEO sent out a string of tweets complaining about traffic. He suggested that a possible solution might be to start a tunnel-digging firm called -- wait for it -- The Boring Company, following it up by saying "I am actually going to do this," and updating his bio to read: "Tesla, SpaceX, Tunnels & OpenAI." This morning, he repeated the claim, and even assured a questioner that he was, in fact, serious. From a report on TechCrunch: Musk's tunnel plans, then, seem possibly aimed at reducing his travel time between SpaceX and LAX, at least initially. LAX is an airport he likely frequents with dizzying regularity, given his commitments at SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity. [...] It's hard to gauge Musk's seriousness on Twitter, given his ability to come with fairly dry and playful responses. But he has insisted the tunnel plans were serious previously, and so far, nothing to indicate he's just joking has emerged. Here, too, he responded to a query from a fan wondering if he was serious with a simple "Yup," and he does include "Tunnels" as a list item of his concerns in his Twitter biography.
Transportation

South Korea Developing 'Near-Supersonic' Train Similar To Hyperloop (huffingtonpost.co.uk) 122

The South Korean government plans to unveil a high-speed train that can travel at near-supersonic speeds capable of cutting a five hour journey to just 30 minutes. It's reminiscent of the Hyperloop, a proposed mode of passenger and freight transportation that propels a pod-like vehicle through a near-vacuum tube at more than airline speed. Huffington Post UK reports: According to the Korea Railroad Research Institute, it plans to unveil a "hyper tube" format train in the "not too distant" future. Speaking to the South China Morning Post, the government-owned organization said: "We hope to create an ultra-fast train, which will travel inside a state-of-the-art low-pressure tube at lightning speeds, in the not-too-distant future. To that end, we will cooperate with associated institutes as well as Hanyang University to check the viability of various related technologies called the hyper-tube format over the next three years." While this sounds very similar to the low-pressure concept designed initially by Tesla founder Elon Musk it seems as though the KRRI wants to go even further and create a system that will leave Hyperloop looking like a Hornby set. By throwing all their resources at the project, South Korea is hoping to skip past maglev, a still-new propulsion system that uses electromagnets to actually levitate trains above the air. While this removes some of the friction that comes with using conventional wheels, it still doesn't remove the brick wall of friction that is air itself. By building a low-pressure tube however and placing the train inside it you can effectively create a train that could travel at eye-watering speeds.
AI

Newest Tesla Autopilot Data Shows A 40% Drop in Crashes (bloomberg.com) 167

There's a surprise in the data from an investigation into Tesla safety by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: [W]hile all Tesla vehicles come with the hardware necessary for Autopilot, you need a software upgrade that costs thousands of dollars to make it work. Since buyers can add Autopilot features after purchase, this provides a perfect before-and-after comparison. It turns out that, according to the data Tesla gave investigators, installing Autopilot prevents crashes -- by an astonishing 40 percent...

Now -- thanks to an investigation that initially hurt the company -- there is finally some real data, and it's good news for Tesla... As the software matures to match the new hardware, Musk said on Thursday via a Tweet, Tesla is targeting a 90 percent reduction in car crashes.

AI

Elite Scientists Have Told the Pentagon That AI Won't Threaten Humanity (vice.com) 169

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A new report authored by a group of independent U.S. scientists advising the U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) on artificial intelligence (AI) claims that perceived existential threats to humanity posed by the technology, such as drones seen by the public as killer robots, are at best "uninformed." Still, the scientists acknowledge that AI will be integral to most future DoD systems and platforms, but AI that could act like a human "is at most a small part of AI's relevance to the DoD mission." Instead, a key application area of AI for the DoD is in augmenting human performance. Perspectives on Research in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence Relevant to DoD, first reported by Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists, has been researched and written by scientists belonging to JASON, the historically secretive organization that counsels the U.S. government on scientific matters. Outlining the potential use cases of AI for the DoD, the JASON scientists make sure to point out that the growing public suspicion of AI is "not always based on fact," especially when it comes to military technologies. Highlighting SpaceX boss Elon Musk's opinion that AI "is our biggest existential threat" as an example of this, the report argues that these purported threats "do not align with the most rapidly advancing current research directions of AI as a field, but rather spring from dire predictions about one small area of research within AI, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)." AGI, as the report describes, is the pursuit of developing machines that are capable of long-term decision making and intent, i.e. thinking and acting like a real human. "On account of this specific goal, AGI has high visibility, disproportionate to its size or present level of success," the researchers say.
Businesses

Tesla Is Investing $350 Million In Its Gigafactory, Hiring Hundreds of Workers (cnbc.com) 136

Just weeks after the massive Gigafactory started producing batteries, Tesla has announced plans to hire more workers and use the facility to make the motor and gearbox for its upcoming Model 3 electric sedan. CNBC reports: Tesla will invest $350 million for the project, and hire an additional 550 people, according to the governor's comments. That will be over and above the company's existing commitment to hiring 6,500 people at the Gigafactory, according to comments made by Steve Hill, the director of the governor's Office of Economic Development, to Nevada newspaper the Nevada Appeal. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made manufacturing efficiency a high priority for the company, but Tesla will require a lot of factory floor to meet its goal of to pumping out 500,000 cars by the end of 2018, and then making one million cars by 2020. Meanwhile, the city of Fremont recently approved Tesla's application for an additional 4.6 million square feet of space there.
Businesses

SpaceX Accident Cost it Hundreds of Millions (fortune.com) 67

Elon Musk's SpaceX lost more than a quarter of a billion dollars in 2015 after a botched cargo run to the International Space Station and the subsequent grounding of its Falcon 9 rocket fleet, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. From a report: The accident derailed SpaceX's expectations of $1.8 billion in launch revenue in 2016, an analysis of the privately held firm's financial documents showed, according to the Journal, which said it had obtained the documents. SpaceX declined to comment on the Journal's report. In a statement emailed to Reuters, SpaceX chief financial officer Bret Johnsen said the company "is in a financially strong position" with more than $1 billion in cash reserves and no debt.
Space

SpaceX Gets the Green Light To Resume Rocket Launches (fortune.com) 44

Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket company has been cleared to resume flying following a launch pad explosion four months ago, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday. From a report on Fortune: The decision clears SpaceX to attempt to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 Iridium Communications satellites as early as Monday, a day later than originally planned. SpaceX, owned by Tesla Motors Chief Executive Officer Musk, on Friday declined to comment about what caused the delay. Liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is targeted for around 10:26 a.m. PST/1:26 p.m. EST. The FAA, which oversees commercial U.S. space launches, oversaw SpaceX's investigation into why a Falcon 9 rocket burst into flames on a launch pad in Florida as it was being fueled for a routine, prelaunch test on Sept. 1. The accident destroyed the $62 million booster and a $200 million Israeli communications satellite that had been partly leased by Facebook to expand Internet access in Africa.
Businesses

Tesla Delivered Over 76,000 Vehicles In 2016, Falling Slightly Short of Goal (theverge.com) 179

Tesla delivered 76,230 electric vehicles in 2016, falling just shy of its goal of delivering 80,000 cars for the year. The electric carmaker claimed that "short-term production challenges" starting at the end of October were to blame for the shipment of fewer vehicles than anticipated. The Verge reports: Tesla said the transition to new Autopilot hardware resulted in the company's vehicle production being "weighted more heavily towards the end of the quarter than we had originally planned." In total, about 2,750 Tesla vehicles missed being counted as deliveries in the fourth quarter of 2016, which the company ascribes to "last-minute delays in transport or because the customer was unable to physically take delivery." Tesla said that even though those sales were counted toward 2016, the deliveries were not because the customers did not physically take possession of their cars. Tesla says about 6,450 vehicles are still in transit, and that their deliveries will be counted toward the first quarter of 2017. While it fell short on delivery, Tesla was able to beat its production rate for 2015. Tesla said it produced 24,882 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2016, resulting in a total of 83,922 vehicles produced in 2016. This was an increase of 64 percent from 2015. Vehicle demand in Q4 was particularly strong, Tesla says. Net orders for Model S and X, which were an all-time record, were 52 percent higher than Q4 2015 and 24 percent higher than the company's previous record quarter in Q3 2016. "We were ultimately able to recover and hit our production goal, but the delay in production resulted in challenges that impacted quarterly deliveries, including, among other things, cars missing shipping cutoffs for Europe and Asia," the company says. "Although we tried to recover these deliveries and expedite others by the end of the quarter, time ran out before we could deliver all customer cars."
Transportation

Tesla Rolling Out Autopilot Software Updates to 1,000 Cars (bloomberg.com) 67

Tesla Motors began rolling out software updates to customers with newer cars, bringing them to parity with owners who have what's known as "Autopilot 1" and setting the stage to ultimately unleash full self-driving capability. From a report on Bloomberg:"HW2 Autopilot software uploading to 1,000 cars this eve. Will then hold to verify no field issues and upload to rest of fleet next week," Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said. When Musk announced in October that all vehicles now being produced at the Fremont, California, factory are shipping with a new hardware suite to enable full self-driving, he warned that the cars would temporarily lack some of the features currently available on Tesla vehicles with "first generation" Autopilot as the company validated the software. That includes some standard safety features like automatic emergency breaking, collision warning and active cruise control. Now customers with the âoeHardware 2â suite will have those features. .

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