As previously announced by Pekingnology, this newsletter will offer you an exclusive digital version of Elon Musk’s essay in China Cyberspace, a monthly magazine run by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the central agency for internet control and regulation.
Musk’s piece was carried in the fourth issue of the magazine, published in July, under the column “Global Vision”.
Below is the original text and translation of Musk’s essay.
Believing in technology for a better future
Thank you for the invitation from China Cyberspace magazine. I am pleased to share with my Chinese friends some of my thoughts on the vision of technology and humanity.
As technology accelerates, it may one day surpass human understanding and control. Some are optimistic and some are pessimistic. But I believe that as long as we are not complacent and always maintain a sense of urgency, the future of humanity will be bright, driven by the power of technology. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy: if humans want to make the future good, they should take action to make it good.
随着科技加速发展，有一天技术也许会超越人类的理解力和掌控力。对此，有人乐观， 有人悲观。但我相信，只要我们不自满，始终保持紧迫感，那么在科技力量的推动下，人类的前景终将是美好的。 这就像是一个自证预言：如果人类想让未来美好，就应该采取行动让未来变得美好。
I want to do everything we can to maximize the use of technology to help achieve a better future for humanity. To that end, any area that contributes to a sustainable future is worthy of our investment. Whether it's Tesla, Neuralink, or SpaceX, these companies were all founded with the ultimate goal of enhancing the future of human life and creating as much practical value for the world as possible—Tesla to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy, Neuralink for medical rehabilitation, SpaceX for making interstellar connections possible.
Clean Energy: The Future of Sustainability
The starting point for my thinking about clean energy is how to create and store energy sustainably and for the long term, and how to provide a constant source of power for the future of productive life. In my view, the future of sustainable energy involves three components.
The generation of sustainable energy. The sun is like a giant fusion generator, from which mankind currently exploits a tiny amount of energy. In the long run, solar energy will become the main source of energy for human civilization. Of course, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and nuclear power are also useful energy supplements.
The storage of sustainable energy. Given the change of day and night and the change of weather, we need a lot of fixed battery banks to store solar and wind energy, because the sun does not shine all the time, and the wind does not blow all the time, energy needs to be stored in a large number of fixed battery banks.
Electrified transportation. Full electrification of transportation, including cars, planes, and ships. Electric rockets may be more difficult, but we may be able to manufacture the propellant used in rockets from sustainable energy sources. Eventually, the world economy will be run entirely by sustainable energy sources.
The world is on track for a sustainable energy transition, and humanity should continue to accelerate the process. The faster this transition is achieved, the less risk humanity poses to the environment and the more it will gain. When clean energy is available, carbon sequestration and desalination will be cheaper, climate change and water shortages will be solved, and when fossil fuels are out of the picture, the skies will be cleaner, the world will be quieter, the air will be fresher, and the future will be brighter.
Solar power, battery packs, and electric vehicles paint a rosy picture. Next, we need to focus on the limiting factors. The electrification of cars has become a consensus among nations, but battery support on a terawatt-hour scale is needed to roll out pure electric vehicles around the globe. According to our estimates, the world needs about 300 TWh of battery storage to achieve a transition to sustainable energy. The biggest difficulty in advancing sustainable energy lies in the large-scale production of lithium battery cells. Specifically, from the mining and element refining to battery cells coming off of the production line and finally assembled into battery packs, this is a complex process that is restraining the rapid development of a sustainable energy economy.
As a pioneer and innovator focusing on energy innovation technology, Tesla was founded to solve the problem of energy innovation. On the one hand, we create integrated sustainable energy products from the three segments of energy production, storage and use; on the other hand, we are committed to redefining battery manufacturing by innovating and developing advanced battery technology to remove restrictions on battery capacity. I believe that the world will transition to a sustainable future through a combination of solar and wind energy plus battery storage and electric vehicles. I am pleased to see more and more companies joining this field. Chinese companies will be a force to be reckoned with in the cause of energy innovation.
Humanoid robots: doing what humans do
Today's cars are increasingly like smart, web-connected robots on wheels. In fact, in addition to cars, humanoid robots are also becoming a reality, with Tesla launching a general-purpose humanoid robot (Tesla Bot) in 2021. The Tesla Bot is close to the height and weight of an adult, can carry or pick up heavy objects, walk fast in small steps, and the screen on its face is an interactive interface for communication with people. You may wonder why we designed this robot with legs. Because human society is based on the interaction of a bipedal humanoid with two arms and ten fingers. So if we want a robot to adapt to its environment and be able to do what humans do, it has to be roughly the same size, shape, and capabilities as a human.
Tesla Bots are initially positioned to replace people in repetitive, boring, and dangerous tasks. But the vision is for them to serve millions of households, such as cooking, mowing lawns, and caring for the elderly.
Achieving this goal requires that robots evolve to be smart enough and for us to have the ability to mass produce robots. Our "four-wheeled robots" - cars - have changed the way people travel and even live. One day when we solve the problem of self-driving cars (i.e., real-world artificial intelligence), we will be able to extend artificial intelligence technology to humanoid robots, which will have a much broader application than cars.
We plan to launch the first prototype of a humanoid robot this year and focus on improving the intelligence of that robot and solving the problem of large-scale production. Thereafter, humanoid robots' usefulness will increase yearly as production scales up and costs fall. In the future, a home robot may be cheaper than a car. Perhaps in less than a decade, people will be able to buy a robot for their parents as a birthday gift.
It is foreseeable that with the power of robots, we will create an era of extreme abundance of goods and services, where everyone can live a life of abundance. Perhaps the only scarcity that will exist in the future is for us to create ourselves as humans.
Neuralink: Empowering the Disabled
Some of our Chinese friends may not be as familiar with Neuralink as with electric cars. These companies focus on developing computer-human brain fusion technologies, developing brain chips the size of coins, similar to wearable devices such as smartphones, except that they integrate more deeply with the user's body—recording and stimulating brain activity through implants in the cerebral cortex.
At this stage, the technology is helping injured people on an individual level. We have received many saddening letters: a 25-year-old young man was in the prime of his life when he had a motorcycle accident that left him unable to eat on his own, which is a great grief for the individual and the family. In light of this, brain-machine interface technology will be focused on curing or alleviating brain injury and other related disorders in the years to come. For example, it could help restore sensory or motor function to limbs of those with spinal injuries and mental system disorders or allow quadriplegics to use their brains to easily operate computers or cell phones.
This technology can also improve a wider range of brain injury problems, whether these disorders are congenital or accidental, or caused by age and external stressors, including severe depression, morbid obesity, sleep problems, and underlying schizophrenia, all of which are expected to be alleviated by human-computer devices.
With the development of brain-machine interface technology, in the long term, this connection is expected to expand the channels of communication between the outside world and the human brain, "accessing" more brain regions and new neural data. This technology could allow humans to effectively integrate with artificial intelligence and ultimately expand new ways for humans to interact with the world, themselves and others. Even if the goal of human-machine integration is difficult to achieve, brain-machine interface technology could be of great value in the field of medical rehabilitation.
Space exploration: the possibility of cross-planet habitats
Finally, my greatest hope is that humans create a self-sustaining city on Mars. Many people ask me why I want to explore outer space and turn humans into multi-planetary creatures. In the vast universe, human civilization is like a faint little candle, like a little shimmering light in the void. When the sun expands one day and the Earth is no longer habitable, we can fly to a new home in a spaceship. If humans can inhabit other planets, it means that they have passed one of the conditions of the great screening of the universe, then we will become interplanetary citizens, and human civilization will be able to continue.
The first step toward interplanetary habitat is to reduce the cost of travel, which is what SpaceX was founded to do - first by building recoverable rockets and then by building reusable mega-ships with ever-increasing carrying capacity. As of earlier this year, SpaceX had successfully reused 79 rockets to deliver cargo to the space station and send ordinary people into space. We have also designed and built the largest launch vehicle in history, the Starship, which can carry 100 passengers and supplies at a time. In the future, we plan to build at least 1,000 Starships to send groups of pioneers to Mars to build a self-sustaining city.
As technology continues to change lives at an accelerating pace and the world evolves, life is more than simply solving one problem after another. We all want to wake up in the morning full of anticipation for the future and rejoice in what is to come. I hope more people will join us in our fight to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy. I also welcome more like-minded Chinese partners to join us in exploring clean energy, artificial intelligence, human-machine collaboration, and space exploration to create a future worth waiting for.
This is a hastily done newsletter and may contain typos or mistranslations. I’ll include the pictures of the text below for your reference.
Thank you very important as your substack always offers great content. Personally I trust a Chinese approach tenfolds over a Pentagon budget whore approach..... but this is important as the Pentagon budget whore has to change language depending on audience.
Yang, thank you for this! I would love to link to your substack and also preserve this essay by Elon Musk on my blog. Incredibly important words, and a blueprint for the future! - Gail :)